The Benefits of Traceability in Supply Chains
Simply put, traceability is the means of understanding where a product comes from. Not only its provenance, but also the product journey. As such, it makes sense to use traceability as a tool for supporting sustainable business. Making better choices at key points of the supply chain can have a positive ripple effect on the environment, economy, and society.
Find out more about how traceability supports sustainable business with Tara Norton, Guest Lecturer on the Sustainable Supply Chain Management online short course from the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL).
Traceability, in and of itself, is really about tracing the provenance and then the journey of a product and the materials that went into that product. Traceability is a very process-focused subject. Inherently, there’s nothing environmentally responsible or indeed socially responsible about traceability, but it is sort of a backbone that enables you to build on top of that social or environmental metrics and also actions. It’s a lot easier to sort of think about measuring or managing the environmental impacts of your extended supply chain if you actually know where things are coming from. For example, a sensitive, agricultural raw material is in your supply chain, but you’re not really sure your connection to it or where it’s coming into the supply chain, and it’s really hard to do anything about it in a direct way that aligns with your business. So, traceability allows you to understand where things are coming from and then to take action in the places that are most required in your supply chain.
Traceability is going to be useful for things that are more measurable. So where you can get metrics around environmental performance, where you can capture data, whether that’s through, you know, an Internet of Things, an IoT device, or whether that’s through more manual data collection that you can have validated, that will be useful information to build on top of the traceability system.
One of the things that’s really fascinating about supply chains in the modern world is that we’re really very far away from the people that are often responsible for, you know, the things that we’re buying and using, whether that’s at a company level or whether that’s, you know, as a consumer. Just as with environmental benefits, traceability in and of itself does not, you know, lead to improved conditions for those workers and the individuals in the supply chains. It certainly creates a condition where it’s very hard to ignore. If you know that these particular farmers who are in, you know, a challenging environment have brought you this, you know, cup of coffee or chocolate bar or, you know, to take some of the obvious examples, it’s very hard for you to then say, “Oh, well, I don’t – I’m not going to care about those people.” And questions such as, how were they paid, what is their livelihood really like, you know, how am I contributing to that, sort of the natural evolutions of that. So, I think that’s one really interesting element of traceability, is it brings a connection in a very disconnected supply chain.