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Thibault d’Ursel, sustainability manager at bpost, talks to Dan Symonds about the secrets behind the company’s rise to the top of the International Post Corporation’s environmental sustainability rankings
How important is the environment to bpost?
Our Corporate Sustainability Program makes sustainable development an integral and essential part of our core business, operations, budgets and projects. My role consists of embedding sustainability into the processes and culture of bpost, as well as managing stakeholders’ concerns in this domain. Our investors, for instance, are becoming more concerned about sustainability. I’m also heading up bpost’s Energy and Environment Center of Competence, which is the operational department that handles all of the energy and environmental management work within the bpost group.
When and how did bpost first start to consider its carbon footprint and sustainability model?
We began to address corporate social responsibility (CSR) in 2011, when the executive committee voluntarily decided to set a very robust agenda with its Sustainable Growth ambition. The committee decided to use the International Post Corporation’s (IPC) Environmental Measurement and Monitoring System (EMMS) index as the main key performance indicator (KPI). The index ranked bpost 14 out of 20 participants at that time.
Following the launch of its Sustainability Program in 2011, bpost went on to secure second place on the index in 2012 and then first place in 2013. It has maintained pole position since then.
What were some of the first initiatives put in place?
The first step was to develop a governance model with senior management participation, alongside a strong project management team with key change management skills. This enabled us to quickly plan and implement projects to score on the sustainability scorecard.
Today we have a CSR steering committee, sponsored by the CEO, chaired by the chief human resources officer and engaged by the chief financial officer, which meets quarterly to review the CSR KPIs, including the environmental targets. The committee is guided by a reporting framework, which tracks specific environmental KPIs throughout the quarter. Every year the committee also reviews the progress made toward bpost’s 2020 target to reduce CO2 emissions by 45% compared with 2007.
What are the key changes and initiatives that have helped bpost to rise to the top spot in the IPC’s EMMS rankings?
There have been six key areas arising from bpost’s Sustainability Initiative that have contributed to the company’s success in the rankings. They include innovation, supply chains, stakeholder engagement, energy and carbon emissions management, environmental management and reporting.
We have been striving to adopt an environmental way of thinking so that carbon production and energy efficiency becomes part of the decision factors in business opportunities. These include a carbon-neutral mailing service for our clients, and our City Logistics initiative, which led to the acquisition of CityDepot, a distribution service that helps reduce traffic congestion in city centers.
How have you worked with external partners and employees to improve your sustainability?
We’re making our supply chain greener by encouraging our suppliers to adopt sustainable business practices, and propose greener products and services when dealing with bpost. We’re also challenging them to reduce their environmental footprint.
We co-organize initiatives such as the IPC Drivers’ Challenge to encourage eco-driving and we also have initiatives in place to promote the responsible use of paper. We also recently invested in beehives, which are installed on our headquarters in the center of Brussels, to help preserve biodiversity and raise environmental awareness.
Right: bpost’s beehives help to improve the company’s environmental credentials at its Brussels headquarters
How do you measure and account for energy, carbon and environmental management?
We measure CO2 indicators in the value chains in our organization, and
develop yearly CO2 reduction action plans for our fleet and buildings. We model long-term CO2 emission forecasts for longer-term reduction targets. Our environmental management system is used across the entire organization. Beside the ISO 14001 certified management system for our strategic facilities, we have installed an energy monitoring system to remotely track the consumption of energy. A signal is sent every 15 minutes to enable the energy manager to take appropriate remedial action in the event of abnormal consumption.
We report on bpost’s sustainability efforts to the highest standards of the Global Reporting Initiative’s G4 Guidelines and through the leading environmental, social and governance investors’ indexes, such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, Vigeo, FTSE, Carbon Disclosure Project, MSCI and EcoVadis.
What sustainable measures do you have planned for the future?
Our goal is to achieve a 45% reduction in bpost’s CO2 footprint by 2020 compared with 2007 levels, with a special focus on the delivery fleet. The company also plans to develop its CSR strategy, which not only focuses on the environment, but also on employees and the surrounding community.
