While the concept of "going green" has long been championed in the consumer sector - the drive towards sustainability has unfortunately not had as great an impact on Asian procurement organisations. However, as new practices and technologies emerge across the industry, along with a renewed push from industry bodies, procurement professionals form across the region are beginning to realise that going green doesn't always mean a reduction in the bottom line and specific technologies can provide significant benefits. Importantly, many organisations are now recognising that the most practical way of reducing their carbon footprint is through ensuring that their supply chains are as efficient as possible, which in turn provides significant benefits to profit margins and work rates.
The environmental cost of new technology
We all know that technology is a large contributor towards the carbon footprint of any organisation. But it may alarm some readers to know that these devices already have large environmental footprints. For instance the total energy and fossil fuels used in producing a desktop computer is estimated at 6400 mega joules (MJ) and 260 kg, respectively. This indicates that computer manufacturing is energy intensive. However, it must also be remembered that these technologies help to increase coordination efficiencies within procurement originations, thus reducing wastage and reducing the total carbon footprint of an operation.
To avoid the upfront environmental costs of tuning over technology year on year, minimise the carbon footprint generated by new technology manufacturing, it is recommended to invest in rugged mobile computers that have a product life of 3-5 years with comprehensive service contracts instead of upgrading smart phone hardwares every nine to 15 months due to wear and tear. In addition, most rugged mobile computers are engineered towards supply chain operations efficiency ensuring that they are equipped with the tools (including barcode scanning, imaging, photo, GPS, optimal processor, battery management and wireless communication) that help maximise efficiency and eliminate wastage.
Doing away with paper
Paper waste contributes significantly to the environmental damage that is done by many organisations. According to the Ecology Global Network, "world consumption of paper has grown 400% in the last 40 years. Now nearly 4 billion trees or 35%t of the total trees cut around the world are used in paper industries on every continent". Additionally, it states that "pulp and paper mills are among the worst polluters to air, water and land of any industry". If supply chain operations are to be truly as "green" as they can possibly be, it is imperative that they ensure that their paper based-systems (much of which centres around billing and tracking) are replaced with smarter, greener and more accurate alternatives.
The heavy use of paper is prevalent in many procurement operations and is costing the region and the environment dearly. To combat this, technologies such as RFID are widening beyond merely collecting data to allowing many processes to be automated, reducing the amount of paper used throughout the process. This has far-reaching implications for procurement organisations.
Imagine an RFID-based system where goods could submit data into an automated system which sends out invoices once they have reached their destinations. This, when coupled with a mobile computing solution for information recording and processing for procurement delivery drivers and warehouse workers, would drastically reduce the significant number of errors that go hand-in-hand with a paper based system, along with the amount of paper that is wastefully consumed in the process.
Hazardous environment considerations
"Greening" procurement operations generally means more than just attempting to become carbon neutral, and focuses more on minimising or eliminating environmental harm. Many operators and supply chain organisations (most notably in the chemical processing industry) can achieve environmental and economic benefits from effectively tracking and tracing hazardous goods.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that in hazardous environments many procurement workers are limited by the safety issues associated with using technology around hazardous chemicals which can be ignited by the sparks or electronic waves which are emitted from handhelds not designed for hazardous environments.
It's becoming increasingly important for professionals in these areas to understand the technology available in terms of sealed and safe computers in order to ensure that pollutants are not being misplaced and harming the environment.
Procurement and logistics organisations alike are implementing more sophisticated systems to monitor and manage a variety of chemicals due to growing safety, security, regulatory and reporting requirements. Mobile computers can be important components of these systems because they provide the ability to automatically collect and communicate data from remote and challenging environments eliminating the risk of manual detail recording and improving overall storage and handling safety.
Green technologies are here to help
There are a number of technologies which have the ability to "green" the procurement sector. Operators who ignore these are not only acting irresponsibly towards the environment, but also their own profit margins. The solutions are inexpensive, have a good risk-reward ratio and are environmentally aware. The future of the procurement sector across Asia lies in sustainable practices that benefit the bottom line.
Contributed by Allan Neo, director of systems engineering at Intermec APAC
- Intermec Technologies
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