The European Supply Chain Excellence Awards 2007, Environmental Improvement Winner: Meadowhall Centre

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As Gordon Colborn has noted in his commentary, we were slightly disappointed that, again this year, few entries went out of their way to promote the environmental, sustainability or wider Corporate Social Responsibility aspects of their submissions.

Nonetheless, we did have two finalists where the entries, although not primarily driven by environmental concerns, showed appreciable environmental gains. These were from Ford Motor Company’s European Transport Operations, and from the Meadowhall Centre.

Ford has faced the problem that its massive infrastructure, with all its sunk capital, isn’t necessarily any longer in the right places for current patterns of production and consumption, so there is an implied ‘use it or lose it’ threat. What Ford have done is to take a hard look at transport operations in the UK and Northern Europe, in conjunction with other parties from 3PLs to the trade unions, to recast and rebalance traffic flows. Where necessary to achieve balance, Ford is now offering its services on the open market to other carmakers and manufacturers. At the same time, the operation has successfully dealt with a raft of regulatory issues, for example driver working time rules, to ensure the long-term future of the operation.

‘Green’ wasn’t the primary driver here, but the possibilities for reducing the car industry supply chain’s environmental footprint have proved a valuable selling point both internally and externally, while an impressive range of ‘green metrics’ are being developed, informing a lot of hard work on issues such as fuel consumption, the use of ‘biodiesel’, maximising capacity utilisation and so forth. But it is early days, and the judges weren’t convinced that this is yet enough to assure the longer-term sustainability (business sense and environmental) of the operations.

So the preferred entry in the Environmental category was that from the Meadowhall Centre, the nationally famous shopping centre near Sheffield. Leaving aside the awkward fact that consumer’s willingness to drive several hundred miles for the Meadowhall retail experience is not an obvious environmental good, there were several aspects of this submission that had the judges’ eyes going green.

The core of the entry by Meadowhall’s owners, British Land, is the ARC consolidation centre which Meadowhall operates in intimate collaboration with almost 100 of the 270 on-site retailers. They describe it as ‘a blueprint for feeding the supply chain into city centres, shopping malls and airports. The model successfully keeps large vehicles out of already congested areas through the consolidation of part loads onto smaller, better utilised vehicles’.

Equally, the facility allows product bound for retailers to be stripped of unneeded packaging down to the final selling unit, keeping waste away from retailer and consumer and improving the rate and value of recovery and recycling. Operated for Meadowhall by Clipper Logistics, the consolidation centre has been so successful that not only has it been expanded but it is now serving city centre stores as well as retailers at Meadowhall. Vehicles are all to Euro 111 standard, and the introduction of electric vehicles for the ‘final mile’ is being actively explored.

Environmental gains are good, but British Land isn”t a charity and some of the metrics around the centre reveal a sound business case for going green. One retailer attributes a 10 per cent (€790,000) uplift in turnover to the centre which from the landlord’s point of view is a potential rental uplift of €118,000, increased shareholder value and so on. Retailers themselves now have the option of buying in bulk, because they have readily accessible out of store warehousing, while receiving goods into store in manageable quantities – also an advantage for retailers such as Mothercare who don’t wish to use too much expensive retail space to stock bulky items like cots. The operation broke even after two years (the landlord had allowed five years in the business plan) and has had to expand to match demand.

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