Greener Skies Ahead: How going green can help your bottom line

Differing definitions

For the air cargo business to at least keep pace with the green movement, we have to ask ourselves: Can our business ever be truly sustainable? “Honestly it depends on your definition of sustainable,” Zingg said. “If you mean, zero carbon and zero impact on the environment, then probably the answer is no. But if sustainable means a situation where the total benefits outweigh the negatives, then likely yes.”

If an air cargo company considers its total economic benefit, including jobs created from its service, the commerce air cargo supports, good working principles and fair labor practices, and compares that to the environmental impacts, “then we will constantly be working to make sure the benefits outweigh the negatives,” she said. “Our job is to make sure that our role makes that equation work out.”

Speaking at last fall’s Asian Logistics and Maritime Conference (ALMC) in Hong Kong, Ian Cheng, senior manager of the North Asia Pacific region, for the Avery Dennison Corp., discussed the malleability of the idea of sustainability. Avery, a world leader in manufacturing labels and other paper products, conducted a survey of 12,000 of its customers from 3,400 companies, asking them what sustainability meant to them. The results, he said, were surprisingly different, depending on where they are located.

To Europeans, for example, sustainability means “a healthy ecosystem and environmental protection, and no pollution,” Cheng said. In North America, the term refers to a reduction in a product’s consumption. In Japan, he added, customers said sustainability is another term for “responsible sourcing” and the management of natural resources. But to the Chinese, who are making such a profound impact on air cargo markets today, sustainability just means “cost savings.”

To adopt the Chinese point of view, Cheng said, sustainability is not about how to protect the environment but about how to think about and do things wisely and find the most responsible solution for different market demands, while always protecting the bottom line.

Another shipper at the ALMC show, clothing conglomerate Gap Inc., said that the key to a successful sustainability initiative is making sure any actions are based as much on sound business principles as they are on environmental science. Michael Yee, executive vice president of Gap Inc.’s global supply chain, sourcing and production, said both of these concepts are considered at every stage of development at the $16.5 billion company, which has a current goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2020.

“Every time a designer looks at a product, we create an index of how much water and energy usage would be needed,” Yee said. “In terms of how we talk with the suppliers, many of these sustainability initiatives are just good business – it’s the right thing to do, but it’s also good business.”

Currently, most of the “low-hanging fruit” in terms easy environmental benefits, have been implemented, so most of the current efforts to achieve sustainability are coming from incremental improvements in efficiency, such as the slow replacement of older aircraft for more fuel-efficient ones.

The newer aircraft, such as A350s and 747-8Fs, are much better in terms of fuel efficiency than previous-generation aircraft, Zingg said. “Then you include much more efficient packaging. Of course, optimal routing is important. Lastly, on an emission-per-tonne-kilometer basis, it is far more efficient to ship stuff via dedicated freighter, than as belly cargo in a passenger jet.” In logistics, she added, “there is no one ‘silver bullet’ that will solve all of the sustainability challenges, we need to take a broad set of approaches.”

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