Time for an environmental awakening

Time for an environmental awakening

Post& Parcel speaks to Veena Harbaugh, Director of Sustainability at Sendle about leading the global transition to carbon neutral shipping.

Sendle was launched with green issues at its heart, how does this affect how the company is run?

Sendle launched seven years ago as Australia’s first 100% carbon neutral delivery service, which at the time was probably considered  ‘niche’ in the shipping industry, but with time running out it’s  now a ‘necessity’.  To date, we’ve offset more than 21 billion kilometres of carbon – that’s equivalent to driving a one tonne truck from Earth to Mars and back 188 times.  We’re very proud to be leading the global transition to carbon neutral shipping.

We believe that shipping can be good for the world and that’s our whole mission. Sustainability has always been a part of our ethos, so our commitment to the environment runs deep. Every time a small business in Australia or the United States sends a parcel via Sendle, we offset the carbon emissions and invest in remarkable environmental projects around the world that preserve and regenerate the earth’s ecosystems.  Each year our small business customers and employees get to vote on what carbon offsetting projects the company invests in to keep every shipment 100% carbon neutral. We do this with our environmental partner, South Pole.

Another thing that holds us accountable to the environment is our B Corp Certification and our status as the first Technology B Corp in Australia.  B Corps are a new kind of business that balance purpose and profit and treat every stakeholder, including the environment.  As a B Corp we are continually evaluating how the success and growth of our business impacts the planet.

As part of the global B Corp movement, we have committed to accelerate the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and reach NetZero by 2030. We’ve started the path of reducing Scope 3 emissions by 50% by investing with delivery partners in electric vehicle fleets (off-grid solar powered). We’ve also piloted compostable mailers to increase sustainable package options for our customers.

How has the Australian public responded to Sendle’s environmental policies? 

Australians have embraced Sendle’s environmental policies and it has been incredible to see so many small  businesses begin their sustainability journeys with us this year. In our latest small business survey, 88% of our customers said that carbon neutral shipping was important to them. With small businesses accounting for over a third of the Australian economy, they have a huge opportunity to take charge when it comes to embracing sustainability and helping us reach NetZero by 2030.

Has Sendle disproved the myth that being a green company has to be expensive for the customer?

Being sustainable shouldn’t cost you more, however, there is a common misconception that sustainable practices lead to more expensive operations. In reality, it takes a bit of careful planning, having supportive eco conscious customers by your side, and being equipped with the right information.

I always recommend companies do their research and speak to the experts.  For example, there is no cost to the customer when they ship carbon neutrally with Sendle — they only pay for the parcel they are sending. Our carbon credit purchasing is built into our business model.

Each of us can do our part to reduce our carbon footprint, sure. And we all should. But individual actions can only do so much. Businesses need to be setting examples for sustainability, even where governments fail to do so. The good news is sustainability doesn’t require radically rethinking your business; lots of small, targeted changes can add up to make a significant difference. Such as looking for ways to reduce waste, committing to sustainable packaging, optimising your shipping and evaluating your carriers to name just a few thought starters.

How will you move from carbon zero to net zero by 2030? What obstacles do you anticipate?

Our net zero commitment covers Sendle’s direct operations including everything from the power we use as a business to our recycling system in the office. Not to mention, the impact of every parcel our customers send which makes up the majority of our Scope 3 emissions— the result of activities from assets not owned or controlled by the reporting organisation. We’ll need at least half the carbon intensity of our shipments, which means working with partner carriers on everything from conversion of fleets to electric vehicles to optimising loads and routes. We also need to engage our customers on how they can contribute, like bundling pick-ups and selecting the least carbon-emitting shipping methods.

Given the exponential increase in e-commerce since the pandemic, why do you think the delivery sector has a particular responsibility to be more sustainable and not just leave it up to politicians?

As we saw through COP26, governments can struggle to reach global unity on climate change. However, the private sector is not bound by so much bureaucracy and red tape so it can often move ahead more quickly with innovative tech solutions.

In shipping and logistics, there are some promising signs of problem recognition as major players set targets like net zero by 2040 or 2050. But this action, especially if it’s forestalled for another decade, will not keep pace with the growth of emissions from e-commerce.

