Pathway 4: Sourcing sustainably
Raw materials are the foundation of products and businesses. And the evidence is clear: how suppliers grow, harvest, and extract these materials can have a significant impact on the global climate, as well as local environmental issues such as biodiversity and river catchments. Given the nature and location of these production systems, many of these sectors and local communities are also some of the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change – a risk that is anticipated to be of increasing importance to investors and customers in the coming decade.
A significant share of the raw materials used in UK products are sourced in the UK, but the retail industry’s supply chains also reach far into the global economy – from aluminium production in China, to forestry in Canada, and soy agriculture in Brazil. Fossil fuels themselves are also found in a wide range of products, from the oil-derived chemicals found in cleaning products, to ubiquitous plastics in synthetic clothing, consumer electronics and white goods. By their nature, many of these supply chains are complex and dynamic, and influenced by a range of external factors such as geopolitics, local government policy, and even weather conditions. This makes addressing the climate impacts of raw materials particularly challenging for individual business, and so calls on the use of more collaborative approaches to effectively influence change. These are explored in this section and include:
- Encouraging the responsible use and effectiveness of market-based solutions such as sustainability standards and carbon markets.
- Driving demand for emerging low or zero carbon materials through product innovation – for example, the use of zero carbon metals in product and packaging
- Adopting circular economy principles to reduce dependence on virgin raw materials and increase use of recycled inputs such as metals and plastics.
- Developing and supporting pre-competitive jurisdictional and sector-level initiatives to influence change at scale.
- Influencing UK trade and agricultural policy to ensure climate mitigation and adaptation is addressed within future agreements, government funding and regulations.
While the focus must be on rapid decarbonisation of product supply chains, it should be noted that agricultural and forestry suppliers are also in a position to deliver climate solutions through ‘carbon removals’ from the atmosphere. For example, appropriate afforestation/reforestation and changes to agricultural soil management practices.
Thank you to IBM, our Pathway 4 Partner
IBM is a leading cloud platform and cognitive solutions company. Restlessly reinventing since 1911, we are the largest technology and consulting employer in the world. As part of IBM's commitment to sustainability and its focus on the application of science and technology to solve major societal challenges, IBM Research has launched a Future of Climate initiative designed to accelerate the discovery of solutions to address the impacts of a changing climate. Utilising a combination of artificial intelligence, hybrid cloud and quantum computing, we are working with clients and partners to apply science to complex climate related problems including the pathway to Net Zero.
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 As summarised in the evidence developed by WRAP and industry on the environmental impact of grocery and clothing products under Courtauld Commitment, The Sustainable Clothing Action Plan and Product Sustainability Forum.
 See WBCD (2020) Climate-related financial disclosure for food, agriculture and forest products companies . A response to the recommendations from the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures)
 For example, through initiatives such as Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets
 See the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering review of ‘Greenhouse gas removals’ for the Committee on Climate Change.