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The good, the bad, the promising sustainability developments

Positives and negatives in supply chains in 2021

Sustainability earned a spot on many companies’ agendas this year. FreightWaves asked experts what the biggest positive and negative environmental developments were in supply chains in 2021.

These responses have been edited for length and clarity.

The positive

“We want to highlight the increase we have seen in companies that are starting to prioritize this topic. Sustainability has been put in the spotlight by a key number of businesses, and that has encouraged wider industry stakeholders and supply chain partners to follow.”

— Moritz Tölke, technical manager at the Smart Freight Centre

Tölke said the Smart Freight Centre has seen a record number of companies sign up for science-based emission-reduction targets and adopt the GLEC Framework, created by the Global Logistics Emissions Council. 


“The biggest positive development in transportation is announced investments in domestic production of electric vehicles, batteries and alternative fuels.”

— Tyler Cole, director of carbon intelligence at FreightWaves


“The stronger focus on reducing methane emissions to slow global warming opens the door to educate a wider audience on renewable natural gas from dairy agriculture, which can have a negative carbon intensity and supports a more circular economy.”

— Nicholas Yeh, director of sustainability at Clean Energy


“A positive development this year is the greater understanding of sustainability and how it fits into companies’ business models. There are increasingly more success stories demonstrating how embedding sustainability in the supply chain delivers both environmental benefits and business benefits to companies. It’s no longer ‘nice to have’ or only for the innovators.”

— Jennifer Wong, head of sustainability at Convoy


“The year 2021 can be defined as the year of maritime sustainability, building off progress made in 2018, when the International Maritime Organization’s initial strategy on maritime emissions was approved.

“The Panama Canal and more than 160 other organizations across the maritime value chain signed the Call to Action for Shipping Decarbonization, urging world leaders to help accelerate the decarbonization of shipping.”

— Alexis Rodriguez, the Panama Canal’s environmental protection specialist


“In October, just three months after the launch of our Ship It Zero campaign, a major coalition of cargo owners including Amazon, Ikea, Unilever, Patagonia and more, committed to only purchase ocean freight services powered by zero-carbon fuels by 2040. 

“Major shipping companies Hapag-Lloyd and Maersk welcomed this commitment. These first-mover cargo retail commitments were a major shipping industry sustainability highlight of 2021, which we seek to build on in 2022.”

— Madeline Rose, climate campaign director at Pacific Environment


“For DHL, alongside our commitments to invest $8 billion in climate-neutral logistics solutions, increase our EV fleet to 80,000 vehicles and achieve 30% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) blend in our network by 2030, we were excited by the renewed commitments we saw many governments especially the U.S. to address climate change. This will undoubtedly spur further investment from the private sector in cleaner technologies and production processes.

“We also saw the emergence of SAFs as a key theme in our industry in 2021, complemented by major commitments from a number of airlines and steps from companies like Neste and Shell to ramp up production.”

— Greg Hewitt, CEO at DHL Express USA


“Governments have taken the lead this year when it comes to safeguarding human rights and the environment within the supply chain industry. Both Germany and the U.S. announced measures to drill down on safety and security with sanctions to minimize risks related to human rights and the environment. 

“With more and more companies committing to measurable corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals, I’ve noticed developments in tracking and measurement efforts becoming the focus perhaps even more important than the goal itself.”

— Lachelle Buchanan, director at Logility


Kelly Poole, energy fellow at CSR nonprofit As You Sow, said that China and India’s net-zero emissions targets, the growth of companies setting net-zero targets, and the continuous decrease of clean energy costs are all positive sustainable developments from 2021.

The negative

Poole said that a lack of governmental support dedicated to zero-carbon investments and infrastructure and a “continued lapse in U.S. climate leadership” are barriers to sustainable progress in supply chains.


“The biggest negative in the short term is inflationary costs in the supply chain. Though nonbinding commitments and pledges continue to grow, primary concerns for logistics managers remain cost and service. I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.”

— Cole

The promising

“Advancements in electric aviation technology that will see the introduction of all-electric cargo aircraft for short-haul routes as early as 2024 provided a glimpse into an exciting future. 

“There is still a long way to go before we see all-electric widebodied aircraft enter the market, but it could potentially revolutionize short-haul aviation. It represents a significant milestone on the journey towards clean skies and will hopefully be a catalyst for progress and further discovery in other areas of transport electrification.”

— Hewitt


“The transition to sustainable freight is happening, but it’s not happening fast enough yet on a global scale. 

“We must continue to be bold, so the Smart Freight Centre is committed to helping the global logistics industry going forward to track and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 1 billion metric tons by 2030 and reach zero emissions by 2050 or earlier to stay in line with a 1.5 degree C future.”

— Tölke


“Consumers value brands that prove and publish how they’re meeting their CSR goals, instead of just announcing goals. In fact, consumers and investors are all but demanding that the brands they watch take more action to commit to CSR and environmental, social and governance goals. Announcing goals won’t cut it anymore but following government measures and sharing year-end recaps of metrics proving success and achievements within sustainability efforts will.”

– Buchanan

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.