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Atlas on Environmental Impacts: Supply Chains

Identifying critical sustainability topics and areas of action in the supply chain represents a first important milestone for companies in sustainable supply chain management. The focus is important to be able to use the limited human and financial resources as effectively and efficiently as possible. This is often not easy. Both the procurement of data across national boundaries and the ability to influence direct and indirect suppliers to improve their sustainability performance is challenging for companies. This publication seeks to support companies in both areas and thus help to create transparency in relation to the main environmental impacts along the supply chain.

The “Atlas on Environmental Impacts: Supply Chains” shows at which sites and in which global regions along the supply chain negative impacts can occur for selected industries with high environmental impacts. This makes “hot spots” for the respective industry visible. Environmental impacts are presented via four key topics: greenhouse gas emissions, air pollutants, water consumption, and land use (Part I).

The results show the environmental impacts of each industry in Germany with their respective supply chains, i.e. from the extraction of the necessary raw materials, through their processing at upstream stages, all the way to the direct suppliers (Part II). The calculations were conducted using input-output models enhanced with ecological data (see “Description of the Methodology” for more information. On the basis of these results, the atlas introduces possible measures for designing and optimising a sustainable supply chain (Part III).

Read also" Step by Step to Sustainable Supply Chain Management – Practical Guide for Companies"

The term “environmental impact” describes the environmental impacts resulting from activities in the supply chain and at the company’s own business and production sites in the respective industry. Environmental impacts have been determined using the methodology used in the atlas for the extended input-output modelling for the individual environmental topics. The term is based on “environmental impact” according to DIN ISO 14001: 2015. The term “environmental intensity” describes the turnover-related impacts on the environment along the value chain, i.e. environmental impact per EUR of turnover of an industry. This also applies to the terms “emission intensity” and “water intensity”

The term “land use” is used in the atlas to describe the use of land surface areas. This includes the four types of land use: industrial use, use of arable land for harvesting agricultural goods, use of pasture land for the permanent (at least 5 years) cultivation of green fodder plants, and the use of forest areas for the extraction of raw materials. The surface area data in the atlas do not indicate the intensity of different land use forms. The use of natural areas for cultivation, agriculture or the extraction of raw materials has significantly accelerated in recent decades (Haberl 2015). The growing use of land entails the destruction of natural areas and the loss of ecosystems and biodiversity.

The FAO estimates that additional land consumption of approximately 100 million hectares is expected for housing, industry and infrastructure by 2050, of which more than 90% is expected in developing countries (Fritsche et al 2015: 3). Global soil sealing, e.g. for industrial areas, has a lasting damaging effect on soil functions- an almost irreversible process.

Agricultural practices that address sustainability issues inadequately can significantly contribute to loss of species, soil erosion and loss of storage and buffering function of soils. There are also regulatory risks for companies and their supply chains in land use. In addition, the loss of natural areas and the shrinking of habitats can lead to reputation risks for those companies whose supply chains entail a high level of land use.