Dell is at the forefront of the net positive movement © 123RF
Dell is at the forefront of the net positive movement © 123RF

Build 'net positive' supply chains, firms urged

Businesses need to go beyond reducing the carbon footprint in their supply chain and aim to create “net positive” supply chains to help industry thrive in the long-term, according to a report.

The aim of net positive supply chains is to actively restore and regenerate resources that are critical to business operations.

“Collaboration with suppliers is essential to reach this goal as the report recognises that no single company can become net positive on its own,” said the report.

The report, A Revolution in the Making: The Quest for Net Positive Supply Chains, was created by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership and logistics firm CHEP.

Among the companies at the forefront of the net positive movement is Dell, according to the report, which began forging a new set of sustainability goals in 2012.

When it established its 2020 goal of a 10-fold return on its natural and social capital it found itself in contact with 10 companies with similar objectives. These companies helped found the Net Positive Group (NPG), created by non-profit Forum for the Future.

NPG members believe incremental change is not enough to secure the future of their businesses.

“If you are an organisation that depends upon natural resources or an organisation where social cohesion is critical to the operation of your business, simply minimising impacts isn't going to sustain your operation long term,” said Forum for the Future CEO Sally Uren.

“That realisation has sparked a multitude of collaborative efforts in recent years, as individual companies have found new ways to work with suppliers and customers, and as companies within and across industries have come together to tackle challenges that no one of them could hope to resolve on their own.” 

Among the businesses cited in the report are Brambles, which has nearly 600m pallets, crates and containers used around the world by some of the world’s largest retail and consumer goods companies. 

Rather than selling these goods, Brambles rents them to customers, and collects and refurbishes them before renting them to another company. 

Yet the company recognises that its circular business model does not achieve net positivity because it does not restore natural assets.

Therefore Brambles, like Dell, is investing in reforestation to ensure it replaces more trees than it uses in operations. 

Even with this project, and another that aims to turn plastic waste into product parts, Brambles recognises it has not yet achieved net positivity. 

Among the difficulties facing companies who wish to achieve this goal is the lack of a clear definition of the concept, the report said. 

Other companies to have used the term “net positive” and committed to moving in that direction include Amazon, Coca-Cola, Nike, Google, Levi Strauss and Co and the UK’s Crown Estates, though none believe they are likely to reach the target in the near future. 

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