Institution of Mechanical Engineers IMechE

Living Well - Hidden Impacts and Sustainable Consumption

22 November 2010

Sustainability is usually interpreted in terms of three “pillars” or constraints: techno-economic, environmental or ecological, and societal. Applying this approach to consumption suggests that the sustainability of supply chains should be assessed by examining the distribution of positive benefits and negative impacts along the supply chain.

The economic dimension can be addressed by Value Chain Analysis and the environmental dimension by Life Cycle Assessment; juxtaposing the results from VCA and LCA immediately gives useful insights into the sustainability of supply chains. Tools for assessing the distribution of social benefits are still in development but are equally important in a market where consumers and, even more significantly, retailers require suppliers to demonstrate Corporate Social Responsibility.

This approach, which supports but goes beyond the “Fair Trade” movement, is explored by examining some specific supply chains. The results show both the possibilities and the challenges of attempting to improve the sustainability of international supply chains. Quality and luxury emerge, perhaps surprisingly, as features of sustainable consumption – a comforting message for Christmas.


Living Well

: Professor Roland Clift, University of Surrey

Duration: 1 hr