Building a Sustainable Supply Chain
insight.tech – Associate Editorial Director
C.H. Robinson – Director of Commercial and Product Strategy for Visibility Products
VINCI Energies, Sweden – Director of Innovation
(On screen: insight.tech logo intro slide introducing the webinar topic and panelists)
Christina Cardoza: Hello and welcome to the webinar on Building a Sustainable Supply Chain. I’m your moderator, Christina Cardoza, Associate Editorial Director at insight.tech. And here to talk more about this topic, we have a panel of expert guests from Axians and C.H. Robinson.
So, before we jump into our conversation, let’s get to know our guests. Jan, I’ll start with you. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and your role at Axians?
Jan Hellgren: Yes, my name is Jan Hellgren. So, I’m Swedish, and sitting in Stockholm. And Axians is part of the VINCI Group, VINCI Energies, and I’m the Director of Innovation at VINCI Energies. So, I’m working out of our Innovation Center here in Stockholm, it’s called the Hive – Innovations for Good. And what we basically are doing is that we try to find solutions that are good for our planet, and using IT and OT.
Christina Cardoza: And Chris, welcome to the webinar. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and C.H. Robinson?
Chris Cutshaw: Yes, thanks, Christina, excited to talk about sustainable supply chains today. My name is Chris Cutshaw, I’m Director of Commercial and Product Strategy at C.H. Robinson.
C.H. Robinson is a $17 billion logistics and supply chain solutions company. We help companies all over the world build automated processes and sustainable solutions within their supply chains. My focus is around our managed service division, which helps roll out technology and global control tower solutions for large companies that move products all over the world. I’m based in Seattle, been with the company 11 years, look forward to the conversation today.
Christina Cardoza: Great. Yes, can’t wait to get into a little bit of how C.H. Robinson is helping customers build those sustainable supply chains.
Let’s take a quick look at our agenda before we get started.
(On screen: slide outlining the webinar’s agenda with image of green plant)
Today, our guests are going to explore why sustainability matters and how businesses can begin down a sustainable path. What that looks like. How to be successful in this area. Sort of the technology partners in this ecosystem. Who can help and what are the right tools and technologies to get you there? And then lastly, we’re going to look at what these efforts are working towards in the future.
So, let’s get started.
(On screen: The State of Sustainability with illustration of solar panels, windmills, and sustainable solutions in a city)
Here at insight.tech, we’ve been seeing a lot of organizations really start setting aggressive sustainability goals over the last couple of years with so many trying to reach net zero in just a few years.
So, Jan, I wanted to throw this first question to you. What has been behind this move and this adoption to become more sustainable?
Jan Hellgren: More than the obvious that the climate is changing and there are very few people that question that these days. But I will say that what happened in Paris a couple of years ago for the Paris Treaty, we know that legislation is coming. We are going to be forced to change. But then many companies that understand that this is coming understands that if you are really early in this, this can become something that can help your business.
So, either you are in the back seat waiting for somebody to tell you what to do, or you are in the front seat and you can make money out of it.
Christina Cardoza: Great, and we’ll dive a little bit into some of those regulations that you just mentioned. But I’m curious, Jan, if you can expand a little bit on where we are with sustainable businesses today. Like I mentioned, a lot of them are setting aggressive sustainability goals, but how realistic do you think those goals have been and how strong have those efforts been towards those goals?
Jan Hellgren: The goals are realistic in the sense that if we don’t meet them, we’re not going to – it’s going to go really, really bad for us. So, I would like to mention that many organizations now are adopting this three-pillar economy with the PPP. And like in VINCI, VINCI Energies, we have this every month and every quarter, we’re going through our profitable goals, our year result, and we are measuring that and we have the KPIs for that.
On the people side, we now have – since a couple of years – we have KPIs of following safety and the health of our staff. But if this is going to – if they are going to be healthy over time, and we are going to be a profitable company over time, then we need to address the planet part also.
