OPINION: The journey to carbon neutrality

Pressures are growing on businesses to be more sustainable, but is it easy to get there? In this article, Barbara Schielke, Director of Human Resources and CSR at Asendia, explains how the company achieved 100% carbon neutrality.

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

Western shoppers now understand that reusing, recycling and delivering their online orders slower could all play a role in reducing carbon emissions. We’ve seen the rise of second-hand fashion and clothing rental sites such as Vinted, Cudoni and Rent the Runway. Customers balk at the excessive packaging when their packages arrive and want to know how to recycle the materials. This is proof that the circular economy and greener lifestyles are becoming a reality.

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

Balance required

This is why we need a balance exercise. The biggest challenge for retailers is balancing consumer expectations for fast delivery times to international destinations with the need to reduce the carbon footprint of each package.

At Asendia, we believe it’s possible for brands to expand into new markets around the world, while minimizing the carbon impact of delivery. Like many players in the e-commerce shipping industry, we have set ourselves an ambitious goal of neutralizing our environmental impacts and passing this advantage on to our retail customers and their end customers around the world. Buyers should also be aware that express delivery cannot be green delivery, and there may certainly be an additional charge when choosing more responsible delivery.

When you don’t own the vehicles

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

This makes it difficult for us to manage the reduction of carbon emissions ourselves, beyond partnering with “carbon conscious” supplier and carrier partners. We have therefore focused on offsetting our Scope 3 emissions to achieve carbon neutrality.

We have made rapid progress on our sustainability journey over the past two years. Since January 2022, Asendia has been offsetting 100% of its international transport emissions in more than 200 countries. This includes those of our delivery partners, package returns and emissions from Asendia’s buildings and machinery, as well as corporate administration such as business travel.

Carbon neutrality needs a strong partner

Carbon neutrality has been achieved through our investments in wind farm projects in India and China. EcoAct is a long-established international climate consultancy and project development firm, and has been carefully selected by our parent company La Poste. It has stood out because it holds environmental accreditations and offers ongoing support, guidance and accountability.

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

Continuing our journey of reducing emissions

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

Of course, a big advantage for retail customers using Asendia’s e-PAQ services is that they can assure shoppers that parcel deliveries are carbon neutral, by promoting on their web pages, if they deem it necessary.

Offsetting may not be the perfect solution, but as the world awaits innovations such as sustainable aviation fuel and other carbon-reducing developments, we believe it is a valid way to progress towards our ESG objectives.

We seek to reduce our carbon footprint, working with partners and finding new initiatives to operate more carbon efficiently. Already the majority of our packages are transported in passenger planes, rather than cargo planes, which is more carbon efficient.

A pipeline of sustainability innovations will be launched 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 provide to retailers, the sooner the environmental benefits will be felt.

This article was written by Barbara Schielke, Chief HR & CSR Officer at Asendia

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