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Panel of supply chain experts preaches "work smarter, more responsibly"

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At the opening session for ProMat 2017, executives from UPS, Boeing, and REI discuss how their companies are benefiting from sustainability efforts.

The opening session of ProMat 2017 in Chicago today featured a glimpse into the future of the supply chain, as a panel of executives from transport and logistics giant UPS Inc., aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co., and retail co-op Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) discussed ways to operate more efficiently, profitably, and perhaps more important, responsibly.

Atlanta-based UPS, for example, will use its domestic route optimization technology, known as On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation (ORION) to remove 100 million miles from its domestic network each year, according to Tamara Baker, the company's chief sustainability officer. ORION has been fully rolled out across the U.S., she said. Chicago-based Boeing operates solar facilities in Renton, Wash.; North Charleston, S.C.; and Salt Lake City, and is working to transform commodities like tobacco into biofuel, according to Randolph Bradley, a tech fellow in Boeing's supply chain management operation. Kent, Wash.-based REI's newest distribution center in Goodyear, Ariz., will operate so energy-efficiently that 97 percent of the material handling equipment will run at less than 24 volts of energy, according to Rick Bingle, the company's vice president of logistics.

Solar panels installed on the facility's roof, fed by the rays of the searing desert sun, mean that "everything we use below the roof will be energized from above the roof," Bingle said.

The moves by the three companies are just three examples of a new form of capitalism, one that will reward firms able to balance the dual aims of profitability and corporate responsibility, according to Andrew Winston, a sustainability consultant and author, and the panel's moderator. Fortunately, technological advancements have enabled companies to make "deep changes" in their business processes at a remarkably low cost, especially in the energy arena.

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