With pressure on businesses increasing all the time some may be tempted to consider sustainability as a luxury that can be downgraded in importance, but more and more wholesalers are benefiting from making it one of their priorities.
Some of the rewards are quite obvious, such as cost savings, but others are less tangible. James Armitage, Brakes Group marketing director says: “Reducing energy use, cutting your road miles, using less packaging, and sending less waste to landfill all help a business to reduce its costs. There are also the less tangible benefits in terms of reputation and customer relations. It’s a win-win in many respects.”
The definition of “sustainable” has also become far more sophisticated. While once companies simply felt the need to improve their environmental performance, cutting areas such as energy use and waste going to landfill, some companies now have detailed corporate social and environmental strategies containing hundreds or even thousands of words. Green credentials are still crucial but other factors such as contributions to charity and the wider community, health and nutrition, equal opportunities in employment and the ethical credentials of suppliers can all be included in the scope of a company’s policy, or may be required by powerful customers, particularly in the foodservice sector.
Sue Cronin-Jones, buying and marketing director at DBC Foodservice, says: “Integrating sustainability into everyday business practice is absolutely essential for DBC. Our customers are increasingly looking for a guarantee that the products supplied to them are sourced and delivered to the highest environmental standards. We are finding that consumers are increasingly willing to pay more for Fairtrade products due to an increased awareness of Fairtrade’s ethical policy and the producers they support.
“Standards of production are also extremely important. This means that all of our eggs have the Lion mark standard of accreditation. Likewise, many of our meat products carry the Red Tractor or Farm Assured accreditation, which again, customers are increasingly willing to pay more for.”
Nevertheless, with delivered wholesalers notching up millions of miles every year and fuel prices at record levels, fuel economy is the number one goal for most companies.
Julian Streeter, operations director at Palmer and Harvey, says: “As the UK’s largest delivered wholesaler we are very aware of our environmental footprint. This year we introduced the Isotrak Fleet Management System. This telematics system improves driving styles to reduce pollution, fuel usage and carbon emissions average fuel consumption performance has already improved by 15%.
“We also invested in a route-planning IT solution called Roadnet. It ensures that miles driven are managed efficiently, reducing resource use and cutting transport costs.
“In addition, we introduced backhauling initiatives to reduce empty running and reduce mileage from the overall supply chain, and collaborative working with our sandwich partners allowed us to reduce mileage by 100,000km in 2010. New PDA technology introduced this year means that 85% of delivery routes are now completed in sequence and according to plan, up from 49% in 2009.
“Our drivers used to average over 30,000km a week more than was planned and this difference has now fallen to 15,000km a week, with drivers instructed to telephone base if they need to go off route for any reason, such as road closures or congestion. In total, these measures mean that fleet mileage decreased by 600,000km in 2010, contributing to a combined fall of 9% over the past two years.”
Brakes says sophisticated route planning software has enabled it to save three million kilometers a year and take 60 vehicles off the road. It is also using rail freight to transport fresh produce between Spain and the UK and is using a rail service between Derby and its depots in Scotland.
At DBC, Cronin-Jones says: “As a national supplier to the catering industry it is impossible to avoid a high mileage; our aim is therefore to reduce the impact of our food miles wherever possible. We are continually looking at ways this can be achieved, through a wide range of measures, from offering customers locally-sourced products to a rolling programme of vehicle replacement to ensure that our fleet is consistently as fuel-efficient and eco-friendly as possible.
“As part of this programme, we recently commissioned a new fleet which cuts harmful emissions by over a third. These state-of-the-art vehicles exceed government carbon emission recommendations and are fitted with frigoblock electric twin evaporator refrigeration systems to minimise our carbon footprint. To complement the new vehicles, DBC uses advanced routing and scheduling optimisation software to ensure that the most efficient routes are being used.
Brakes Group recently won The Grocer’s Gold Award for Green Wholesaler of the Year. In addition to the mileage reduction detailed below, initiatives introduced include topless boxes (above) for food deliveries, which use 25% less packaging, and reducing the thickness of plastic films in bagged products by 25%.
It has also formed a partnership with the FareShare charity to provide hundreds of thousands of meals to homeless people using food that is in date but has exceeded Brakes Group’s minimum shelf life. The initiative means Brakes Group is sending just 0.2% of its fresh produce to landfill.
bestway cuts carbon emission
Bestway was awarded the Carbon Trust Standard earlier this year in recognition of its group efforts in reducing carbon emissions by 1% following measurements made over the last three years.
This means that the company joins an elite group of companies in the UK who have made a difference to the environment. Zahir Fazaldin, who is responsible for managing this project at Bestway, said: “Naturally the Bestway group was delighted with this award. It comes after a great deal of hard work and cost in upgrading our refrigeration systems, lighting upgrades and also a considerable change to our vehicle purchasing policy. We have encouraged our staff, across the group, to reduce their consumption of energy by monitoring usage of lights, heating systems and anything electrical together with the usage of vehicles.”
Bestway is nearing completion on group-wide lighting refits and refrigeration refits including new integral freezer cases and more efficient equipment to all cold rooms and back-up freezers. The company is also currently undertaking site surveys for Power Factor Correction (PFC) and Voltage Optimisation (VO) with the aim of optimising electric supply into all depots, providing additional energy savings and allowing longer life spans for equipment.
Examples of savings that have already been achieved are 50% at Batleys’ Coventry depot, 40% at Batleys Leeds, and 30% at Bestway in Birmingham.
With any new construction the company is involved in there is always a very high specification level when it comes to the use of electricity in areas such as lighting, heating and refrigeration. The most recent example has been at the newly built Bestway Aintree branch (above), which uses a form of Air Source Heat Pumps to provide renewably sourced heating with minimal energy consumption in the branch.