Are sustainable supply chains in India wishful thinking?
Last week saw the first conference of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) to be held in India. Assembling more than one hundred ‘movers and shakers’ in the industry from across the country and overseas, the Mumbai conference addressed various relevant topics from network design to vertical or horizontal collaboration.
Inevitably, both speakers and delegates referred - with apparent levels of frustration - to the inadequacy of systems and infrastructure to cope with the current and projected growth of consumer demand in the region. In a country of 1.2 billion inhabitants, the figures are quite extraordinary … and so are the challenges:
- serious infrastructure deficit from lack of roads and road maintenance;
- absence of deep sea ports and lack of port handling equipment;
- endemic road traffic and airport congestion,
- negligible use of alternatives cargo transport modes such as rail, coastal or inland waterways; and
- the highly fragmented, complex and restrictive regulations governing trade licences, import/export and various other taxes.
Despite all of the above, sustainability was a recurring theme at this event, starting from the choice of venue: the ITC Maratha, claiming to be the first of its kind to “achieve water, carbon and solid waste recycling positive credentials.”
From a supply chain perspective, the emphasis was put on the ways to quantify the environmental impact of any activity, with an underlying assumption that only what is measured can improve. This also allows you to focus efforts on the biggest issues first. Not just positive on the environment, it was highlighted that those initiatives aimed at reducing energy or material consumption are also likely to be positive for the bottom line.
But all is not rosy - or green for that matter! One of the companies represented shared how it recently invested in solar panels to power one of its sites, only to see them stolen from the building shortly afterwards. In other cases, initiatives somewhat disappointed because the technology was not performing to the desired level.
Nevertheless, I left Mumbai with the unexpected sensation that sustainability is very high on the agenda of my Indian counterparts. And if it was many times underlined that the local authorities have repeatedly fallen short of their own commitments in addressing the environmental issues, there is clearly no shortage of energy, creativity and willingness to take action from the Indian supply chain community.