And the planet “P”, addressing CO2e, the CO2 equivalence, if we address that in a smart way, the planet “P” could actually help the profit “P”. And I think that many companies are really understanding this. And I would say that it’s very common here in the Nordics that companies are addressing this heavily. And we are a French company, and VINCI has really aggressive goals in terms of reaching this.
I didn’t mention that many don’t know what VINCI is, but VINCI is a 260,000-employee company, so it’s a really big organization and takes this really seriously.
(On screen: Going green slide with image of a business team holding a plant together)
Christina Cardoza: Great, and Chris, you mentioned in your intro you guys are really working to help businesses set those goals, reach those goals. So, I’m wondering how you’re seeing them get started, what this sustainable journey looks like for a business.
Chris Cutshaw: Yes, definitely building on what Jan was just talking about, this is becoming not only just an incredibly important topic for the globe, but companies are being really forced, both by public perception and by policy, to figure out how they can become sustainable.
So, from a carbon perspective, which is a really critical aspect in sustainability, transportation or supply chain activities outside of manufacturing is going to be the second biggest carbon-producing aspect of companies’ businesses.
So, first and foremost, they need to understand a baseline what’s happening within their supply chain to understand where they can actually focus on improving and eliminating the amount of carbon that they’re producing.
So, we help companies by baselining their modes of transportation. When they’re shifting maybe to airfreight to accelerate something, understanding the impact when they’re doing that. Obviously, it’s important to get product into the market when customers need to, but there’s also tradeoffs that you need to make. Carrying more inventory, understanding where to, let’s say, be more sustainable within your business and make lower impact decisions. So, we baseline their supply chain, and then from a transactional perspective, help them choose in-moment when you have various different metrics to consider like time, cost. And now, we’re actually inputting carbon output into that equation, so they can make a balanced decision.
And then, ultimately, reviewing how you moved against your baseline and making sure that you’re accelerating towards that goal, whatever that may be to improve your sustainability. And that’s the carbon aspect of it.
But we’re also helping companies just have a sustainable process. If you look at right now the talent and labor shortage, especially within supply chain talent is growing exponentially. And so, there’s more jobs than people to fill them. And really, if we help companies build a process where people want to stay, work, and grow, that’s also a part of the sustainability concept that companies are thinking about. How can my supply chain run and accelerate on its own without having to, let’s say, fire hop, or jump from fire-to-fire like we’ve seen many companies do through the pandemic? And then with all these supply constraints and port issues, how can we build a sustainable process through technology, through automation to help them achieve their goals both from keeping talent and retaining talent, but also reducing the amount of impact that they have on the environment?
Christina Cardoza: There is no surprise that there’s a lot that goes into being sustainable from a carbon emissions standpoint to just within your business how it runs and operates. On top of that, there’s all of these other challenges like you both have mentioned, governmental regulations, global green energy initiatives.
So, Jan, I’m wondering if you can expand a little bit on the challenges businesses face when they’re trying to become more sustainable. And how some of these government regulations and global initiatives are putting pressure on them even more.
Jan Hellgren: Thanks. And there are so many huge challenges. I wouldn’t say that I’m aware of all these challenges. But a few of them are that if you have – let’s say that you have a goal for 2030, you can’t wait until 2029 to do your changes. You need to break this down into chunkable pieces, so you can act on it right now.
You also – to be able to then make these changes, you need your organization to be aware of what is happening, and you need to be able to engage them. I just have an example from my driving yesterday.
I drove to another city here, it’s about 500 kilometers away from here. The last time I drove, I had gasoline usage that was about 40% higher than this time where I really tried to be careful with my right foot. So, you need your organization to be engaged in doing these changes. And how do you do that? Well, by creating awareness.
And then how will you keep track? Just as Chris said, if you have your baseline, how do you keep track of where you are towards that baseline? I would say that what is happening now also when the companies are starting to address these things is that they… to keep track, they are doing a lot of manual work. So, they are reading invoices, and they convert that into Excel files, and then import Excel files into your ERP system. And it’s creating an enormous amount of administrative burden.
