Making Real Impact Through Sustainability Efforts in E-Commerce Logistics

Nov 03, 2022
  • H&M Group focuses on reducing the environmental impact it makes during logistics activities – specifically on transport.

  • Presently, UPS deploys more than 13,000 alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles worldwide and is working towards an overall goal of fueling 40% of its ground operations with alternative fuels by 2025.

  • In its Sustainability Roadmap, DPDHL has committed to using 30% of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) blending for all air transportation by 2030.

Last year, we discussed how sustainability is no longer an option, but a necessity for retail and logistics businesses today. That being said, change almost always comes at a cost – how can companies remain competitive while still exercising accountability for their impact on the environment? Is it even possible to strike a balance between the two?

To commemorate Earth Day 2022 and in line with this year’s theme, we asked some of the top sustainability leaders in e-commerce logistics to share the efforts they have taken to “Invest In Our Planet” towards making a positive impact on our planet. 

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Can profit-driven businesses truly make a difference to the environment? Let’s hear what the experts have to say! 

#1: Having Sustainability at the Core of Our Business – Suhas Singh, H&M Group

Suhas Singh is the Regional Logistics Sustainability Manager Asia & Pacific of retail giant H&M Group. A seasoned sustainability professional, Suhas comes with 11 years of experience in the apparel and textile industry. Since joining the H&M Group 9 years ago, Suhas has worked in different parts of the organization, starting out in business and later moving on to more sustainability-focused roles such as Sustainability Developer, Environmental Program Leader, and more recently a Sustainability Manager.

Sustainability is an integral part of the H&M Group business model. Owing to its financial strength and long-term approach, the company has been able to invest in technologies and make contributions toward a more circular and renewable fashion industry. According to Suhas, H&M Group focuses on reducing the environmental impact it makes during logistics activities – specifically on transport. For example, over 50% of H&M’s last-mile deliveries in China are presently using E-Trucks. The company also hopes to scale up the use of low-emission alternatives like electric vehicles, gradually transition to renewable energy, and improve overall energy efficiency with investments in LED and smart sensor technology.  

So how does H&M Group strike the balance between sustainability and meeting the ever-shifting expectations of customers? 

“We always listen to our customers, to understand their expectations and needs so that we can offer them the products they want — always with the best combination of fashion, quality, price, sustainability, speed, and flexibility,” Suhas told Parcel Monitor. “The more we use our size and influence to make a positive impact, the more we can grow and create value in a sustainable way.” 

#2: Paving the Way for Decarbonized Transportation – Chika Imakita, UPS 

Chika Imakita joined UPS as an intern at the company’s global headquarters in Atlanta in 1999 and has since accumulated a wealth of experience in logistics and supply chain management in both Asia and the United States. As the current Managing Director of UPS Malaysia and Singapore, Chika oversees all aspects of UPS’s small package operations in both countries. Based in Singapore, she leads a combined team of several hundred people tasked with driving business expansion and implementing local and international strategic growth initiatives in two key Southeast Asian markets. 

Being the keen environmentalist that she is, Chika hopes to lead UPS in driving sustainable change in the industry through their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives. In her view, operating a sustainable supply chain is about more than just “going green”; besides the obvious environmental benefits, it can also mean the difference between success and failure for any business.

 “If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that we need to be prepared for the unexpected, and that means always having a plan B; backup suppliers in case of disruption to your regular ones, backup transportation options in the event of things such as port or canal blockages,” advised Chika. 

In its recent sustainability report, UPS announced a set of ambitious targets – demonstrating the logistics giant’s determination to continue paving the way for decarbonizing the transportation sector. Presently, UPS deploys more than 13,000 alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles worldwide and is working towards an overall goal of fueling 40% of its ground operations with alternative fuels by 2025.

Nevertheless, Chika acknowledged that operating in the most sustainable way may not mean the most cost-effective way; a challenge, especially for smaller businesses. According to Chika, UPS hopes to go some way towards finding a solution by offering customers the option of paying a small fee to offset the carbon emissions of their shipments through its carbon-neutral program. These contributions are then reinvested in fully-accredited conservation projects around the world.

#3: Sustainability As a Catalyst to Propel Innovation – Dave Lütkenhaus, L'Oréal

Dr. Dave Lütkenhaus is a Research & Sustainable Innovation Director at L'Oréal, a global leader in beauty and cosmetics. Dave brings with him over 15 years of broad international experience combining managerial skills with a solid technical background in consumer goods, packaging, bio-based materials, green sciences, and sustainability. Prior to L'Oréal, he led the Sustainability and Innovation strategy for the Packaging and Specialty plastics business at the Dow Chemical Company and also previously worked for P&G and FIAT, where he gained experience across various levels of the value chain.

