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In search of a sustainable supply chain

MAY 8: Product innovation expert Aydin Sunol argues for a better model at the John Molson School of Business
April 28, 2015
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By Tracey Lindeman

Certain industries’ supply chains — electronics, for example — have often started with low salaries, long hours and less-than-safe work environments in developing nations. It's time that stops, says Aydin Sunol. Certain supply chains, such as electronics, often start with low salaries and less-than-safe work environments. It's time that stops, says Aydin Sunol. | Photo by Phil Campbell (Flickr Creative Commons)

The supply chain is the source of life for many businesses. It’s the system of people, resources and materials that come together to create the products a company then sells to consumers.

Certain industries’ supply chains — clothing and electronics, for example — often start with low salaries, long hours and less-than-safe work environments in developing and third-world nations. 

The resulting products are then turned around and sold at a markup several hundred times the cost of production, to a market more than content to use once and dispose.

It’s about time that stops, says Aydin Sunol, a professor in chemical and biomedical engineering at the University of South Florida.

Aydin-Sunol-cn-centre-guest-speaker-303x242 Aydin Sunol

Sunol will speak at Concordia University on May 8 about improving sustainability in supply chains, as well as how to promote sustainability through a product’s entire life cycle.

The CN Centre for Studies in Sustainable Supply Chain Management, a teaching and research centre in the John Molson School of Business (JMSB), is hosting the talk.

“What I’m going to talk about is a group of products, and how we manage both minimizing the cost as well as the environmental impact, and protect the intellectual property (IP), particularly for a product that is brand-new,” Sunol says from Tampa.

Integrating sustainability into manufacturing

A 2013 factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,000 people and injured another 2,500, is a perfect example of why supply chains need to be modernized, says Ahmet Satir, director of the CN Centre for Studies in Sustainable Supply Chain Management.

The price of a product is no longer just the sum of the cost of materials and cheap labour — it’s also the reputational risk, taxes and duties, and relatively poor quality associated with production outsourcing.

“When you look at it from a total cost of ownership perspective, perhaps now the cost differences are becoming slimmer and slimmer, which is making it relatively less attractive to outsource to a low-cost country,” Satir says.

He says he asked Sunol to speak at Concordia to help encourage John Molson School of Business students to think about how to integrate environmental and social sustainability into approaches to manufacturing.

“To be exposed to such a dimension is a plus for our students in terms of their future aspirations, or if they want to differentiate themselves from the rest of the crowd,” Satir says.

Green life cycles

Part of the modernization process, Satir says, is to design products that may remain sustainable throughout their life cycles by using as little water, fuel and energy as possible.

As an inventor with a particular interest in self-cooling and self-heating products, Sunol faces this issue regularly.

“We like to have the chemistry as green as possible, and the product as green and safe as possible,” he says.

Materials, compliance, vicinity to markets, access to chemicals, the local talent pool and the level of automation all make significant differences, according to Sunol.

“I personally believe some ability to quantify — so that the decision-making can be handled by quantitative methods that are robust — is going to be important,” he says.

“Part of the motivation for doing that is not necessarily creating problems that are solved with sophisticated models, but quantifying it makes you more intricately involved with the problems. And that, I believe, is important for students at large.”


Environmental Sustainability and Supply Chain for Innovative Products Throughout Their Life Cycle takes place on Friday, May 8 from 10:15-11:45 a.m., in Room MB 1.437 of the John Molson School of Business Building (1450 Guy Street) on the Sir George Williams Campus.

 



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