Reducing Transport Emissions in Electronics Supply Chains, the 'SmartWay'

Electronics manufacturers are asking for more sustainability data from suppliers as the demand for CSR extends throughout the supply chain.

These conversations should include greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from a significant source: freight transportation.

“GHG data can help establish incentives to change behavior, improve record-keeping practices, and move freight efficiently, responsibly, and economically,” said Nancy Gillis, CEO of the Green Electronics Council (GEC), a non-profit organization that promotes sustainably produced IT products.

Here are three ways electronics companies are working to manage freight-related emissions across the supply chain, from materials-sourcing to manufacturing, distribution, take-back and recycling.

1. Verified data reporting

CDP has refined its supply chain questionnaire to include trucking, shipping, rail and other types of transportation services. It reflects an emerging consensus about the growth of freight transportation and the need to address transport-related emissions.

In the United States, Canada and Mexico, nearly 4,000 companies participate in the SmartWay Transport Partnership, a voluntary program developed by the U.S. EPA to create standards for measuring and publicly disclosing transportation-related emissions and performance.

SmartWay data is available at no cost to shipper partners. It integrates easily into enterprise systems for business management, environmental reporting, compliance and shareholder response.

Cisco, HP, Intel and Microsoft are among the electronics suppliers that strongly encourage carriers to participate and report their environmental performance through SmartWay.

Because carriers in the SmartWay program are scored and ranked against their peers according to their emissions per mile and per-ton mile, they are driven to cut costs and develop more environmentally efficient ways to move goods — SmartWay can provide technical expertise, data analysis, and training.

The Global Logistics Emissions Council (GLEC) was created to harmonize freight-sustainability standards in different countries and regions so companies can calculate their GHG footprint across an international supply chain. GLEC uses SmartWay as a template, which makes it easier to factor SmartWay data into an overall assessment of global emissions for CDP and other sustainability reports.

2. Supplier agreements

Electronics companies can use freight contracts to encourage transportation suppliers to be transparent with emissions data.

Dell expects its suppliers to publish a Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)-based sustainability report online and update the report annually, and also to report annually to the CDP Supply Chain climate and water programs. Likewise, Intel asks its top-tier suppliers to participate in the CDP Supply Chain survey and submit baseline data on their carbon footprint; in 2017, Intel received a 96 percent response rate.

Both Dell and Intel participate in SmartWay and annually disclose their total carbon emissions. By requiring their transportation providers to do so, as well, they can more accurately account for freight emissions in their supply chain.

The Responsible Business Alliance (RBA) — formerly the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) — offers a code of conduct that mandates GHG emissions reporting; manufacturers can include the RBA code of conduct in their supplier agreements.

3. Efficient packaging and mode-shifting

The push to create smaller, thinner and lighter electronics products is an opportunity to refine packaging and processes for pallet building, trailer utilization, and recycling.

HP recently introduced packaging for its notebooks that uses less material and optimizes shipping densities, resulting in 8,600 tons of CO2 emissions avoided (from freight) compared to previous years. The company also developed a new lightweight foam shipping pallet for ocean and rail shipments of new desktops, which avoided an additional 360 tons of CO2 emissions from freight. Last year, Microsoft reduced package weight by an average of 17 percent through a combination of right-sizing and new lightweight materials, helping that company reduce its environmental footprint from freight.

Modal shifts can have a significant impact on GHG emissions. The Association of American Railroads reports that an intermodal train in North America can haul the equivalent of 280 truckloads of freight, with each ton traveling an average of 479 miles on one gallon of fuel.

Cisco has a mode-shifting initiative within its overall GHG reduction plan that focuses on shipping by ocean instead of air, whenever practical. In 2017, the company reported that this effort alone avoided 113,540 cumulative metric tons of CO2 emissions from freight.

For electronics manufacturers, the supply chain is the largest source of carbon and other GHG emissions. Within the supply chain, transportation is a rapidly growing source of emissions; in the U.S., it has surpassed electricity generation as the largest source of GHG emissions.

Fortunately, electronics manufacturers can and have used sustainability to develop a more collaborative approach to the movement of goods. To learn more about EPA SmartWay, visit www.epa.gov/smartway.

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