An environmental awakening across the entire shipping industry couldn’t be more urgent. Across all modes of transport, and logistics, the sector produces about 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Due to the COVID fueled surge in online shopping, the World Economic Forum estimates we’ll see 36% more delivery vehicles driving around our cities over the next decade.

At Sendle, we are leading the global transition to carbon neutral by partnering with existing couriers, filling the unused space in their vehicles with parcels  to ensure every trip is maximised, and purchasing carbon offsets to address the emissions of every parcel sent via the Sendle network. We’re also encouraging the small businesses we serve to switch to sustainable packaging options.

And we’re not the only ones!  We’ve been inspired by Danish firm DSV Panalpina which orchestrates the movement of goods by road, air, sea, and rail. As an asset-light company, DSV Panalpina has set ambitious science-based targets to reduce the carbon emissions from all  shipments and decarbonize its entire supply chain.  The company has committed to reducing its Scope 1 and 2 emission by 40 percent by 2030 against a 2019 baseline, and lowering its Scope 3 emissions by 30 percent over the same time period.

It’s encouraging to see other companies in our high polluting industry recognising the importance of sustainable shipping but we need to see more come on board very soon.

 What advice can you give to other post/parcel operators looking to commit to netzero?

Please join us! I encourage you to make a commitment that will motivate your team and partners to find doable eco solutions. 2030 is possible, especially if we can accelerate change as an entire industry, not as individual players. With or without a net zero commitment, for any new investments to your fleet, warehousing, or other operations, factor the carbon impact into your decision-making. It will also make the projects more attractive for investment.

Why did Sendle change its logo this year to coincide with COP26?  

In the weeks prior to COP26 we changed our logo from the usual orange to green to raise awareness for climate change action and encourage small businesses to kick  start their sustainable journey.

Our vision is to see a world where we all take responsibility for our environmental  impact.  We believe it’s not just up to world leaders, it’s up to every business and every individual to take responsibility now.

Can you tell me about your personal experience in business sustainability? 

I was at B Lab, the nonprofit organisation that serves the B Corp movement,  for about four and a half years and my last role was running marketing and communications for the US and Canada office. In this role, I worked to grow the B Corp movement and increase business leadership on the challenges of our time — racial equity, climate justice, and building an inclusive economy.

I’m fascinated by companies that make a substantive positive impact and the leaders driving change in business. This interest initially led me to work on sustainability at Salesforce, overhaul communications at The Natural Grocery Company, and I also founded a bike sharing company with my brother.

In my role at Sendle, I’m coming into a company that has a deep commitment to the environment, so it’s really about unlocking that potential further. One, as a B Corp, figuring out how we can use that framework to really improve across the different stakeholder groups. So within our team, what are the improvements we can make around new policies that can help people have a better experience within the environment, especially as we grow as a company?

But our big picture vision is to influence the entire shipping industry to be 100% carbon neutral which is very audacious. The environmental impact of e-commerce is rising and will continue to do so. How do we make that sustainable? That’s a major challenge.

Sendle exists to serve the needs of small businesses by offering a simple, reliable and affordable delivery service.  Small businesses are the backbone of our economies and they need our support as they support their customers and their families. They’ve often chosen to ship with Sendle rather than a multinational shipping monopoly that is trying to maximise its profits and prioritise big business customers. So we’ve got to pay particular attention to our social side and prioritise the small businesses we serve.

What I expect for myself as a Sustainability Director is to help facilitate as much change as possible in both of those spheres.

About Veena:

Veena Harbaugh is the Director of Sustainability at Sendle. Previously she worked for B Lab U.S. & Canada where she works to grow the B Corp movement and increase business leadership on the challenges of our time — racial equity, climate justice, and building an inclusive economy.

As a marketer, Veena is fascinated by the companies that make substantive positive impact and the leaders driving change in business. This interest led her to work on sustainability at Salesforce, overhaul communications at The Natural Grocery Company, and become an entrepreneur, running a bike-taxi company with her brother.

Before deciding on business as her lane to make change, Veena was a field organizer in Iowa for President Obama’s 2008 election and worked in local government on policy and communications at the SF Department of the Environment. She conducted original research on the physical impacts of climate change at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, and in 2011 was named a Harry S. Truman Scholar. Veena’s spent equal years in Iowa, Texas, and the California Bay Area where she lives now.

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