I am being ironic about the word future; we are waiting future to solve problems that we already have in present. In 1980´s, in the film trilogy “Back to the future” they travel to 2015, their future, which looks far away; now in 2016 is our past, we just lived their future.
Sustainability is part of those things that we have tried to solve in the future. I will be talking too much about this topic this year because it´s very important to be sure that our job as logisticians is not jeopardizing the future of next generations. Being a big subject, it deserves more than one post. In this first opportunity, let´s introduce to sustainability and the steps that we can take now “while future arrives”.
Sustainability is etymologically defined as “hold up”, from latin words sus = up and tenere = hold. In Cabeza´s words: it is meeting the needs of people on Earth while insuring that people, generation after generation, can continue to exist and prosper in this planet (Cabezas, 2012). So, we could say that sustainability means hold up the coexistence of humans with its environment. In consequence, sustainable development is the action of covering present needs without compromising the ability to satisfy future needs.
Future is closely associated with technology; remember the skateboard of the movie, the hoverboard in fact, probably one of the icons linked to the idea of drastic changes of future that now is becoming real. Certainly technology is helping to improve sustainability and will continue to do it with the development of new bio-fuels, electric cars and many other innovations that will reduce drastically our polluting emissions; we will touch technology deeper in other post but in this one I want to talk about attitude.
Sadly, many logisticians are still waiting to be visited by future to start being sustainable instead take actions since now. Pretexts are many, probably the most repetitive are: technology is expensive and/or there are not enough carriers using green methods. Perhaps they are true, considering the technological gap among different regions of our globe, the availability could be scarce and some resources costly.
But let me tell you that adopting technology is not the only way to be sustainable. There are small non-costly actions with huge positive impact in environment, maybe not all of them are suitable for your objectives but at least one will fit to your company for sure; let´s list some:
- Truck capacity efficiency
This is basic, we all know it, it´s a “must” reach cost efficiency filling trucks at 100% of capacity, we dream with an avalanche ejected out of trailer when doors are opening. But, despite being a basic principle there are many companies carrying 85% of trailers or even less. The logic is simple, fuller trucks means less trucks in the road in a timeframe, therefore less contamination. So let´s consolidate our loads, we can use LTL mode or find a partner with similar routes to share trucks, the sum of volumes will help you to get cost efficiency while you benefit our planet. Even more, if you have a half of trailer in a weekly basis, a quick change in your planning can make a complete trailer in a bi-weekly basis; it works for half pallets, imagine the expenses for shipping 15 boxes in a wood pallet with capacity for 45 boxes, three trucks, three pallets, three labor forces employed instead just one.
If you are the supplier and your orders from clients have these characteristics don´t be afraid and talk with your customer, believe me they will be open to discuss it.
- Use alternative transportation modes
The last mile delivery may be is not so flexible and it has to be made in trucks, but there are a good number of chances to substitute trucks by rail or airplanes by vessels. The concern is inventory, yes, I understand that, but it´s important to point that future is achieving these transportation modes and transit times have improved a lot versus 20 years ago, maybe is time to change paradigms.
- Suppliers development
Not all suppliers of transportation have big sizes to whom an investment to renew trucking equipment every 5 years is not a big deal; there are small companies as logistics providers. Supplier development is a clear demonstration of co-responsibility in supply chains; you can offer, besides training, long-term agreements of collaboration, they will help your supplier to feel safe and invest in new equipment or better maintenance services of its current equipment.
- Returnable containers
Wood pallets and cardboard boxes are usually trashed; an OEM can generate something like 1.5 million metric tons of waste per year of these two products.
This problem can be reduced implementing returnable containers in your logistics. Certainly you have to pay for the return of those containers, but after deliver or before pick up the truck has to run empty anyway, so trucking companies use to give preferential tariffs to these returns; so, you have to evaluate the cost of freight versus the expenses in cardboard and wood pallets, including fumigation, to see if this initiative is good for your company.
If usage of these packaging products is inevitable: recycle. Try to talk with suppliers or customers to assess chances of return these products; if not, there are local suppliers dedicated to collect and recycle wood and cardboard, some of them pay for each kilo.
I was saying that I would talk about attitude. As you can realise, being sustainable is an attitude at the beginning, is our decision to hold up our existence in a habitable place. Stop waiting for future and let´s do something now!
I insist, probably not all these recommendations are suitable for your purposes but I´m sure that you can do something to reduce our impact in environment and assure that our footprint in world is positive. Leave a comment telling us what are you doing to turn your logistics greener; sharing we will reach more logisticians that become conscious of our responsibility with future and most important our present. As always, thanks for reading, until next one!
Cabezas, H. (2012). Sustainability: Multi-disciplinary perspectives. Bentham Science Publishers
Muller, J. (2013). How GM makes $1 billion a year by recycling. Forbes. Retrieved on Feb, 2nd, 2016 at http://www.forbes.com/sites/joannmuller/2013/02/21/how-gm-makes-1-billion-a-year-by-recycling-waste/2/#7a190fb8e94f