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Green View – Do you know where ‘stuff’ comes from?

What’s in my pen? I mean, what raw materials make up the pen I am using to write this article? Or the coffee I am drinking? Or the mobile phone on the desk in front of me?

What’s in my pen? I mean, what raw materials make up the pen I am using to write this article? Or the coffee I am drinking? Or the mobile phone on the desk in front of me?

Do you ever wonder where all our ‘stuff’ comes from or what ‘stuff’ goes into that ‘stuff’? When it comes to what’s in our food, things can happen which pull us up short and make us ask these important questions. Then, it can be more than purely a matter of taste about what we consume. But do we really know enough about other things found in what we use every day?

Take Tantalum for instance, something on which we all rely. How many of you have heard of it apart from the chemists and techies now shouting at the screen? This scarce element is on my desk and in your pocket or bag because it‘s critical to one of the components in the mobile phone.

Yet would we know or care if we ran out of this rather obscure metal? Probably the scientists would find something to replace it. For sure, until about 15 years ago we got by without it.

But, who’s to say we could replace it easily or cheaply? Moreover, Tantalum has a questionable record since money raised from illegally mined reserves in Congo is alleged to support human rights violations in Central Africa.

And there’s the rub, whether its horsemeat in ready meals or Tantalum in mobiles we simply do not know, ask or, dare I say it, care much about what happens in our supply chain, until it goes wrong, stocks run out or it costs too much.

As a consumer, it is rare for a failure in the supply chain to bring us to the point that we have to fundamentally change our buying behaviour. But in a business trying to hang on in this economic climate, the failure of a key supplier or the loss of a critical raw material could mean collapse. Some of the warning signs could be a sudden increase or fluctuation in supply price, delays in delivery or some new official paperwork landing on your desk. Maybe it could be a passing reference in a trade journal to a supply problem. Chances are that by the time the consumer reads it in the daily papers, it will be too late for your business.

So, if you are in a business with a complicated supply chain, ask your suppliers some awkward questions, get to know your raw materials and make plans for a safer, cleaner and healthier inventory. Then, tell your customers what you have done. They may even like you more for it, buy from you again and get their friends to buy from you, too.

- Peter Gudde, Environmental Management Officer at St Edmundsbury Borough Council

 

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