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ASCM Insights

Innovative Supply Chain Sustainability


This Earth Day, ASCM honors our planet and recognizes all of the supply chain professionals who are dedicated to its preservation. These people are working intentionally and with critical purpose — mitigating the effects of climate change and leveraging innovative practices to design and support sustainable supply chains.

Something particularly exciting is happening in the shipping industry. Norwegian environmental and agricultural solutions provider Yara International ASA has partnered with tech company Kongsberg to create the world’s first autonomous and zero-emissions container vessel. Yara Birkeland took its maiden test voyage through Norway’s Oslofjord inlet to Oslo this past November and is currently undergoing a two-year trial.

Of course, this technology has the potential to significantly boost shipping sustainability. All-electric vessels do not release any emissions; plus, as a distribution alternative to Norway’s current diesel-powered trucking systems, the ship was designed to reduce haulage by 40,000 journeys a year. This can remove nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide emissions, road dust formation, and traffic.

According to Fast Company, some of the Yara Birkeland’s most interesting advantages are efficiency boosts and error reductions from its autonomous technology. For starters, no crewmembers are required, which eliminates the weight of humans, as well as their supplies and facilities.

Furthermore, computers can be excellent ship captains. There’s a natural lag between when a ship drifts off course and when a human notices it — and dramatic corrections are often needed. But autonomous navigational technologies continually monitor the heading to detect subtle changes and keep things on course.

Autonomous technology also helps avoid the costs and dangers of collisions by monitoring hazards and maintaining safe distances from other vessels, maritime infrastructure and geographic features. Conversely, human errors account for as much as 96% of marine accidents — equaling more than $1.6 billion in losses from 2011 to 2016. The environmental price of these situations is even more acute, especially when oil tankers are involved.

This vessel is in the trial phase, but distribution companies don’t have to wait two years to apply its environmental and operational efficiencies. And this is desperately needed: Unprecedented upticks in e-commerce continue to escalate ocean freight numbers. Just last year, more than 5,400 container ships carrying 2 billion in deadweight tonnage traveled the world’s oceans.

Furthermore, experts estimate a two-to- six-foot sea level rise by the end of the century. This will affect thousands of coastal ports, whose wharves are usually only a few feet above sea level. Recently, heavy rainfall and snowmelt burst banks along the Rhine River — a key commercial waterway. Shortly thereafter, a drought lowered the water level such that ships had to limit themselves to half the usual capacity to avoid running aground. Obviously, such maritime shipping disruptions have global ripple effects.

En route to clearer seas and skies

Since 2010, ASCM has been a signatory of the United Nations (UN) Global Compact, and we are committed to its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One way we fulfill this pledge is through our ASCM Enterprise Certification for Sustainability, which enable organizations to benchmark themselves against the open-access Enterprise Certification for Sustainability standards. This makes it possible to gauge maturity levels and assess their alignment to the program’s ethical, economic and ecological pillars.

Combatting climate change is challenging, so it’s also important to celebrate our victories in order to keep up the momentum. Each year, the ASCM Award of Excellence — Making an Impact does just that. The honor recognizes an initiative that creates a better world through supply chain as a result of pioneering corporate social responsibility, proven business integrity and an unwavering focus on sustainability.

Last year, we celebrated Microsoft for its commitment to supply chain circularity and commitment to collaborating with suppliers to significantly reduce global emissions. Do you have a similar sustainability victory? Submit an awards entry to tell us your story.  

About the Author

Abe Eshkenazi, CSCP, CPA, CAE CEO, ASCM

Abe Eshkenazi is chief executive officer of the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM), the largest organization for supply chain and the global pacesetter of organizational transformation, talent development and supply chain innovation. During his tenure, ASCM has significantly expanded its services to corporations, individuals and communities. Its revenue has more than doubled, and the association successfully completed three mergers in response to both heightened industry awareness and the vast and ongoing global impact driven by supply chains. Previously, Eshkenazi was the managing director of the Operations Consulting Group of American Express Tax and Business Services. He may be contacted through

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