Above the Fold: Supply Chain Logistics News (April 9, 2021)

“Have you been shot yet?”

The question hit me like a bullet.

“What?” I asked back, confused.

“Have you gotten the shot yet? The vaccine?”

“Oh, no, not yet. This weekend,” I replied, relieved that I wasn’t in imminent danger of being felled by gunfire.

Yes, we’re still living in interesting times.

In this week’s supply chain and logistics news…

C.H. Robinson: Measuring Carbon Emissions

More than 15 years ago, Walmart’s CEO at the time, Lee Scott, gave a speech titled “Twenty First Century Leadership” that arguably kicked off the supply chain sustainability era. Where are we today? Certainly further along than we were in 2005, but nowhere near where many envisioned we would be by now.

There are various reasons why, but in a press release this week, C.H. Robinson’s Chief Human Resources and E.S.G. Officer Angie Freeman highlights one of the main hurdles: “You can only change what you can measure. Even companies committed to sustainability have struggled to capture their emissions across complex, multi-faceted supply chains.” The press release adds:

To cut transportation emissions, companies first need to be able to measure them. Most aren’t equipped to do that easily across truck, rail, air and ocean transportation. For smaller shipments that share a truck with other companies’ goods, a standard for measuring hasn’t even existed. Without the necessary tools and data, many companies haven’t been able to pursue carbon reduction at all or are investing a lot of time and effort that could be automated and eliminated.

In response, C.H. Robinson announced Emissions IQ™, “which will be the first free, self-serve tool for customers to instantly show a company’s carbon emissions across all forms of transportation globally.” Here are more details from the press release:

Emissions IQ™, the latest innovation from C.H. Robinson’s tech incubator Robinson Labs is a tool that automatically calculates emissions and provides an easy visualization of a shipper’s carbon output. Emissions analysis across all transportation modes is available from C.H. Robinson now, and all modes will be available within the self-serve tool once ocean and air are added later this year. Accredited to use the Global Logistics Emissions Counsel (GLEC) framework, Emissions IQ™ gives shippers data that’s trusted and universally accepted.

To help companies address the emissions of less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments – which have skyrocketed because of the e-commerce boom – C.H. Robinson funded a project with MIT’s Center for Transportation & Logistics. That became the basis for a collaboration with EPA’s SmartWay program to establish a method specific to measuring those emissions. Accounting for the extra miles and higher fuel consumption of a truck making multiple pickups and deliveries, C.H. Robinson is sharing this advanced data model with the EPA to incorporate into its online tools. Companies will be able to instantly get a calculation of their LTL emissions.

What truly drives action: improving efficiency or improving sustainability? I addressed that question last June in “Supply Chain Sustainability: A Byproduct Of Efficiency.” The post includes this comment from a supply executive, a member our Indago research community:

“I think sustainability is a good marketing tool, but not a main driver for most businesses. What is important, and will become more important, is efficiency. I think that as efficiency increases, sustainability will follow. For instance, the advent of personal computing reduced the need for paper files; sustainability is a by-product of efficiency.”

This sentiment is echoed by the customer quoted in C.H. Robinson’s press release:

“One of the most challenging aspects of our commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2040 is quantifying the emissions of our logistics operations and implementing strategies to reduce them,” said Scott Vollet, Tempur Sealy EVP of Global Operations. “C.H. Robinson’s advanced technology and thorough analysis highlighted opportunities to improve the efficiency of our supply chain [emphasis mine], and their team provided the expertise to help us act on those insights. By making our supply chain more efficient [emphasis mine], we reduced domestic carbon emissions by nearly 1,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalents and saved over $150,000 in just three months. We’re on track to quadruple that this year.”

It seems like the old adage “Green is good for business” remains true today — but mainly because the only “green” initiatives that get approved and worked on are those that reduce costs or have some other financial/efficiency benefit (or are required by law or regulation).

Nonetheless, there is no doubt that in order for companies to be as informed as possible about their supply chain decisions, and as more laws and regulations related to sustainability are enacted (along with growing pressure from investors, employees, and consumers), having trusted and standardized data on carbon emissions will become more important.

For related commentary on this topic, see the recent Talking Logistics episode “How Can Logistics Technology Enable Supply Chain Sustainability?” with Glenn Jones from Blume Global (a Talking Logistics sponsor). 

And with that, have a happy weekend!

Song of the Week: “Not Dead Yet” by Lord Huron