Next generation AI tools can offer unparalleled visibility into the sustainability of organisations’ supply chains.

There are increasing pressures on procurement departments to be a driving force in their organisations’ sustainable goals.

The process of buying, shipping, and generally moving physical products about is one of the larger sources of carbon emissions for the modern enterprise.

For consumer companies, supply chain operations typically account for more than 80% of greenhouse gas emissions, creating “far greater social and environmental costs than its own operations”, according to a study by McKinsey. The environmental impact of a company’s operations, and their extent into Tier 2 and Tier 3 emissions, is also becoming a more prominent part of the conversation, making the decision of who to partner with and for what more pertinent to an enterprise’s sustainability goals than ever before—especially as T2 and T3 emissions become the target of new ESG regulation.

The path to sustainable practice is increased visibility into procurement practices, supply chain impact, and the supply chains of ecosystem partners. Increasingly, procurement teams are artificial intelligence (AI) for these insights.

Responsibly sourced startups

The demand for AI-powered sustainability in the procurement sector is already driving investment in promising new tools. The Copenhagen-based startup Responsibly was founded in 2021, and in October 2023 managed to leverage its work on AI-driven sustainable procurement tools into a $2.4 million funding round, aiming to further develop its project of  “democratising access to sustainable procurement”.

The company combines an AI model with large data sets to allow users to analyse their suppliers and potentially take action to restructure their procurement practices. The data analysed relates to suppliers’ carbon emissions and links to deforestation, but also their gender pay gap, human rights records, and more. The company has already accumulated several high profile clients, including the CERN research facility.

Data-driven, sustainable decision making

The success (and sustainability) of a supply chain is, first and foremost, an issue of visibility. Decision-making to reduce carbon emissions, cut costs, and improve resilience is almost universally a matter of understanding the factors affecting what has traditionally been a very murky, complex, impenetrable system. Using AI to maintain visibility into upstream manufacturing, purchasing, and logistics channels is critical in a world where supply chains are more complex, and the critical eyes of regulators and other organisations within a company’s ecosystem are more prone to scrutiny, than ever before. 

For any organisation looking to operate more sustainably—especially in a climate of net zero commitments and increased regulatory scrutiny—the next generation of AI models, powered by advanced analytics, intelligent algorithms, natural language processing, and real-time processing of huge data sets, represents a way to understand the source to pay process on a more granular level than was previously possible, and a path to making the necessary decisions for a more sustainable supply chain.   

By Harry Menear

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