The entry point for low carbon and sustainable operations in many large companies has been through the corporate social responsibility (CSR) route. The approach too often has varied between a callous initiative headed by the marketing department to “increase green credentials, image and hence sales” and a “touchy-squeezy, cuddly” initiative headed by the HR function.
Over the past few months, I have been noticing a considerable change in attitude across the piece in logistics. As often happens in other fields, such sea changes occur due to the confluence of a number of influences.
From the very start of the current Labour government in 1997, the Department for Transport under the modest stewardship of John Prescott outlined its approach to sustainable distribution. In a political world where “U-Turns” are no longer avoided at all costs and in the government department that famously has a revolving door on the minister’s office, the sustainability of their sustainable approach has been commendable, especially the longevity of the flagship Freight Best Practice initiative.
This actually positions DfT in the vanguard of the Westminster government’s resurgent interest in the low carbon agenda. At the time of writing, the Royal Society is causing a furore in the chattering classes by overtly backing so-called geo-engineering approaches to climate change management, including the erection of gigantic mirrors in space to deflect the sun’s rays. (Have they not seen what small boys do with a mirror and reflected sun rays – somebody somewhere in the universe is bound to suffer as a result.)
While this may be extreme, the search for alternative energy sources is intensifying with the country’s scientific and research communities quite rightly focusing on delivering long-term solutions.
However, through its robust and proven approach to low carbon logistics, DfT has positioned the logistics sector as a potential major contributor to the medium-term (12 years) solution.
This is where two influences combine to produce a sea change. At the macro-scale, the prize is clear – freight transport accounts for seven per cent of the total UK emissions and those emissions can be dramatically reduced through the introduction of eco-driving. However, I also detect a growing awareness of what you might call micro-benefits with eco-driving approaches such as SAFED improving fuel consumption and therefore operational efficiency.
This is the key because those companies that maybe originally followed one of the routes mentioned above into managing their carbon footprint are discovering that the payback is not limited to CSR but has a direct impact on their operational efficiency. They now include low carbon management as a key element of their operations management across the business, not just driving.
The element that is still missing in all of this however is recognition of the full skills set needed to deliver carbon reduction across the sector to manage and deliver the full benefits. This will include managing the introduction and perpetuation of eco-driving, developing the skills and support needed to manage energy consumption across the operation and getting the best out of the supply chain through co-operation with customers and suppliers.
At Skills for Logistics we have established a working agreement around the Freight Best Practice initiative, mapping the necessary skills into the Professional Development Stairway and then into funded and unfunded qualifications and programmes.
We are also currently running a consultation on Skills Utilisation through our employer forums so we can learn more about management practices used across the sector and this will provide additional input to widen the low carbon skills agenda. If you would like to contribute, go to:
With all this in place, we have a virtuous circle of improved low carbon management contributing to government climate change targets and improving the operational efficiency of logistics companies thereby improving their survival chances as we move out of the recession.
It’s certainly good to hear “virtuous circle”, “climate change” and “operational efficiency” in the same sentence. Watch this space!