Andrea Dorothea Schön, Senior Manager Climate and Clean Air Management, Schenker AG, Essen, explains why the logistics industry is becoming increasingly sustainable.
logistik aktuell: Mrs. Schön, in the Corona pandemic, logistics experts are certainly worried about short and medium-term business. But what is the general mood in the industry when it comes to sustainability?
Andrea Dorothea Schön: The topic is currently meeting with enormous interest and we are receiving many customer inquiries. I have the impression that the Corona pandemic and the current situation are causing logistics experts to reflect more on the topic. After all, they are keen to ensure the robustness of their supply chains, and to do this they have to calculate two types of risk: The first is the physical risks – this includes climate change and all its effects. And the so-called transitory risks, which affect the business model and are reflected, among other things, in regulations, which can also have a major impact. These include, for example, the European Green Deal or the (German) Supply Chain Act. The opportunities here are usually obvious, but the logistics provider must also estimate and price the associated costs – and more and more companies are looking into this. So we are in the middle of change!
DB Schenker sees itself as a pioneer for sustainability in logistics. How does that manifest itself?
On the one hand, we have adopted an ambitious sustainability strategy, which we are now implementing step by step. We also want to add green services to our product range and make the difference to “business as usual” visible in terms of price. The big problem, however, is that the carriers are not yet producing green to a sufficient extent. We still have far too few sustainable transport alternatives when it comes to air, land and sea transport.
Why that? After all, the topic is not new?
One reason is that the leap to sustainable technologies requires a lot of investment. The alternatives to fossil fuels are expensive. Therefore the necessary investments have been postponed. All players in politics and the economy are called upon here. They must distribute the costs over everyone’s shoulders.
One example is the decarbonization of ocean shipping. It is impossible for the shipowners to shoulder the necessary investments on their own; what is needed is a cross-industry effort and, ultimately, consumer acceptance of fair prices, practically an end to the “5-Euro T-shirt”. Incidentally, if the costs of sustainable transport are priced in accordingly, only a minimal additional price for the end product is expected – and the transition becomes affordable.
So higher prices make greener supply chains?
Not directly. But we are currently experiencing two trends that have to do with costs: One is the shift from transport to more sustainable modes of transport. This calls for intelligent and economical concepts in order to combine the advantages of one mode of transport with those of the others for secure and sustainable supply chains.
The second trend is taking place in cities: In view of the traffic jams and air pollution in the metropolitan regions, many urban regions are looking for new forms of better mobility – and that too costs a lot of money.
What is still outstanding, however, is the reorientation of sourcing. Manufacturers will only shorten global supply routes when transport prices reflect social and external costs and minimum wages are paid worldwide.
What about the cooperation of participants in a supply chain to make transport more sustainable in practice?
Such cooperations are very complicated. Theoretically they do take place, there are many platforms for this. But usually the cooperation ends when competitive advantages are at stake. Cooperation works when it comes to pilot projects that cannot be carried out by one party alone. I think that this is an area where the participants need to approach each other more strongly, and it is certainly a task for politicians to make such cooperation more attractive.
Your personal assessment: Where will we be ten years from now?
We will be much further ahead than we are today: Ideally, mobility in cities will then take place without fossil fuels. Supply chains have changed, and companies are looking closely at how they transport their freight. This also means more nearshoring: sourcing will take place in a radius of less than 15,000 kilometers. And the social effects of political regulations are becoming apparent, for example because wages are becoming more similar in different countries. So globalization is not going backwards, but it is becoming more differentiated!
And where will the logistics companies be?
They will continue to develop enormously – and many have already started doing so just like DB Schenker. We have to play an active role in shaping these changes, which can lead to a major upvaluation of the industry. The overwhelming majority of people see this in a positive light, especially among the younger generation. I am very confident that we will succeed in making the structural changes in logistics!
Andrea Dorothea Schön
Senior Manager Climate and Clean Air Management
Global Sustainability, Schenker AG