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Strome College of Business

Erika Marsillac Links Supply Chain & Sustainability

Do you ever wonder why your Amazon package wasn't delivered on time? Or why you can't find certain items in the store, like toilet paper? Supply chains are tasked with delivering critical goods, services, and packages around (and sometimes even off!) the globe, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. When they work as expected, we take them for granted. When they don't, we suddenly realize how important they are. Supply chains play an essential role in how we receive our goods, services, and packages.

Dr. Erika Marsillac, who was recently promoted to full professor, studies and teaches courses in Supply Chain Management. She describes supply chains as networks and relates managing these networks to being a spider on a web. In simple terms, a supply chain network is like a spiderweb crossing the globe, with all the related organizations and partners a part of and connected through the web. A supply chain manager has to be like the spider, well-attuned to the web's vibrations, to either react to or prevent a bad result, or exploit a good result. Dr. Marsillac emphasizes the importance of knowing all those supply chain connections since what happens on the other side of the world can have a very local impact. Supply chains even affect our efforts in space, since everything that goes up depends on everything happening on the ground!

Dr. Marsillac's research primarily focuses on ways to address environmental sustainability issues through supply chain management. The primary supply chain activities are: planning, sourcing, manufacturing, delivering and managing returns. How a company or person manages those activities can improve or deteriorate environmental issues, so if those activities can be performed in a more sustainable fashion, it would make a significant difference in our daily lives and to the planet.

Supply chain sustainability issues aren't simply 'can I do things better' or 'can I use less packaging'. They also focus on adapting to the increased changes we experience as a society, as businesses, and as consumers. For example, climate change (an environmental issue) is causing more extreme weather events to happen more regularly. Extreme weather events not only disrupt supply chain deliveries, but also can shut down factory production, cause diseases to spread more rapidly, and even influence how companies insure their assets. We obviously have to deal with the current consequences of environmental issues like these, but we also need to limit adding even more environmental problems to that list.

To that end, Dr. Marsillac's research focuses on improving the environmental stance of companies, often encouraging companies to work together to prevent and solve problems, sometimes even with industry competitors. She notes that while many companies think that their problems are unique, that's almost never the case. Issues that are seen in one place are often more broadly impactful across industries, like the vibrations that spread across the spiderweb. If one company is experiencing a problem (or vibration), then its partners and competitors likely are as well. If the problem is solved together, then the relief is also shared. Although most companies understandably don't want to give up their edge, "working together has the ability to solve problems much better than working in a vacuum."

Dr. Marsillac continues to forge partner relationships to ensure that maritime and supply chain issues do not become long term problems and provides guidance on many sustainability issues. In the future, Dr. Marsillac plans to continue researching how our electricity supply chains are changing as more renewable sources are added.