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Social Responsibility in the Logistics Industry

In this insightful Q&A, our Managing Director Jim Hardisty delves into the growing role of social responsibility across the logistics industry.

He highlights the sector’s significant environmental impact, the importance of continuous innovation and collaboration across the supply chain and the need to invest in your people.

Hi Jim. What is the role of logistics companies when it comes to social responsibility?

Logistics companies have an increasingly important role to play in terms of social responsibility, especially when you consider how they provide fundamental services to other sectors, such as food and agriculture, pharmaceuticals, retail, and so on.

Obviously, the environmental footprint of the sector as a whole cannot be underestimated and must be a key consideration right now, as well as the years ahead. We continue to see innovation and investment in these areas – for instance, many larger logistics companies such as DHL are building carbon neutral warehouses, whilst DPD are growing their fleet of electric vehicles for final mile deliveries. There’s also been a rise in the number of businesses that are monitoring their own emissions and investing time and money into their own sustainability reports. This is a signal of intent, but it is vital that momentum doesn’t slow down, especially if the current economic climate impacts financial results.

With supply chain management forming a key part of social responsibility in 2023, suppliers to logistics providers, fulfilment houses and delivery companies also have a significant role to play. They must continue to innovate to provide the right services and solutions to their customers, to help them achieve their sustainability goals. We have been working with our customers to better understand their processes and applications and to see how our products can benefit them, not only from an efficiency point of view, but also from a green angle. Swapping out wooden pallets for long-lasting recyclable pallets is always a good start, but foldable sleeve packs and folding large containers are becoming more popular because of the space savings made during transportation.

How does this affect their brand and bottom line?

Investing in social responsibility will never negatively impact your brand, but that should always be a secondary consideration. What truly matters is whether you are operating your business in the most ethical manner, your environmental footprint, how you are contributing to wider society and looking after your employees.

This will become more important as you look to grow your business, as customers will want to work with like-minded businesses as part of their own social responsibility strategies, especially when you look at the growth in B Corps in the UK. We carefully select the manufacturers we work with, and we’d only enter partnerships with those that share our values. For example, we have an exclusive partnership with Cabka, and we are thoroughly impressed by their commitment to sustainability – not just in the products they make, but in their transparency, their research and the processes they’ve put in place to make the industry greener.

Through partnerships like this, we have been able to assemble the UK’s largest range of sustainable plastic pallets, pallet boxes, crates and trays. In fact, an impressive 93% of our plastic pallets are made from 100% recycled materials, reflecting our own dedication to reducing waste and promoting recycling.

In the long-term, this approach will benefit the bottom line, as you become more desirable to work with – so don’t be afraid to invest in the short-term!

Finally, there is absolutely no doubt that younger generations prioritise what companies are doing from a social responsibility perspective when applying for jobs – and with an increasing skills gap across the logistics sector, making sure you can attract the right type of talent will be crucial.

Which department should lead the engagement?

It should come from the top down. If you don’t have buy-in at the C-level, with the people that control the purse strings, then the impact of any social responsibility programme will be significantly reduced.

Leadership from the executive team is paramount in setting the tone and direction for the entire organisation. When they champion social responsibility, it sends a clear message to all departments about the company’s priorities and values – whilst ensuring the necessary resources, both financial and human, are allocated effectively. For example, a company volunteering initiative will only work if senior management are happy with team members being off-site for the day.

This top-down approach not only guarantees alignment across the board but also fosters a culture where social responsibility becomes an integral part of the company’s DNA, rather than just a peripheral activity.

What good examples can you provide? How about advice?

When you’re working on your own social responsibility and environmental initiatives, explore how you can build these out to support other businesses.

One example of this is our pioneering plastic recycling scheme, launched in 2019. We take full responsibility for recycling all the plastic pallets and boxes we supply, as well as offering a recycling service for any type of plastic, regardless of where it originated from. Our recycling numbers continue to grow year-on-year. In fact, we have just sent our 53rd trailer of the year to our recycling centre in Belgium, exceeding the 2022 total of 38 trailers (number correct as of August 2023).

We are also holders of the Single Use Plastic Free Eastbourne Award, and continue to work in the local community, supporting beach clean projects in East Sussex. We have also previously donated plastic boxes to British Divers Marine Life Rescue, which are used as pens in the new Moray Seal Holding Unit for the care and treatment of seal pups found malnourished, separated or injured.

Some final advice: if you’re a business owner – regardless of the size – tap into the knowledge of your team and ask them what they’d like to see. Bring your people together to brainstorm, collaborate, and innovate. Often, the most impactful initiatives come from the collective insights of those who are on the ground, interacting with your products, services, and the community. Harnessing their perspectives can lead to more authentic, effective, and sustainable social responsibility efforts.