Sustainability requires an industry-wide effort to drive a change in mindset
Attributed to: Martin Tan, Head of Operations, J&T Express Singapore
Published by: The Business Times
The last few years have seen sustainability being at the top of the global agenda as the world becomes increasingly aware of the effects of climate change and the subsequent need for action. In Singapore, the government’s plan to become a Zero-Waste nation has resulted in a series of initiatives, such as the installation of recycling chutes in every HDB block developed after 2014 to encourage Singaporeans to increase their recycling efforts – something that is key to driving the sustainability agenda.
During the two-month circuit breaker period, e-commerce saw a surge in growth as consumers went online to purchase their daily necessities. This led to a surge in the amount of packaging used to ensure every parcel was delivered safely and as cheaply as possible.
Conversations of sustainability within the e-commerce and logistics sector have become increasingly prevalent in recent times. Today, more e-commerce providers are using more recyclable and reusable packaging. Some prominent examples include JD.com and Amazon India have replaced plastic packaging and bubble wraps with reusable paper and recyclable cardboard packaging.
COVID-19 may have seen us turning back on some of the initiatives that were starting to gain traction. However, we must continue to pursue the sustainability agenda even as we enter the new normal, which will require businesses and the government to make their commitment to sustainability. Consumers, need to understand the long-term consequences of climate change if we were to continue with our existing behaviour. I believe that this is not a challenge, but an opportunity to come together to create a uniform set of practices which will ultimately facilitate a mindset change among both organisations and customers to actively make the choice toward sustainability.
Walking a tightrope
For enterprises, a reality, but also an obstacle in the context of sustainability is the balance of profit and environmental impact. In general, when businesses seek cost control, the best option to help manage their margins may not be the most environmentally friendly one. For example, sustainable materials such as recycled cardboard boxes are typically more expensive than non-recycled options, leading to higher costs that either must be absorbed by companies or passed on to consumers.
In today’s highly competitive environment, customers are always seeking cheaper, better and faster services and goods. We must work towards standardised prices, ensuring that customer experiences are consistent across all companies to convince customers to accept the higher cost they have to bear when we pursue green, sustainable initiatives.
Save for businesses and consumers, the government will also need to stand together with industry players to collectively determine the best approach for Singapore.
These are the key challenges that we cannot ignore and further highlights the need for a joint effort across the industry to embrace sustainability as a way to drive behavioural change.
Logistics companies taking the lead
There may be obstacles as we walk on the path toward sustainability, especially as we are in the headstream as a service providers. Many players in the logistics industry are currently working within their capabilities on various stages, including warehousing, packaging and transport, to help minimise the environmental impact. Moving forward, instead of working in silos, we need to establish a standard set of practices to connect all procedures efficiently and avoid the duplication of needless resources.
For example, at J&T Express, we have successfully reduced the amount of clingwrap that we use in the packaging of goods in our warehouses. We also work closely with the relevant disposal partners to recycle the large volume of cardboard boxes that pass through their sorting centres.
Furthermore, technology is key to driving sustainability in the logistics industry. Equipping your operations with the right software and equipment will help sustainability, such as reducing packaging waste and fuel consumption. Companies could effectively manage orders and the travel patterns of delivery drivers by operations and management systems to better coordinate and consolidate deliveries.
For example, as a tech-driven company, J&T Express leverages technology not only to improve operational efficiency but to maintain its social responsibility and commitment to sustainability. This is supported by a fleet of new vehicles with lower carbon emissions that we have invested in. We also use route optimisation software to better plan our drivers’ journeys which will help to save time and fuel, which in turn helps to reduce our carbon footprint.
Collaboration fueling sustainable growth
The time has come for all players across the industry to join hands to tackle the issue once and for all. What we need now is a holistic, integrated and multilateral approach to resolve the pressing issue at stake.
There are many areas where industry players across the supply and value chains can collaborate to standardise practices and create a set of guidelines. One key area we could focus on is the packaging. As e-commerce becomes the norm, the amount of packaging material used will increase. In most cases, single-use plastics and new cardboard are used for each parcel.
Globally, we have seen how waste management and recycling company TerraCycle, logistics company UPS and some of the world’s biggest consumer goods brands have come together to form the Loop Alliance. Loop aims to reduce waste consumption and promote responsible consumption, delivering parcels to customers’ doors in reusable boxes, which are then collected, cleaned, and reused up to 100 times.
To shift the mindset
The current efforts made by industry players alone are not enough. For changes to happen, we need to see Singapore consumers taking a shift in their mindsets. Also, there must be a paradigm shift towards recycling and corporate sustainability within the government in order to make substantial progress.
Singapore consumers should wholeheartedly embrace sustainability and play their part by supporting industry initiatives. It is time they realise that companies are not solely responsible for driving the sustainability agenda. The truth of the matter is everyone has a role in ensuring these efforts are successful and help to reduce our carbon footprint. More consumers are expected to join us in making that difference, no matter how big or small, as everyone’s effort counts.
We also appeal to the government to pay more attention to the industry’s sustainability efforts. The government has an active and influential role to drive the mindset shift. It has the power to ensure that individuals and companies alike do their part. Through policies, campaigns and community engagement, it can guide and advise consumers to adopt green and sustainable habits. If the government were to mandate and legislate environmentally policies, there will be greater participation from businesses to pursue the green logistics agenda. Also, the government could actively support and amplify the efforts companies are making to embrace sustainability. In addition, adequate infrastructure can be constructed to support companies and consumers to go green. One way would be to develop more recycling facilities to process the recycled materials in Singapore.
Sustainability is the collective responsibility of every stakeholder. It is not the job of a company or an individual, but a whole of society approach where businesses, consumers and the government actively play their part to achieve their sustainability goals. While e-commerce and logistics companies leverage technology and use recycled packaging material to reduce carbon emissions, that is just the beginning. What we need is for consumers and governments to change their mindset and take ownership in making the world liveable for future generations.