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Sustainability Q&A with DHL Supply Chain: Part 2

COVID-19 fails to slow sustainable progress

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

The COVID-19 pandemic has left no company or industry untouched. While it has increased e-commerce demand, it has also created difficulties for operations, outreach and sustainability efforts.

FreightWaves discusses sustainability tips for businesses and how the pandemic impacted DHL Supply Chain’s sustainability efforts in a Q&A with these experts: Mark Kunar, executive vice president of strategy, transportation and automotive, engineering and manufacturing, and chemical and energy at DHL Supply Chain; Emily Davis, director of sustainability and DHL’s GoGreen lead in North America; and Stacie Sarbaugh, corporate responsibility programs and media relations, DHL Americas.

Learn about the company’s sustainability initiatives in part one of the DHL Supply Chain Q&A.

The interview has been edited for clarity.

FreightWaves: How has the pandemic impacted DHL’s sustainability efforts in 2020?

Kunar: “2020 has been the weirdest year that I’ve ever been in business, and I’m interested to find out what [things are] going to stick. E-commerce has advanced 10 years in the matter of three to six months, which is kind of amazing and very good for our business.

“We’ve figured out how to go digital very quickly. And for those associates that it makes sense and don’t need to be in the office, we’re really working on things to reduce the travel time, to reduce the amount of days that they’re in the office.”

Davis: “There have been a lot of tie-ins to sustainability this year. With COVID, everyone is feeling both fearful and magnanimous at the same time, and I will say that I have not seen a decline at all in questions and inquiries about sustainability from our customer base or our associates. 

“Our associates have been kind of invigorated … by the idea that they’re essential workers, and they are becoming engines of a supply chain that is needed by millions and millions around the world, and we’re part of that. We’ve taken that message and opportunity to tell our associates ‘thank you’ for playing that important part. 

“We have not stopped giving back [to communities]. A lot of our teams are getting supplies to people in need.”

Kunar: “With 500 sites and 40,000 employees spread all across the United States, we really encourage our associates in our sites to focus on what the local needs are in the community.” 

Sarbaugh: “I admit, I was a little concerned at the beginning of the year, with COVID and us not being able to do our traditional volunteer and outreach efforts … but I have been blown away and amazed by the ingenuity and creativity that our employees at our sites have been able to still support the communities in a virtual way, or in a socially distanced way. 

“Our number of events that we’ve done topped over probably 100 to 200 events, locally. We engaged more than 3,000 employees and more than 4,000 volunteer hours. Our associates raised more than $100,000, and we matched roughly $50,000 of that in corporate donations.

“We saw a big focus on the food insecurity issues this year. I think that’s something that all of our communities saw as an issue, with the environmental downturn in the U.S. in particular, and a lot of our sites did food drives and supported food banks clear across the nation.”

FreightWaves: What are some of the most important sustainability tips for businesses?

Kunar: “I think probably most important is that you have to build sustainability into the design. From a design and engineering standpoint, [we ask questions such as]: ‘How would we use things like robotics to reduce the overall amount of emissions within a facility?’

“It’s also continuing to talk to your suppliers. You could be building in all the most efficient and sustainable processes, but if your suppliers are not working in concert with you, then some of the things that you’re doing are just being offset by what your suppliers [are doing]. I think it’s important to stay close with customers around what their goals are … to make sure that things that we’re doing organizationally are aligned.

“I think associates give us the best ideas, the greatest opportunities. They see it every day in front of them, and I think it’s important to continue to ask your employees, ‘How can we do things better in this space?’”

Davis: “I think there’s a lot more sustainability professionals coming into the marketplace. A lot more associates across different functions are being trained on these skill sets, and what the topics are, what the issues are.

“To even have something like carbon emission footprint reporting is something that customers are now demanding. So, you have to have the basics in place and start building your organizational skills up to meet the future.”

Kunar: “We have performance dialogues with our drivers, and we discuss things like idle time. How much time we’re allowing the truck to idle … and obviously every minute that we can turn the truck off is important. [We measure and] limit speed on our trucks, [which is] an important safety aspect. If we reduce the speed of our vehicles, we’re going to burn less, and it’s important for us to make sure that we’re doing that.

“Tying those programs together, between safety, what’s good for the associate, and those types of things … back to what some of the impacts are is important because people then start connecting the dots.”

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Alyssa Sporrer.

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Alyssa Sporrer

Alyssa is a staff writer at FreightWaves, covering sustainability news in the freight and supply chain industry, from low-carbon fuels to social sustainability, emissions & more. She graduated from Iowa State University with a double major in Marketing and Environmental Studies. She is passionate about all things environmental and enjoys outdoor activities such as skiing, ultimate frisbee, hiking, and soccer.