We have defined our CSR strategy based on consultations and a ‘materiality assessment’, which helps determine what matters most to our stakeholders. We address three main pillars. First, ‘people’, because we care about our employees and engage with them; second, ‘planet’, because we strive to reduce our impact on the environment; and finally ‘proximity’, because we are close to society and its emerging needs.
These three pillars are intimately linked to the new UN Sustainable Development Goals and were endorsed by bpost’s CEO Koen Van Gerven in November 2016.
What do you think are some of the easiest changes a postal business can make to reduce its environmental impact?
The continuing rise in e-commerce volumes implies that bpost will have to carry a greater volume of parcels in the future. But this does not mean that we will have to automatically inject more cars or vans into the fleet in order to ensure distribution. In addition to the company’s efforts in improving efficiency, such as avoiding delivering parcels to the same location twice in one day, developments are in place to enable the transportation of greater volumes, particularly with respect to bicycles and mopeds.
In 2017 we will address these challenges by introducing electric three-wheeler scooters with a higher loading capacity. As far as small trucks are concerned, bpost is in the process of testing electric vehicles with a view to adopting the technology on a permanent basis, but this is a process that takes time. With regard to larger trucks, we are exploring the possibility of using natural gas vehicles.
Left: The company is introducing electric three-wheelers with a higher loading capacity to reduce CO2
Which of the upcoming developments by bpost will improve the environment the most in your opinion?
The eventual introduction of alternatively fuelled vehicles is key. We are also installing 16,000m2 of solar panels on two industrial mail sites before the summer this year. These will be capable of generating up to 2MWh of electricity at peak performance.
How do you envisage the postal and logistics sector in 10 years’ time?
In 10 years the postal industry will be aiming to become a carbon-neutral sector, where operators that do not address sustainability have no license to operate.
What have been some of the biggest advances in alternative fuel/electric vehicles?
There have been great advances in light electric vehicles, but there are still big challenges around price, autonomy and ergonomics to solve for the larger vehicles.
Sustainability tool for posts
International Post Corporation (IPC), an association comprising 24 member posts, began trialling a system for measuring and logging the environmental footprint of operators in 2008. The following year the Environmental Measurement and Monitoring System (EMMS) was born and has since become a key tool in the industry’s efforts to systematically reduce the impact of carbon emissions on the environment.
The program’s original participants set out two key targets to be achieved collectively − to achieve a 20% reduction in the postal sector’s carbon emissions by 2020 and to attain a score of at least 90% in carbon management proficiency.
In 2014 participating posts achieved the collective target of a 20% reduction in carbon emissions, six years ahead of schedule. The same year, a new target was introduced for the group to achieve a 20% reduction in carbon emissions per letter and per parcel by 2025, from on a 2013 baseline. This target has been approved by the Science Based Targets Steering Committee. IPC is listed with 32 global companies including as Coca Cola, Pfizer and Procter & Gamble on the Science Based Targets website for having successfully developed science-based targets.
The EMMS program provides a common carbon measurement and reporting structure that enables participants to share their carbon and environmental management strategies, performance and achievements.
Every year posts first complete a survey that considers 10 management pillars, including policy and procedures, activity, measurement and verification, and targets. Participants submit their carbon emissions and other operational data to IPC, which works with Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk and advisory firm, and third-party auditing company PwC, to deliver the annual Sustainability Reports and EMMS index.
To facilitate collaboration between EMMS participants, IPC annually hosts a Sustainability Workshop during which posts are invited to share information and best practices about their carbon-management and emissions-reduction efforts. The latest discussions focused on the current EMMS program, in addition to the program’s future direction and horizon scanning in line with global sustainability outlooks.
Holger Winklbauer, CEO of IPC, says, “I highly value bpost’s support of the IPC sustainability program. Their engagement is demonstrated through the rankings bpost has obtained in the EMMS program for the past couple of years, as well as through its participation in all four Drivers’ Challenges and the co-hosting of the 2016 edition.”
Story by Dan Symonds
March 2, 2017