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Friday, June 13, 2008

RFID: A Double-Edged Sword in Sustainability

Implementing a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) solution enables a much greater level of control over a materials distribution operation, but that can be a double-edged sword when it comes to carbon emissions. The trick to success is in defining the correct design criteria up front.

Imagine designing a food distribution solution for a supermarket chain using RFID to manage the delivery of crates of fresh produce. An effective RFID implementation enables enhanced control and management. That permits smaller, more frequent, deliveries, which puts fresher food on the shelves (good for the consumer), in quantities that accurately reflect demand and thus also reduces waste due to spoiled produce (good for sustainability).

The additional control also enables the distributor to manage a larger fleet of smaller vehicles. On a like-for-like basis, I believe that larger vehicles, fully-loaded, are more carbon-efficient per pound of food delivered (please keep me honest on this), so this solution has increased emissions.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way. The secret is to include carbon emissions as a design criteria up front and not leave it as an afterthought. Solutions can be identified that meet both the traditional design criteria of reducing cost and improving service at the same time as addressing sustainability concerns. But only if all criteria are considered up front.

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