Sustainability in Practice (3/3): Innovation culture in Sustainable Supply Chains


New technology and talented young people are entering the freight forwarding industry. The culture we build around them is critical to innovation and tackling sustainability in the supply chain. 

The pandemic disrupted the status quo on every front, making it clear that businesses needed to be more agile and embrace innovation to survive. This doesn't just mean adopting the latest digital supply chain tools, it has implications for the culture of organisation and the way you attract and nurture young talent.

Freight forwarding is no exception. There's an unstoppable wave of technology and talented young people bringing skills and passion to tackle big challenges like sustainability in the supply chain. They're an invaluable advantage for companies that have the vision to listen to their ideas and nurture them. 

Meet Shannon, the young bright star of sustainability at Explorate. We chatted with her and our co-founder Alex about sustainability in the freight forwarding industry and what this means for the younger generation.

"We cannot afford to ignore the voice of emerging talent in logistics. They are incredibly aware of their values and the positive impact they want to have on the world. As an industry we will all benefit from nurturing the passion, skills and innovative spirit they bring."
Alex Ewart, Explorate Co-founder.

Q. Freight forwarding isn't the most visible industry for a young developer. How did you get started?

Shannon: I found Explorate through a speed dating style networking event at QUT. I joined as an intern over the holidays, I was part time until I graduated, and it's been full time ever since.

Q. Freight forwarding faces big challenges around sustainability - how important is it to you to work in an organisation that strives to make itself and the broader industry more sustainable?

Alex: There are a lot of problems to solve. If I know anything about software developers, they love solving problems. That's something that I see a huge amount with our development team, they get to make a huge impact on big, big problems, whether that's CO2 and greenhouse emissions  or whether it's just more broad logistics problems.
Shannon: Yeah, I'm a software developer, so our whole thing is solving problems. Joining an industry like logistics, which is such an old industry and there's many problems to be solved because everyone's stuck in their old ways. Joining Explorate in particular was just so cool because we sit right next to our operational team. They tell us exactly what problems they need solved and we find a way to solve them, which I think is just really cool and such a great feedback loop. You know that you're actually making an impact, you're doing things that need to be done.

Q. The story behind how the sustainability program got off the ground at Explorate is quite remarkable, please share it with us.

Shannon: We were having a social event and I mentioned to Alex how bummed I was that nothing had come from the carbon emissions calculations when I first started. And Alex seemed to take it really personally, he was really apologetic at the time, like "I'm so sorry we've let you down." And then he pulls me in, I think the next morning? He pulls me aside into a meeting room and basically says "I've made some calls, we're going to fast track this." And we did. We started working on it almost immediately after that.
Alex: I think because of Shannon bringing it to my attention, when you see something like that, you can't unsee it - Ocean carriers commit 2.5% of global CO2 emissions. It's such a big amount that I wasn't even aware of. So, for someone like Shannon to bring that to my attention and say "We need to act on this" and not only that, but for her to lead the initiative, it was just incredibly inspiring.

Q. How would you like to further Explorate's sustainability mission?

Shannon: I'd love to get started on carbon offsets V2, making sure that we can offset end to end. Right now we're doing sea transportation, but we also organise transportation inland, so getting that last mile transportation offsets and making sure that our current stuff is really super accurate. And also I'd like to offer the greenest route for our customers ... Being able to offer the cheapest route and the route that produces the least emissions, so that we're not only offsetting but reducing the amount of emissions created in the first place. I think that's really important, not just continuing to do a bad thing and then offsetting to make it better, but really making a difference and reducing the amount of emissions in the first place.
Alex: I think you lead into my perspective on that, it's how do we actually use the data we're collecting. Now we're offsetting and can be a version of neutral, but that doesn't mean we can't be better. How can we make smarter decisions using everything that we're capturing from our customers, as far as anything that's in transit. Once that we have that full end-to-end visibility feeds, it all comes down and feeds into other product features that we're working on at the moment around purchase order management and the reselling of empty container space. How can we be better at as an industry, leverage the internal innovation - not just accept the standards of how we've been doing things for the last 60 to 70 years. Let's actually move forward as an industry and be better.

Q. What do you have to say to c-suites and boardrooms that are still not actively making their supply chains more sustainable?

Shannon: You have to do it now or it's going to come back around to bite you. The world is changing - get ahead of the curve or watch as it runs away from you.
Alex: I think the implications for the board or the c-suites are so far reaching now. There's going to be financial penalties, it's going to have implications across the business and in staff retention. Looking at our example here, had I dismissed Shannon and not listened, and not acted on something that was really dear to Shannon - and generationally that's going to be far more important to people just like yourself - there's going to be a huge staff churn and people turning away from organisations that aren't taking this seriously. So it's not just the right thing to do, it's not just the right thing to do from a preservation perspective and financially, but it's also for your staff and for making sure that the people that work in the organisation are happy and aligned culturally to the business.

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