So, there are so many other challenges also, but that would be a few of them.
Christina Cardoza: Great, and I want to touch on something that Chris just mentioned earlier that it’s not only about reducing carbon emissions. There’s really a lot that goes on within the business, within your own workforce that can help it become more sustainable.
(On screen: The Role of the Supply Chain and illustration of supply chain elements: vehicles, trees, planes, and boats)
So, Chris, can you start off by talking about what does it mean to have a sustainable supply chain, and the role the supply chain plays in these sustainability initiatives?
Chris Cutshaw: Yes, I think as I mentioned before, supply chains are really front and center if you think about manufacturing or whatever your business is to moving goods into market. When you talk about carbon output, that’s really a huge driver.
So, supply chains are in the bullseye, for good or for worse, on how to document, figure out, and identify, one, their output currently, and strategies that they can take to mitigate.
And so, the role of the supply chain in becoming sustainable is also being agile, flexible, connected, and visible. So, really, companies right now are on a journey. So, they’re trying to start by connect all their partners and all of their movements that are happening within their supply chain to gain visibility. The reason you want to gain visibility is to give your customers an understanding of what’s happening. But also for you and your internal systems to be able to understand where everything is at in a complex global environment, and make really critical decisions, and prioritize key metrics in your decision-making process transactionally.
So, you don’t review a quarter and see how you performed and try to change for next quarter. In the moment, when you’re making those critical decisions, are you taking every factor into consideration?
So, companies are trying to connect right now. I’d say the majority of companies right now are just trying to understand what’s happening across the entirety of their supply chain. Then they’re trying to move to more of a predictive phase.
So, can I avoid disruption? Can I see what’s around the corner? Can I identify mitigating strategies to be more resilient? So, if I don’t have to expedite a bunch of airfreight because I don’t have any other alternate sources of supply, if I build a resilient strategy where maybe one of my suppliers goes down, or becomes embargoed by a political – a new geopolitical event, I can already source and have strategies to back up that supply, then I don’t have to go and accelerate airfreight, which is going to produce carbon, and really allow my employees to jump from issue to issue. And I have a plan in place to mitigate that.
So, can I become predictive? Can I get connected? Understand what potentially is going to happen. Then what companies are trying to do is to move into an orchestration where every system, every division, every, let’s say, silo within the company are all reading from the same sheet of music. So, you don’t have logistics yelling at manufacturing, or planning accelerating product through logistics and making them expedite freight. But you’re all saying, “Here are our common metrics, here are our common data assets and common data model that we’re all reading from, we’re all acting from”. And then, eventually, they want to move to a phase where they’re cognitive, where you don’t have humans making decisions, but you have your systems and you really are extending productivity, allowing one person to do 10x more than they’re doing right now. And that’s really the role, and what supply chain leaders are thinking about to take from where we’re at now in a very transactional, manual environment to become cognitive, to become very connected. And then take into consideration priorities that you need to consider every time you’re making a decision. And that includes sustainability, that includes carbon. And you’re taking that decentralized approach away from all the decision-makers that are out there in your potential supply chain. And every transaction you’re making the right decision based on your organizational priorities.
That’s really what we see companies trying to do right now. And we’re helping them with visibility technology. We’re helping them with platforms that allow them to connect to that. And also, connecting with IoT and other types of sensors to understand where everything’s at in a complex global environment.
Christina Cardoza: So, it sounds like just by streamlining your operations, connecting your systems, and understanding everything, what’s going on, looking at the right metrics is helping towards this overall goal of being more green, reaching these net-zero goals.
So, how important or where does the supply chain come in some of these net-zero goals? Is this sort of the first thing businesses should be looking at when trying to reduce their carbon emissions?
Chris Cutshaw: If your business does manufacturing, that’s going to have probably the biggest output or carbon contribution that your company is making. Next up is how you move and facilitate movements of product throughout the world.
