There aren’t many times in any industry when going the extra mile to do the right thing is actually really good for business too. But it does happen.
Skeptical? You’re not alone. After two years of juggling, pivoting, problem solving, reimagining and then doing it again – all of which have drained energies and operational budgets – any transportation logistics executive in charge of budgeting, could be forgiven for taking a hard line on non-essential expenditures.
Proactively protecting the environment? That’s a must-do for every industry, but it’s low on a priority list that has been exclusively focused on finding and retaining carrier capacity and keeping the flow of goods moving across the country and around the world.
As we all continually re-examine ways to cut costs and realize even greater operational efficiencies, improving environmental protocols – and reducing C02 emissions specifically – presents a rare win-win dynamic in which operations leaders can preemptively align around incoming regulations, optimize network efficiencies and reduce C02, an increasingly problematic contributor to greenhouse gasses (GHG’s) and overall environmental impact. If all of that sounds a little like having your cake and eating it, you’re not wrong. Let’s dig in, get some broader perspective and take a closer look at the issues and strategic steps to lowering emissions and raising profits.
The Global Perspective: efforts to reduce emissions
Protecting the environment seemed more an extreme activist position a few decades ago but it’s rightly now a global perspective – and with good reason. The Paris Accord – an agreement by countries around the world to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 – mandates a target of no more than a 1.5 degree Celsius change in global temperature beyond pre-industrial levels. According to Stanford University, as of March 2021, 64 countries signed the agreement but the race is on. While pandemic lockdowns and other confinement measures cut global emissions by 2.6 billion tons of CO2, about seven percent below pre 2019 levels, experts say that level of control cannot be maintained and the world is on track to increase global temperature by 3-5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century: a world-changing problem.
The good news is that change is being affected at the global, national, corporate and individual levels. Or at least initiatives are in place to fast track new behaviors. At the international level, 27 countries have implemented a carbon tax, imposing fees on industries for carbon emissions in an effort to incentivize a switch to improved practices and both green technologies and power sources. Pro-tax countries include Argentina, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Denmark, the European Union (27 countries), Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Ukraine. Others considering joining include Brazil, Brunei, Indonesia, Pakistan, Russia, Serbia, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam. In addition, 64 carbon pricing initiatives are currently in force across the globe on various regional, national, and subnational levels, with three more scheduled for implementation, according to The World Bank. Together, these initiatives have been estimated to cover 21.5% of the global greenhouse gas emissions in 2021.
A gradual shift to renewable energy worldwide is also underway with solar-generated power leading the way. While coal and gas still account for around 60% of the world’s energy, renewable forms of energy production are growing fast. According to Earth.org, worldwide solar power production has grown 25% year-on-year with overall renewable energy now accounting for 29% of the global power supply and the first countries, like Iceland, being close to 100% renewable-energy-powered. This pace of change will pick up, but it’s also going to require the major industries that generate large amounts of C02 – for example manufacturing and livestock-based meat production – as well as other private sector companies and every team within them – to affect change from the top down and bottom up. While the earth’s agriculture goliaths tackle damaging methane gas emissions (9.6% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions), a society-wide movement is beginning, with the adoption of consumer and coming commercial electric vehicles, single use plastics, ride sharing and plant-based food production.
The C-Suite Perspective: targeting the supply chain and improving visibility
While all of that is tremendously encouraging and needed, corporate America and its global counterparts are being asked to do more. Forbes reports leaders now recognize the need for their companies and organizations to drive more proactive environmental change through C02-limiting practices across the organization but particularly in relation to the supply chain. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), company supply chains now account for a staggering 90% of an organization’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
While changes to other emissions-reducing strategies, including business travel practices, electric vehicles and renewable energy use, all help corporations lower their carbon footprint, tackling supply chain emissions from manufacturing to the transportation, handling and management of goods is the single greatest impact generator for many businesses. Kevin Sneader, global managing partner, McKinsey & Company hits the nail squarely on the head about exactly what’s needed to affect this level of network-wide change:
“While there wasn’t much debate about the science [of necessary reduction of C02 emissions], executives and investors were concerned about the lack of reliable data on the efforts companies and society are making, not to mention their impact. Greater clarity is required in order to speed development of new standards to help markets act more efficiently and reward progress.”
The answer lies, as with many operational efficiencies initiatives, in clear access to data across your supply chain operation. How much C02 is being emitted at any given time? What are the major causes, modes or geographies and other contributing variables? Only by tracking this data, by embedding an enterprise-wide approach to ongoing C02 monitoring, can we build effective strategies to manage and reduce emissions and realize greater efficiencies at the same time. This is especially critical post global pandemic as many industries re-set and examine better practices to mitigate risk and manage challenges.
