How retailers are building greener supply chains

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NRF Global Supply Chain Summit, May 19-21, DallasEarlier this week, we highlighted a few retailers who are working to find greener and more sustainable ways to run their businesses. And for retailers looking to reduce their total carbon footprint, the supply chain – a big piece of the carbon footprint pie – can’t be ignored. As Forbes recently illustrated in an article highlighting Nike, Walmart and Ikea, supply chain choices from transportation modes to packaging to carriers go a long way in reducing carbon emissions, and, not coincidentally, benefiting the bottom line.

But how do you go about calculating carbon emissions when logistics partners and multiple carriers are involved? That’s where the Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay program comes in.

To learn more about how retailers are using the SmartWay program, which will be discussed at our Global Supply Chain Summit next month, we talked with Cheryl Bynum, EPA’s national director of SmartWay and supply chain programs.

Cheryl Bynum, National Director, SmartWay and Supply Chain Programs, EPA.

Cheryl Bynum, National Director, SmartWay and Supply Chain Programs, EPA.

SmartWay collects a lot of environmental performance data on carriers. Can you describe how the program benefits retailers? What does it mean for them?

SmartWay gives retailers and other shippers an easy way to assess and manage carbon and other air emissions from their transportation supply chain. This used to be a challenge for many companies because while they knew the amount of emissions and carbon generated from their own facilities, they didn’t know the carbon footprint of moving their goods. Retailers, logistics companies and carriers are all linked across the supply chain, so having uniform metrics and a single integrated carbon assessment framework for all of them means retailers can better understand their total carbon footprint.

SmartWay also gives retailers a way to identify and select the greenest carriers and modes for the products they are shipping, as well as track year-over-year environmental performance and emissions to see the impacts of choices they make. Tools like this help companies integrate corporate sustainability goals with their transportation operations.

Retailers in particular, because they deal with the public, want to be responsible environmental stewards, and SmartWay offers them an opportunity to stand out by showcasing their environmental achievements. SmartWay is run by the EPA, which is especially important to our retail partners since the integrity of their brands is as important to them as the integrity of the SmartWay brand is to the EPA.

The EPA reports that the SmartWay program has eliminated 28 million metric tons of carbon dixoide, and saved 65 million barrels of oil and $8.1 billion in fuel costs. What does that mean? Can you put these numbers in perspective for us?

Transportation accounts for over two thirds of our domestic oil consumption. Heavy-duty vehicles, including those used to move freight, account for about 17 percent of transportation oil use. Our dependence on oil to drive the transport sector in our economy is a challenge that we as a nation must address. If we can use less of this finite resource to move our goods across the country, then we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions while investing more in our communities, businesses and households. Our partners are leading the way to do this – those SmartWay savings are equivalent to taking over 5 million cars off the road for an entire year!

To achieve those savings, our partners are investing in innovative technologies, strategies and operational practices – and sharing their successes with others. SmartWay partner achievements help to spur innovation across the entire goods movement supply chain. This raises the bar for the kind of excellence and innovation that today’s top global businesses are known for.

I noticed several retailers on your list of SmartWay Excellence Award winners. Can you share any particular examples of retailers that are doing a good job reducing their carbon emissions? What are they doing right?

SmartWay Excellence Award winners are our top performing partners, the “best of the best.” Shippers that have received an Excellence Award ship the majority of their goods with the most efficient SmartWay carriers. They optimize modal selection. They adopt strategies such as no-idling policies at their docks, and evaluate and modify freight operations at their distribution centers and warehouses with flexible pickup and delivery scheduling and cleaner and more efficient freight equipment like electric forklifts. Top performers look into how to ship more goods per mile by optimizing product packaging and routing. And they educate their carrier base, customers and suppliers about SmartWay, to encourage greater efficiencies across their supply chains.

What do you love about your job at the EPA? What do you find exciting about the work you do?

My colleagues and I love being part of a partnership that embraces and meets the needs of a broad group of stakeholders — the business community, the public, environmental organizations, professional groups, academic and research groups. It’s a pleasure and an honor, day in and day out, to serve the public interest by helping businesses involved in goods movement achieve significant environmental benefits while contributing to a strong and sustainable economy and to our nation’s energy security.

Since I worked in the transportation industry – including retail – for several years before coming to EPA, it’s especially rewarding for me to be able to apply what I learned from my experience in the business world to promote sustainable goods movement.

Earth day was this week. How do you celebrate?

That’s a great question! I celebrate Earth Day by learning what more I can do to protect our beautiful planet. I encourage your readers to check out It’s chock full of opportunities – from joining a national conversation, to committing to take action by “choosing five,” to learning more about what others in your community and around the country are doing.

Of course, since Earth Day was a Monday, my colleagues and I were hard at work, contributing to achieving EPA’s mission through our efforts with our retail and other partners and the SmartWay Partnership.

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