Whilst many companies still hold the belief that becoming more environmentally friendly would entail added business costs and thus reduced profits, Dave believes that sustainability can be a catalyst for businesses to propel innovation – yielding both bottom- and top-line returns. For example, costs can be minimized by the optimization of resource utilization, process improvements, and new business creation. According to Dave, companies that are forerunners of environmental compliance often identify novel business opportunities through sustainable innovation before their competitors. 

When asked about the challenges organizations face while trying to meet sustainability objectives, Dave shared the following: 

“The process of identification and application of digital data plays a major role in translating sustainability commitments into reachable headways. However, it still portrays a significant challenge for most business leaders to design cohesive strategies bridging digital and green transformations. Data science is key to fastening accurate sustainable developments and ensuring their scalability for significant impact.”

#4: Sustainability is Our Responsibility to the Next Generation – Florian Schwarz, DPDHL

As the Head of Sustainability at the world’s leading logistics provider Deutsche Post DHL Group (DPDHL)Florian Schwarz is no stranger to the topic of sustainability in the supply chain. To Florian, sustainability is simply “the responsibility of humankind to ensure our next generations can still exist on this planet.” At DHL, he is responsible for driving the Sustainability agenda for and with the top 100 customers across the Deutsche Post DHL divisions. This includes achieving a carbon footprint reduction through the GoGreen product portfolio of clean fuel & technology, supply-chain optimization, and circularity solutions. It also means educating DHL’s sales organization on sustainability and demonstrating thought leadership inside and outside of the organization.

In its Sustainability Roadmap, DPDHL has committed to using 30% of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) blending for all air transportation by 2030. Owing to the scarcity of SAF, one of the biggest challenges faced by DPDHL has been the decarbonization of its aviation activities, which account for 70% of its emissions. That being said, DPDHL as a group has achieved many commendable results to-date: “We made significant expenditures in sustainable fields, electric vehicles and carbon neutral buildings. Thus in 2021, we were able to realize decarbonization effects of 728 kilotonnes CO2e and an additional 172 kilotonnes by the means of mandatory biofuel blends.” For professionals and companies aspiring to start their journey in sustainable logistics, Florian’s advice is to “start with any small thing as a pilot to quicken your learning journey.”

#5: Achieving Sustainability Can Be Profitable – Zsofia Agnes Nagy, BZLW GmbH

In close to two decades of consulting experience in FMCG, health care, and cosmetics, Zsofia Agnes Nagy has helped companies become sustainable, yet remain profitable. As an independent supply chain professional, Zsofia offers an objective pair of lenses and has consistently delivered results throughout her career. Specializing in transformation programs, sustainable supply chain solutions, and organizational development, Zsofia takes pride in having rescued several strategic projects with ROI 1:5-1:10 or better.

Speaking from her long track record in consulting, Zsofia claims that “we can no longer do business in a world where we only care about monetary gains”. “Every time I meet a client, a business that needs my help with their supply chain problems, the answers all line up along the lines of sustainability, i.e. managing the business by respecting the environment and the people who work to build it,” added the award-winning supply chain specialist. Apart from working with larger companies to develop a circular supply network, Zsofia also believes that working with startups helps to fill in the infrastructural gap in critical supply chain areas for these companies, helping to achieve tangible results for both businesses and the environment. 

“Always take action, even if it is a small one. Never wait for a bigger step or others.”

#6: Time Is Sustainability's Largest Cost – Michael Preysman, Everlane

At the mere age of 25, Michael Preysman founded the direct-to-consumer e-tailer Everlane, which is now touted as one of the best ethical fashion brands in the world. The company first started out by selling minimalist cotton T-shirts at a fraction of the price of other retailers, leveraging social media and the internet to bypass middlemen. As part of its "radical transparency" strategy, Everlane helps consumers understand where exactly the materials were sourced and why the products cost what they do.

With a strong passion for sustainability and climate change, Michael spends a bulk of his time "supporting and investing in long-term focused ideas and people that have a net-positive impact on people and the planet." In 2015, Michael was featured in Forbes' annual "30 Under 30" list for his efforts to reinvent retail and e-commerce.

“Climate change is the most urgent issue facing our planet and we must act now to have a planet for the future. But in order to act- we must first educate. At Everlane, we’re dedicated to pushing sustainability forward through our supply chain while educating our customers so they can make better decisions,” said Michael.

The Time Is Now to Invest in Our Planet

With climate change’s devastating effects becoming increasingly evident around the world, the theme for this year’s Earth Day has never been more relevant. Besides helping to slow down climate change, enhancing supply-chain sustainability can also benefit businesses in the form of higher profit margins in the long term. Companies that pollute less, for instance, can improve compliance with governance guidelines and have higher chances to win contracts, which in turn allow them to increase awareness of the brand through customer engagement. 

“Act (boldly), innovate (broadly), and implement (equitably). It’s going to take all of us. All in. Businesses, governments, and citizens — everyone accounted for, and everyone accountable. A partnership for the planet.” 

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