Going Green in Supply Chains

Two people in orangutan costumes holding a sign that says "Nestle, Give us a break!"

A protest against Nestle over the palm oil plantation controversy is used as a case study in ESD.S43 Green Supply Chain Management for students to learn about multi-stakeholder engagements and corporate social responsibilities. (Image courtesy of Philip Reynolds. Used with permission.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

By now, most people are somewhat familiar with the concept of a supply chain, the complex of systems that make it possible for a product to be developed, manufactured, and delivered to customers. In a global economy, many of these activities—extraction of resources, manufacturing, transportation, warehousing—take place in different countries. Understanding supply chains is thus crucial to success of a dynamic, world-wide enterprise.

You don’t hear much about how the role good environmental practices can play in supply chains and how they can be implemented to minimize the impact a business has on the planet.

Not unless you have explored ESD.S43 Green Supply Chain Management, a course that has just published on OCW. This half-semester graduate course  . . . “focuses on the fundamental strategies, tools and techniques required to analyze and design environmentally sustainable supply chain systems,” as the course site tells us. “Students work on course-long team projects that critically evaluate the environmental supply chain strategy of an industry or a publicly traded company.”

The course site has six video lectures, selected lecture notes, and a full reading list, consisting largely of case studies.

“These case studies reflect over five years of research completed here at the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics,” says Dr. Edgar Blanco on the This Course at MIT page. “As part of this research, we worked with many companies. I had the opportunity to meet with leaders from these companies who were trying to implement sustainability initiatives. I learned first-hand about the struggles they encountered in this area.”

With co-instructors Dr. Alexis Bateman and Professor Anthony Craig, Dr. Blanco runs a discussion-based class, challenging students to think for themselves and question their own thinking. Typical questions on case studies include:

How much energy is used and how much carbon is released to make paper towels dispensed in a typical restroom? Would you save energy and release less carbon if an electric hand dryer was used? What factors should be included in such a determination?

Does it make sense to offer obsolete cell phones for reuse in other countries? Can this implementation of reverse logistics be sustainable? How?

ESD.S43 takes its place on a growing list of OCW courses on Supply Chains. These courses cover a range of topics, including planning and logistics to systems optimization.

People interested in how supply chains are designed should sign up for the MITx on edX course Supply Chain Design. But don’t delay! The course starts on September 30.

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