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Sustainability and Geopolitics: The Supply Chain Institute Tackles The World’s Most Pressing Issues

Sustainability and Geopolitics: The Supply Chain Institute Tackles The World’s Most Pressing Issues

Professors Nick Vyas and Greys Sošić believe the supply chain institute has more to teach than turning a profit.

Sustainability and Geopolitics: The Supply Chain Institute Tackles  The World’s Most Pressing Issues

With the supply chain's complex web of production comes risk and cost, not the least of which is its impact on the environment.

[Photo: Aron Yigin/Unsplash]

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Just four years ago, most people knew little about supply chain dynamics, shipping issues, or the logistics industry. Then, a global pandemic, a baby formula shortage, and a supply chain crisis changed all of that. Almost overnight, everyone had an opinion on product pipelines and shipping routes.

The dilemma, however, didn’t catch NICK VYAS off guard. Vyas is the founding director of the RANDALL R. KENDRICK GLOBAL SUPPLY CHAIN INSTITUTE, and he foresaw potential disaster long before the pandemic.

“We were the first ones to call out these potential structural issues of the global supply chain, way before COVID,” said Vyas. “I was concerned about how much our global supply chain networks had become too risky, too cost- and speed-centric, that it had lost the focus on resiliency, agility, and sustainability.”

Now, of course, everyone is an expert on the supply chain. In fact, Vyas asserts that the phrase has become common knowledge from academia to junior high.

“I propose that you can now go into a middle school and take a poll of seventh and eighth graders and ask them a question about what the supply chain is,” said Vyas. “They might not give you technical definitions, but I can guarantee you that, overwhelmingly, they know what a supply chain is.”

Vyas posited that while the supply chain used to be the backbone of our society, it now stands at the forefront, at the very center of world infrastructure. As such, it’s essential the process remains intact — from the development of raw materials to manufacturing products to the delivery of goods. Yet, within this complex web of production comes risk and cost, not the least of which is the supply chain’s impact on the environment.

Most people know that a high degree of pollution comes from large corporations. What they may not realize is that 90% of that pollution — including the release of greenhouse gasses — is caused by the supply chain. Vyas and professors at the Kendrick Institute are working to educate students on this crisis.

One of these leaders is GREYS SOŠIĆ, the senior vice dean of faculty and academic affairs, professor of data sciences and operations, and founder of a class on sustainable supply chains, fittingly titled Sustainable Supply Chains (DSO 505).

“As a supply chain professional, as a business leader, one cannot have their head in the sand.”

— Nick Vyas

Founding Director Randall R. Kendrick Global Supply Chain Institute

Sošić and her students analyze the effects of supply chains on the environment and explore new, sustainable methods. The professor didn’t just want her students challenging companies though. She asked them all to calculate their own carbon footprint. Many of them were shocked to discover their own impact on the environment. According to Sošić, lessons like these have already left a significant impression on students.

“I remember somebody wrote [in a student comment], ‘this is the first course I took at Marshall that wasn’t just talking about profits and reducing costs and increasing revenues, but actually looking at something,’” said Sošić.

Unlike other courses, Sošić’s class is a practical call to action, an urgent plea with a younger generation to stand up and change the systems that have brought the world to an environmental boiling point.

“As a researcher, as an educator, there is much more you can do,” said Sošić. “If you try to motivate your students to do something more, then perhaps something more can happen.”

When it comes to the global supply chain, it can be difficult for students to determine what “something more” is, especially when the issues center on macroeconomics and multinational corporations. Nick Vyas doesn’t shy away from the enormity of the dilemma though; he embraces it.

“In the class I’m teaching called The Global Supply Chain Management in International Settings (DSO 557A), I actually speak extensively in the modules regarding the role of the government — how government can enable the ecosystem that’s business-friendly. And converse to that: how government can stifle the progress.”

To illustrate the relationship between geopolitics and the supply chain, Vyas offered the example of the Russia-Ukraine War. For 35 years following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, post-Soviet Russia built their economy into a substantial power. Within eighteen months though, their entire system was shattered, thanks to sanctions brought on by the Russian army’s 2022 invasion of their southwest neighbor.

As Vyas pointed out, geopolitics are not merely a factor of world business. They are the cause and effect of the global supply chain.

“As a supply chain professional, as a business leader, one cannot have their head in the sand,” said Vyas.

Vyas and Sošić are certainly trying to keep their students’ heads out of the sand. They push themselves to remain on the cutting edge of today’s most pressing issues, and it appears that the people in charge are taking notice. The institute works with governments to provide advisory services. Vyas himself has served on various committees under three U.S. presidents.

This active engagement is crucial for the institute to remain relevant in a turbulent field. The world’s market has drastically shifted from where it was when the institute was founded 11 years ago. Those immense changes are compounded with new challenges, like geopolitical struggles and a desperate push toward sustainability. Ultimately though, the rewards will be far greater than money.

“I don’t just want you to be rewarded with millions of dollars in bonuses because you delivered a profit. That’s one part of your job. But are you responsible with your governments? And are you supporting sustainable practices?”

These questions aren’t going away any time soon. In the meantime, Vyas, Sošić, and the institute will attempt to remain on the front lines of a humanitarian fight most people hadn’t heard of four years ago.