Creating Sustainability Practices in Transportation Logistics
When it comes to creating sustainable practices in logistics transportation, the great news is that the train has already left the station. Meaning shippers are already organically looking for better ways to improve execution and lower costs. And typically those changes – optimizing network and mode, carrier/LSP selection via advanced routing as well as packaging strategies to reduce dimensional weight and trim cost – will all contribute to emissions reduction. The challenge, of course, comes in how to measure any impact from these actions as part of an overall carbon reduction program.
How do we begin thinking about C02 monitoring and measurement? How do we acquire quantitative proof of progress or KPI’s that can demonstrate we’re delivering against our footprint- reduction goals? Measurement needs to include everything from the role warehouse management, packaging, product sourcing all play in emissions as well as, of course, the movement of inbound materials or inventory delivery and outbound transportation of goods across mode, region and geography.
Tracking CO2: Supporting a Broader Sustainability Initiative
As we set about to review sustainable practices within an operation, it’s a good idea to adopt a broader view of sustainability. Yes, transportation will be a major driver of C02 emissions and require monitoring, but let’s review other contributing factors too. Do your carriers across your network practice emissions-reduction strategies? Things like load consolidation, which will typically lower cost per unit weight, reduce your number of shipments, reduce fuel needs and lead to an overall reduction of C02. If they’re not using basic emissions-reduction practices or considering doing so, it may be time to find new carriers.
Unfortunately, there is no global standard to measure CO2 in relation to transportation logistics which makes comparison across the industry extremely difficult at present. In the United States, the EPA’s Smartway program is attempting to standardize CO2 coefficients but not all companies have adopted a single source of CO2, nor a common definition as it relates to transportation logistics. Until this happens, the best course of action is internal measurement: consistently monitoring and measuring across your operation and benchmarking emissions- reduction against your own goals and initiatives to affect them. Only by doing this and having the data-driven proof points can we set new goals as well as broader sustainability targets that can all be reported to customers, partners, investors and other stakeholders.
It’s All About Data: FAP’s Role in CO2 Measurement
Visibility is the key to delivering on your targets for sustainability and emission reduction, and that can only come from data collection, curation and analysis. Two fundamental components for measuring CO2 emissions in transportation logistics are weight and distance. How large and heavy are my goods? How far and by which means do they need to travel, what’s the fuel required and how efficient is consumption? A good quality Freight Audit and Payment (FAP) system tracks weight and lane, which can help calculate distance, plus additional variables, making it a foundational step and required tool for any CO2 measurement and reduction effort.
While there is no single source or method to deriving CO2 yet, distance, weight, and mode of transportation are all key fundamental elements that support the calculation of CO2 related to transportation logistics. The bottom line is that by combining these input values with CO2 coefficients, it’s possible to calculate the CO2 associated with any shipment, regardless of mode of transport and geographic region.
A natural place to begin is where carbon emissions reduction has a material impact (transportation logistics) and where transportation spend management data is available (historical record of shipping activity with specific distance, weight, mode of transport available). Dashboards and trends along with KPIs for both cost to serve metrics (cost per unit, cost per shipment, cost per unit weight) and carbon emissions (CO2 by lane, by LSP) create awareness and can be used to establish baselines and alignment for both carbon reduction and transportation spend optimization. This same dashboard can be used by logistics, procurement, operations management, and executives to align on, and report, progress at all levels of the organization at any given time.
Getting the Most from Your KPI’s
According to Forrester, 59% of all companies worldwide now follow data-driven strategies and that number is growing as even small-to-medium sized organizations realize the benefits of data analysis. As you build your sustainability protocols and measurement practices to get the most from your KPI’s, two things are important.
Continuous Process Improvement
Set goals and use appropriate KPI’s and influencers (cost per unit of distance, CO2 per unit of distance) which will deliver ongoing process improvements: proper supplier and LSP management across your operation as well as more informed decision making for everything from mode of transportation and packaging choice all the way to corporation level decisions around emissions control strategies.
Build carbon emission reduction strategies into your overall optimization strategies. They’re one and the same. Putting in place operational changes to improve efficiencies will reduce emissions. Setting emissions reduction goals will necessitate changes that improve efficiency. And consistent, standardized and high quality data is essential for both.
Do both of these things: continually drive improvement across every process and embrace data- driven decision making to optimize strategies, and you’ll put in place the steps and tools to not just lower C02 emissions, but related operational costs too.
Steve Beda is executive vice president of customer solutions for Trax Technologies, the global leader in Transportation Spend Management solutions. Trax elevates traditional Freight Audit and Payment with a combination of industry leading cloud-based technology solutions and expert services to help enterprises with the world’s more complex supply chains better manage and control their global transportation costs and drive enterprise-wide efficiency and value. For more information, visit www.traxtech.com.