Commentary

OPINION: The journey to carbon neutrality

Pressures are increasing on businesses to be more sustainable but how easy is it to achieve? In this piece Barbara Schielke, chief HR & CSR officer at Asendia, explains how the company achieved 100% carbon neutrality.

Sustainability isn’t a corporate priority everywhere in the world. Green issues are not important to all consumers – just yet. But attitudes are changing fast, legislation is imminent, and the e-commerce supply chain must respond.

Western shoppers now understand that re-use, recycling and slower delivery of their online orders could all play a part in carbon reduction. We’ve seen the rise of second-hand fashion and apparel rental sites such as Vinted, Cudoni and Rent the Runway. Customers balk at excessive packaging when their parcels arrive, and want to know how to recycle materials. It’s all evidence of the circular economy and greener lifestyles becoming a reality.

Surveys repeatedly suggest they want more sustainable delivery when they order online. For instance, the International Post Corporation[1] found 44% of online shoppers have changed their purchasing behaviour to be more sustainable. Yet, many retailers we speak to don’t see evidence of this in the real world. They say their customers still largely focus on convenience and speed, rather than environmental impact.

Balancing act required

This is why we need a balancing act. The biggest challenge for retailers is balancing consumer expectations of rapid delivery times to international destinations, with the need to lower the carbon footprint of every parcel.

At Asendia, we believe it is possible for brands to expand into new markets around the world, while keeping the carbon impact of delivery minimal. Like many players in the e-commerce shipping industry, we set an ambitious target to neutralise our environmental impacts, and pass that benefit onto our retail clients and their end customers around the world. Shoppers must also learn that express delivery can’t also be green delivery, and certainly there may be extra to pay when choosing more responsible delivery.

When you don’t own the vehicles

One big challenge we face is that Asendia does not own transport assets and infrastructure – trucks and airplanes. Instead, we buy services from the transport providers for our parcel shipping routes, and 95% of our emissions come from these vehicles.

This makes it hard for us to manage carbon reduction ourselves, beyond partnering with ‘carbon conscious’ suppliers and carrier partners. So, we have focused on offsetting our Scope 3 emissions to achieve carbon neutrality.

We have progressed our sustainability journey rapidly in the last two years. As of January 2022, Asendia offsets 100% of its international transport emissions across more than 200 countries. This includes those by our delivery partners, parcel returns, and Asendia’s building and machinery emissions, and corporate administration such as business travel.

 Carbon neutrality needs a strong partner

Carbon neutrality has been achieved by our investment in wind farm projects in India and China. EcoAct is a long-established international climate consultancy and project developer, and was carefully selected by our parent company La Poste. It stood out because it holds environmental accreditations, and provides ongoing support, advice and accountability.

These wind projects have many positive impacts, from promoting renewable energies, to creating jobs and economic stability in local communities. For example, the Gaolin project in China is certified with the United Nations CDM label, established to fulfil the climate targets set by the Kyoto Protocol. The project involves the construction and maintenance of 88 wind turbines with the goal of injecting more clean, renewable energy into the electricity mix. This will reduce the negative effects of air pollution, and lower Greenhouse Gas emissions.

Continuing our emissions-cutting journey

We are also able to report the amount of carbon we are offsetting in regular updates, which is powerful information to share both internally and with external customers and stakeholders. Previously in 2020, when we were offsetting emissions on international transport within Europe, as well as from Europe to other continents, the total offset was 50,990 tCO2e.

Of course, a big win for retail clients who use the Asendia e-PAQ services, is that they can assure shoppers that parcel deliveries are carbon neutral, promoting this on their webpages, if they see fit.

Offsetting may not be the perfect solution, but while the world awaits innovations such as Sustainable Aviation Fuel and other carbon-cutting developments, we believe it’s a worthwhile way to progress towards our ESG goals.

We are looking to reduce our carbon footprint, working with partners and finding new initiatives to operate in ways that are more carbon efficient. Already the majority of our parcels are transported in passenger planes, rather than freight planes, which is more carbon efficient.

A pipeline of sustainability innovations will be launching in 2022 and 2023 for our retail customers. These include a customer level carbon calculator, green label delivery products, and alternative last-mile delivery methods, including low emission deliveries for cities.

Our feeling is that the more collaborative support we give retailers, the sooner benefits to the environment will filter through.

 This article was written by Barbara Schielke, chief HR & CSR officer at Asendia

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