And when you’re in those really critical tight decisions, if… and the reason I was talking about becoming connected is a lot of times people are measuring last quarter and seeing how well they did and saying, “Okay, let’s implement these strategies”. Well, when you get into a pinch and you need to make some really quick decisions and maybe a line’s going to be down for production, or you’re not going to meet launch date for a critical launch, you’re not always going to consider environmental impacts in those decisions.
So, if you can actually input those algorithms or that type of decision-making into your process and maybe carry more inventory, maybe be more of a – building in local regions with build-to-order type supply chain instead of just stocking and moving from that perspective, that’s going to help you be more agile in these moments. And also, allow you to align the organization towards a north star.
You don’t have people maybe that are trying to hit a certain P&L or trying to achieve a certain in-stock ratio, but we’re all making a decision based on organizational priorities. And if carbon reduction and your net-zero goal, or whatever that goal is, you need to make sure that you’re considering that every time you make a transportation decision.
Obviously, using ocean and using ground transportation that’s electrified, potentially, or not using a lot of airfreight or direct truckload, that’s going to allow you to reduce your burden and reduce the output of carbon that you’re making. So, we help companies transform their supply chains to say, “Here’s the cost risk and benefit analysis of maybe taking more inventory within your supply chain, shifting to more environmental-friendly modes of transport”. And we help them make that analysis to find where it’s beneficial and then how they can actually do that over time to achieve their goal.
Christina Cardoza: So, it sounds like there is a lot of moving pieces in all of this. Making sure everything is streamlined and correct and moving on the factory floor, if you’re in the manufacturing industry, to ensuring you have the right inventory available, to making sure the right amount is being deployed and delivered on the road.
(On screen: Why Technology Matters slide with image of trees and data points on top of it)
So, I want to talk a little bit into the technology that goes into this. Because we’re talking about a lot of systems connected to each other, and a lot of data and metrics that you need to be collecting. And a lot of this is too much for a human to understand on their own. And since we’re talking about all these systems being connected, Jan, I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit about the role of the Internet of Things in these green efforts.
Jan Hellgren: So, the Internet of Things is as you say, it’s just a technology, it doesn’t bring any value in itself. But just as Chris mentioned, you can use it for really solving a lot of your challenges.
So, as I mentioned before, one of the big challenges for organizations is this big burden of manual work, to be able to enter this data into your systems. If you’re going to keep track, if you’re going to know your CO2 footprint at any given time, then you need this data. And the interesting thing is that a lot of this data is already digitized. You have it in your existing systems. It’s just that these existing systems are not connected to the internet or to your endpoint.
So, that might be the case. And some of the data is not yet digitized, but then you have all kinds of sensors for measuring all kinds of gases, and all kinds of emissions. And then in both cases, IoT could really be the carrier of bringing this data to your endpoint.
So, you put your edge gateway where you have the data, and you fetch the data either from existing systems or from sensors. And if you combine that with API integration towards other sources of external parties, then you can really have the data that you need to keep track over time.
Christina Cardoza: And I know capturing and tracking some of this data is a big part of what Axians and VINCI Energies does. So, can you expand a little bit on the ways that you guys help businesses make sense of all this data and how, in turn, that’s helping them become more sustainable?
Jan Hellgren: Yes, we don’t have time to explain that in detail, of course. But I can say that what we normally do is that we put, what you would call, an edge gateway, normally it’s an Intel NUC, and we put that onsite and let that gateway communicate with existing systems. It could be an existing SCADA system or existing PLC, or whatever sensor which is out there already. Or we put other IoT devices there also, bringing all this data into the edge device, where you then combine this data and convert it into whatever protocol you would need in the back end.
And then we send this to an IoT hub, normally Microsoft Azure. And on the back end of that IoT hub, we are then using this GreenEdge Platform that we created for calculating, for aggregating, and presenting the CO2 footprint of your company.
We are addressing the full Scope 1, Scope 2 and, of course, not all of Scope 3 yet, but a really important part of Scope 3 is already addressed also.
