Being environmentally conscious doesn’t mean the same thing today as it did a few years ago. Before, incorporating green initiatives into operations was a relatively novel, cutting-edge business practice. Today, going green is becoming almost de rigueur for many businesses … and necessary for success.

For most companies, greening the business is both about meeting consumer demand and building a sustainable business with the staying power to survive. Greening your supply chain to decrease carbon emissions and increase fuel efficiency can contribute to that staying power. Let’s discuss some key strategies.

Green Packaging
Green packaging doesn’t end with recycled boxes and biodegradable packing materials. It’s also about minimizing damages that could trigger a return, and yet another shipment to provide a replacement, burning more fuel and generating additional emissions. By using the right packaging, companies can greatly reduce damaged products and wasteful returns.

If you work with an outside shipping company, they may be able to help. For example, UPS operates a Package Lab near Chicago, where engineers in lab coats (no, they’re not brown) develop packaging solutions to help customers minimize damages to products ranging from snow skis to flat-screen televisions.

Optimizing Your Distribution Network
According to a recent World Economic Forum report, the global transport and logistics industry accounts for 2,800 megatons of greenhouse gases. Designing a more efficient distribution network is key to making a positive environmental impact, and requires a delicate balance between cost, speed-of-service and environmental considerations. Depending on the proximity of your distribution centers and relative distance to customers and retail centers, it could be beneficial to simplify your network and reduce the number of distribution centers. 

In addition, different modes of transportation have different energy intensity and carbon-emission profiles, and a company that is smart about utilizing diverse modes – truck, rail, ocean and air – will lower its fuel consumption and emissions. For example, if your ground network is extensive enough, express shipments can sometimes travel by truck rather than air, saving fuel and emissions. If you use an outside carrier, look for one with the modal flexibility to consolidate multiple international shipments for air and ocean freight. 

Plan Your Route
Using technology, or common sense, to plan your delivery routes is another way to optimize your supply chain – or even to green your personal trips in the family car. 

Route planning software can help you improve efficiency – saving miles, fuel and emissions. For example, UPS has implemented several tools and procedures, collectively called Package Flow Technologies, to optimize delivery routes by doing things like eliminating left turns. Since its deployment in 2004, Package Flow Technologies has shaved 100 million miles off already streamlined delivery routes, saved 10 million gallons of gas and reduced emissions by 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. The savings last year alone were the equivalent of taking 5,300 delivery vehicles off the road.

We offer a similar technology, called the RoadNet Transportation Suite, to customers. It’s currently helping our customers to route nearly 200,000 vehicles a day – resulting in an annual reduction of more than a billion miles driven, 200 million gallons of fuel and 2 million tons of C02 emissions. 

Other things you can do are much simpler, like instituting a no-idling policy. Idling for more than 10 seconds uses more fuel than restarting your engine, and an hour of idling burns a gallon of fuel. We teach our delivery drivers to shut off the engine even for the shortest stops. In a recent test of telematics technology, we were able to reduce the time our drivers spend idling by 24 minutes per driver per day – a fuel savings of nearly $200 per driver per year. If you have a sizable fleet, the savings really add up. 

Take the Guesswork Out of Returns/Repairs
To help minimize the carbon footprint of your reverse logistics, you should help take the guesswork out of the returns process for your customers. Start by designing an efficient returns network; then, communicate clearly to customers the precise steps they need to follow when returning a product or a part. 

In order to make it easy for them to return a package and ship it to the right place, implement an easy-to-integrate returns technology platform. A Web-based system that lets customers type in the part or product number and automatically print out accurate shipping labels, not only simplifies their shipping but also helps you track the progress of the product returns.

Supply Chain Partners
Third-party logistics providers (3PLs) bear a great deal of responsibility when it comes to limiting your supply chain’s impact on the environment, and you need to objectively evaluate your 3PLs in this area. Is your 3PL utilizing clean fuel technologies like electric, hybrid-electric, hybrid-hydraulic, compressed and liquefied natural gas and propane? How does your 3PL evaluate its carbon footprint? Does it publish a sustainability report? Remember, you can’t improve what you don’t measure. 

Partnering with the right carrier can help you reduce your carbon footprint without sacrificing the efficiency of your supply chain; in fact, it can provide significant positive business results. 

Your supply chain is a great place to include effective green strategies and technologies. Incorporating some green techniques into your supply chain can help you to curb your carbon emissions. Going green is essential to every business in today’s world, and you’re only as green as your supply chain.

Brad Mitchell is president of UPS Logistics and Distribution. With more than a century of experience in transportation and logistics, UPS is a leading global trade expert equipped with a broad portfolio of solutions.