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On the road to a greener future for logistics companies

Asos Clothing

Clothing company Asos is the first online retailer to be verified carbon neutral. Photograph: ASOS


Powered by article titled “On the road to a greener future for logistics companies” was written by Angela Jameson, for on Thursday 5th December 2013 14.32 UTC

As shoppers start to think about the Christmas season, businesses are looking at how they can manage to have goods on shop shelves or shipped directly to customers at the lowest possible cost. Small businesses see cost control and sustainability as two sides of the same coin. Choosing logistics companies that care about their environment can help to preserve profitability and increasingly, retailers and manufacturers are insisting that their suppliers cut their carbon footprint, including their logistics suppliers.

Clothing retailer Asos has been verified as the first online retailer to be carbon neutral and says that it will pick its suppliers on that basis, in future. It has “significantly reduced” its use of air freight. A spokesman for the British Retail Consortium says: “Our members are working towards challenging targets across many environmental areas including reducing carbon emissions and waste across the supply chain.”

Geoff Dossetter, a spokesman for the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in the UK, says that the recession has made logistics companies become as efficient as possible and they have done this through IT, which helps them plan routes and monitor driver behaviour, as well as by engineering improvements on trucks. “In 2013 we are moving more goods in fewer vehicles,” he says. In 1967 there were 600,000 lorries on Britain’s roads, but there are now just 430,000, according to Department for Transport figures.

Andy Wislocki, founder of Atlas Bulk Carriers, a small haulage firm based in Shepperton, says that fuel efficiency is one of the main reasons his business survived the downturn: “Fuel is our second biggest expense behind wages. We try and plan routes on regular jobs and keep the lorries loaded in both directions. All of our drivers have had driver efficiency training.”

Sustainable practices

For small and niche retailers, choosing sustainable logistics routes to the customer makes sense. Niamh Barker, founder of The Travelwrap company, which sells luxury cashmere wraps online, says: “I don’t think small business today can afford not to be committed to environmental sustainability and social responsibility.”

Barker includes the cost of shipping in her product’s price, which has helped her to sell overseas, but she wants to use carriers and delivery agents with good environmental credentials: “I have always got one eye on the scalability of our business so the suppliers we work with have an environmental policy and our shipper has an ongoing commitment to reducing the environmental impact of its day-to-day operations.”

Increasingly, retailers will drop goods to a particular location – a store or a locker – so that customers drive the last mile or two, to pick up at a time that is convenient to them. “Consumer convenience is driving click-and-collect models, but carbon reduction – compared with multiple local drop-offs – is a happy benefit,” says Roy Williams, managing director of supply chain consultancy Vendigital.

Trevor Hoyle, managing director ground operations, UK & Ireland, at FedEx UK, says: “Taking the time to invest in and implement sustainable practices not only benefits the environment but the business as a whole. For example, the FedEx Eco-Drive programme and vehicle routing system enable drivers to operate vehicles more effectively and sustainably, thus increasing fuel efficiency, decreasing waste and reducing costs. This is critical at a time when rising volumes of online purchases necessitate longer distances being covered when delivering to individual addresses.”

Carbon reduction

One logistics company that has to deal with multiple local deliveries, every day, is Menzies Distribution which delivers 7m newspapers and magazines to retailers large and small across the country, covering 1230,000 miles daily over 2,000 delivery routes. Menzies Distribution is targeting an 8% reduction in carbon emissions by 2015, based on 2010 figures.

Allan Hughes, transport and logistics manager at Menzies Distribution, says: “The pressure to reduce our carbon footprint has come from within our own business, but by being as efficient as possible we don’t have to apply increased costs on the customer.”

Electric vehicles could help logistics companies to deliver to multiple points – within cities or towns, and trials of longer semi-trailers – which can carry up to 15% more goods – have also been given the go ahead by the Department for Transport. Fewer trucks on the road are a good thing, but at the same time, the number of vans is soaring. While shoppers may opt for free delivery, when they buy online, in truth there is no such thing – and there are fears that shopping online and home deliveries will undo the gains made by larger trucks.

As Dossetter says: “It is the van that now has the poor reputation for efficiency and emissions. The most inefficient journey is the one that has to be repeated because the consumer was out. It’s in the retailer’s interest to make sure that happens as little as possible, to keep costs down.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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