Christina Cardoza: Perfect. And Chris, you mentioned the stages of a sustainable supply chain and touched upon some of the technologies or ways C.H. Robinson is helping businesses become successful on this journey. But what other components or technologies do you think is necessary to really be successful?
Chris Cutshaw: Yes, so similar to Jan’s, we also leverage IoT in our partnership with Intel and Microsoft to make that happen.
(On screen: Chris displays his edge gateway device)
I actually have a little gateway device here, it’s about the size of two iPhones. This connects via cellular and GPS technology. So, you can put this on products on a multimodal movement, so often our goods today, especially in North America are being imported from Asia or other locations. So, that means it’s going on a truck. That truck is going to go into a port. That container is going to get put onto a vessel. The vessel is going to go to the destination port. It’s going to be put on a rail. That rail is going to go to a destination rail location. It’s going to be pulled and delivered and dropped off at a distribution center.
So, understanding all of the points in the journey and then each of those modes or movements are actually producing some sort of carbon as a part of that. Understanding even what vessel it’s on. So, I know is it a newer vessel that’s better at fuel emissions? Is it an older vessel that really is actually contributing worse to my carbon footprint? That’s really the true way you can measure your current output. You can definitely make assumptions and say, on average, this is generally what it takes. But to truly identify what’s happening, you need to understand every step of the journey so that you can eliminate or leverage partners that are going to really help you achieve your carbon goals.
And then we have products like our visibility technology, Navisphere Vision. Navisphere is a platform we built proprietarily at C.H. Robinson, over 115 years of development, and we’ve been a company helping companies move supply all over the world. So, we take this visibility technology inputs from a whole bunch of data elements like sensors, like vessels, ports, terminals to combine that data in real-time, show them where their inventory is at, show them where their freight-in-motion is at, and allow them to do more reporting and analytics on on-time performance, carbon, inventory in full, things of that nature.
And we also have rolled out a product across C.H. Robinson called Emissions IQ. This is really the first GLEC-certified, which is an industry body that’s internationally recognized on reporting and understanding carbon output by mode of transport. So, we have a GLEC-certified dashboard that companies who are leveraging C.H. Robinson can quickly with a few simple setup items, can understand from a transportation perspective what is their current baseline as it’s moving through our systems, and help them plan and identify areas of opportunity where maybe they don’t need to be using airfreight, maybe they don’t need to be expediting parcels and there’s consolidation opportunities.
So, if I send 20 shipments out from one place to another place, can I consolidate those into a much more heavier weight, heavier dense type movement, which is going to improve the utilization of my transportation?
So, we use IoT technology, we use visibility platforms, we connect that data through streaming architecture and API architecture. And then we baseline and help companies understand their analytics in real-time. One of those components is carbon output and baselining their carbon emissions.
Christina Cardoza: Now, this all sounds great in theory, but I’m curious of how this actually looks like in practice.
(On screen: Sustainable Businesses in the Real World slide with illustration of various metrics and reports)
So, Chris, I’m wondering if you have any examples of customers that you’ve helped, the challenges they face, how you stepped in, and how they really utilized the technology from C.H. Robinson to meet their sustainable supply chain goals. And you don’t have to name names if you can’t, but any examples you can provide would be great.
Chris Cutshaw: Yes, well, one we can name that I just did in the last answer that we’ve publicly announced our partnership is that of Microsoft.
So, Microsoft has made an ambitious goal. I believe by 2030 they want to be carbon-neutral, and by 2050, they want to be carbon-negative, replacing all of the carbon that they’ve ever produced as a company. Very ambitious goals. And then when that comes down through the organization, Microsoft’s supply chain, again, is in the bullseye saying, “Okay, you guys are a big producer, help us figure out a mitigate strategy”.
So, first and foremost, we help them identify all of these systems and different processes, different decisions that were happening within their global complex network. They service over 100-I-think-70 different countries, shipping 10 to 20,000 SKUs every year. So, understanding and having a platform roll out to be able to track and connect all of those transactions is the foremost step that companies need to take to then be able to change and influence change over time.
