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Earth Day 2024: Consider these five distribution and logistics sustainability innovations

Earth Day 2024: Consider these five distribution and logistics sustainability innovations

Earth Day, which takes place on the 22nd of April, serves as an annual reminder of our collective responsibility to protect the environment. Only one-third of distribution and logistics leaders have an environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategy with a clear target, according to our Sector Trends Report 2024. However, within an industry that sees billions of tons of goods moving around the globe yearly, every decision, from the choice of packaging to the way products are delivered, holds the potential to mitigate the environmental impact of trade. 

Here, we outline five innovative sustainability strategies that distribution and logistics companies can adopt to reduce their environmental impact, boost their bottom line, and build a more sustainable future: 

  1. Reverse Logistics  

Reverse logistics is the process of managing returned items, to reduce waste and optimise the supply chain. This will often involve using the same infrastructure to return items as they were delivered by. When implemented strategically, it becomes a potent tool for sustainability. 

Companies like UPS are increasing investment in reverse logistics, recognising that by making the returns process more efficient, they can reduce waste and carbon emissions. For example, they have recently acquired Happy Returns, allowing customers to return items box and label free to set drop-off points – improving buyer experience, reducing packaging waste and reducing emissions by streamlining the returns process. 

  1. Shared warehousing space 

Underused warehousing is a source of waste in the industry. By utilising every square meter and hour, the industry can reduce the need for new developments, decrease energy usage, and lower operational costs.  

Supporting smaller companies to share a single warehouse cuts back on heating bills and makes economic use of space. For example, GXO is offering a model, GXO Direct, whereby companies can leverage a single warehouse - reducing their expenses and negative environmental impact. GXO Direct allows customers to scale up or down with demand, avoiding wastage as the amount of space they need varies. 

  1. Offer green logistics options 

Many of a logistics businesses’ customers and partners will have their own sustainability agendas. Smart providers can provide options for those clients wanting to go the extra mile, entering into a collaborative process and sharing the cost of green initiatives.  

This could involve transportation choices that make the most of green methods, alternative fuels and offsetting. For example, CEVA Logistics offers Green Ocean Solutions where clients can choose ocean vessels powered by alternative fuels or to offset their transportation choices with reforestation – with CEVA providing certification of the steps taken for ESG records.  

  1. Don't overlook the offcuts of plastics 

In the conversation about sustainability, the focus is often on finished products, but what about the plastic 'offcuts'? Collectively, pellets, flakes, and powders can have a surprisingly significant environmental footprint – reducing water quality and threatening wildlife. 

Operation Clean Sweep supports transportation and service providers in safeguarding plastic resin during handling and transport – making sure it is securely contained. Companies like Woodside Logistics Group are signing up, making a commitment to the training and audits necessary to combat this type of environmental damage.   

  1. Redistribute surplus food 

The redistribution of surplus food is an area where logistics companies can have a dramatic impact on both social welfare and environmental health. For those involved in food transport and packaging, issues like delays in transportation schedules, inefficient route planning, and poor inventory management can result in surplus food items that go to waste. 

Distribution and logistics firms can choose from a myriad of food redistribution partners, who ensure food that would be otherwise wasted reaches those who need it the most, taking it to homeless hostels, food banks, children’s lunch clubs and more. For example, International Procurement and Logistics (IPL) partner with food surplus company FareShare to redistribute 256.3 surplus tonnes of product across the UK.  

By adopting a holistic approach that values reusability, optimisation, and conservation, the logistics and distribution industry can not only play a part in the fight against climate change but also find new sources of revenue and build customer loyalty. By championing initiatives like reverse logistics, shared warehousing, and green transportation choices, organisations can carve a path toward a more eco-friendly future. 

OneAdvanced Supplier Management can help you drive sustainability in your supplier base, by setting ESG targets and tasks to encourage change. Find out more here 

Blog Manufacturing, logistics and wholesale
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