The Science of Sustainable Supply Chains

Berkeley professor Dara O'Rorke describes the challenges and progress monitoring, measuring and analyzing information related to supply chain sustainability in this Science review. article


Recent advances in the science and technology of global supply chain management offer near–real-time demand-response systems for decision-makers across production networks. Technology is helping propel “fast fashion” and “lean manufacturing,” so that companies are better able to deliver products consumers want most.

Apparel supply chain initiatives. From Science 6 June 2014: vol. 344 no. 6188 1124-1127

Yet companies know much less about the environmental and social impacts of their production networks.

The failure to measure and manage these impacts can be explained in part by limitations in the science of sustainability measurement, as well as by weaknesses in systems to translate data into information that can be used by decision-makers inside corporations and government agencies.

There also remain continued disincentives for firms to measure and pay the full costs of their supply chain impacts.

I discuss the current state of monitoring, measuring, and analyzing information related to supply chain sustainability, as well as progress that has been made in translating this information into systems to advance more sustainable practices by corporations and consumers.

Better data, decision-support tools, and incentives will be needed to move from simply managing supply chains for costs, compliance, and risk reduction to predicting and preventing unsustainable practices.