So, you need some sort of execution platform, whether it be through your manufacturing or supply chain process that helps you see in real-time, connect to your partners, and make really in-the-moment decisions that are based on your priorities as an organization.
So, we’ve rolled out our global TMS, which is a transportation management system, put it in Azure, which is their cloud-hosted cloud solution, and we host our products in their systems to help build out sustainable processes, track their cargo, which is very prone to potential theft or damage. So, IoT capabilities and understanding what light, temperature, humidity, tilt, shock of every container, every pallet that’s moving in their supply chain. And giving them that live streaming global common data model is an example of how we’ve built this with a real-life customer.
And I would say that doesn’t come with a flip of the switch. Anybody who is going to tell you, “Hey, you just turn this thing on, all your problems are going to go away”. I would say that’s probably a bit of snake oil. This takes iteration. This takes a lot of focus, a lot of buy-in across many different parts of your organization to really influence change. And you need to find partners and technology platforms that are going to allow you to do it that are future-proof, and that grow with you over time.
So, we have a managed service that goes along with our technology that brings people and process, that combines the global technology to help them evolve and transform over time, and stay consistent with what’s happening in the industry and make the right decisions.
So, that would be an example, and we have many others just like that here at C.H. Robinson. We support over 100,000 customers and have about 75,000 carriers that are connected to our platform from all different sizes. So, it’s a journey. You definitely have to make the investment. You have to jump in. You have to iterate. And that’s how we found success in helping companies really build sustainability from a practical sense.
Christina Cardoza: I love how you said it’s not a flip of a switch. I think a lot of times companies get frustrated when they get on these journeys because they don’t see results fast enough. But like you mentioned, it really is a journey and we keep talking about hitting these net-zero goals or these sustainability goals. But is there really an endpoint to this? Once you’ve reached that net-zero goal, is your sustainability effort over, or what happens after that?
Chris Cutshaw: I think we have some big targets to hit. I don’t know that anybody could project out. But I know one thing that we constantly evolve as a people and as humanity. And I would imagine that once we get there that we’re going to find some other targets that we’re going to go after, or we’re going to find some new innovative ways to move and build products.
Potentially, and this could really impact our industry, but is there 3D printing or micro-fulfillment, ability to build and manufacture in-region with very consistent and sustainable processes that are sourcing from the countries in which they’re manufacturing.
So, can we build processes that eliminate redundancy, eliminate complexity, allow us to fulfill customer needs immediately without impacting the environment? So, I think maybe a lot of companies will achieve carbon-neutral by offsetting their carbon, but not eliminating. So, I think we’ll actually want to go after full elimination and how can we move in maybe an electric or nuclear way with many different modes, I think, is really exciting to think about. But I know one thing, we will find some other things to chase after if we achieve this goal.
Christina Cardoza: Absolutely. And Jan, you mentioned the GreenEdge a couple of times. I’m wondering if you can expand on some of the businesses or industries the GreenEdge has been helping with sustainability efforts. And where it comes in on the sustainability journey.
Jan Hellgren: So, GreenEdge is actually a generic solution. So, what it does is that it takes in data from many different sources, converting it into CO2e. And it also converts whatever actions you’re taking for your coming year in terms of getting or letting out less CO2 emissions, or other gases for that sake.
So, what you will have is a baseline that you measure all your emissions against. And the interesting thing is that you will measure it on the lowest level of your company. So, it would be your business unit, and perhaps after that, you will aggregate the data up to your regional unit and up to what we call a Pole, or on a top level. And depending on what role you have in your organization, you would like to see the emissions of whatever you are responsible for. And so, it can be used for ourselves. We have a very, very diverse business. We do it for real estate. We do it in a utilities business. And for industry.
But as I said, since it’s using data from whatever sensor or whatever system, it could be used in almost any vertical.
Christina Cardoza: Now, we mentioned some other big names in this conversation. Chris, you mentioned Intel and Microsoft, and I should mention that the insight.tech program is an Intel-owned publication. But I think it’s clear that these goals are aggressive, there’s a lot that goes into it and no one company can do it alone.
(On screen: The Power of Partnerships slide with image of a human hand about to shake hands with an illustrated hand made out of green plants.)
So, Chris, I’m wondering how else you’ve been working with Intel and Microsoft and other organizations, and what has been the value of the partnership ecosystem to meet sustainability goals.
Chris Cutshaw: Yes, starting – I think the comment you made there is you cannot do this on your own, neither us as a provider nor our shippers or customers that are moving freight. We need to all collaborate and collectively build solutions that are going to help us achieve these goals.
And how we partnered with Intel has been really on a technology front. So, they’ve helped us manufacture and build IoT devices, deploy those devices across a variety of different customers.
Now, one way we’re using them is to track what cargo ships they’re on, what trucks and rails that they’re on. We also are able to track if anybody opens a container when they shouldn’t be, or if there’s potential damage. Or let’s say we’re shipping in the winter, we’re shipping berries and raspberries from South America into the US, we want to make sure those maintain a certain temperature and they don’t get spoiled and damaged. That’s sustainable too that we don’t throw away a bunch of food that we don’t have to. So, IoT and Intel has helped us build those technologies.
And other ideas on partnership and things we’re thinking about. So, in our industry, we have this term a lot of companies that we compete with, we’re really frenemies. In some way, we are competing but we’re also helping a customer build solutions. So, can we have collaborative solutions that go across our four walls as a company, but keeping in mind the priority of us as a civilization that we need to be doing the right thing by the planet, we need to be doing the right thing by taking advantage of the data and the technology that’s out there, so we can create these really innovative solutions. And we’re not always focused, necessarily, on our bottom line, but a collective output.
Now, that’s a huge statement, and I would say there’s a lot of other priorities that get in the way of that. But the more we can keep that into consideration as governments are thinking about how they foster and almost enforce that collaboration, I think that’s a big push on partnerships and finding the right folks within our industry that can help us achieve these goals. And collectively, can we help shippers that are really moving products, that are manufacturing products achieve these goals?
And just to close on that, Intel and Microsoft have been huge partners from a technology side to help us deliver that.
Christina Cardoza: I love that point you made about frenemies. You’re absolutely right. Everybody is sort of competing, but at the same time, there’s a lot of different pieces that go into all of this. And different businesses or organizations might have more knowledge or expertise or software in one area than another. So, it really takes a team to put it all together.
Jan, can you expand on some of the technology partnerships that Axians and VINCI is working with to make this happen?
Jan Hellgren: Well, on the OT side, there are a lot of them. On the IT side, I would say the main partners are Intel and Microsoft. So, we’re using Intel hardware, just as Chris said, for gathering the data through an IoT gateway. We have the microservices platform that makes it possible to do any kind of security management on the Intel NUC and any kind of updates. Having an automatic way of managing a big quantity of gateways at a time. And we are sending the data to the Microsoft Azure IoT hub.
And the interesting thing there is with – I know that all of you guys know about Microsoft Azure, but the ones that are listening to this might not be. But you have an extremely big toolbox of solutions for creating any kind of value with this data that you get for sustainability. And these toolboxes we have been using for creating our solutions, but we are also helping organizations to make use of this toolbox. We have Microsoft Azure MVPs and architects that we use to help our customers to meet their goals, using our solution or creating their solutions on their own.
Christina Cardoza: Great points. And I know – we already mentioned how this is a journey and once we hit our goals, which is aggressive and way out in the future, there’ll be even more goals to reach, or even new technologies to apply, different ways to be doing things.
(On screen: Securing a Sustainable Future slide with image of solar panels and windmills)
But I’m wondering if we can stop and look into our crystal balls a little bit at what we can expect in the near-term future. What is this all working towards and how far do you think our reality of becoming more sustainable and meeting these goals are? Chris, I’ll start with you.
Chris Cutshaw: Yes, I think, in our industry, in transportation – just look at North America. So, the average truck fleet or a company that owns a truck is about one to five trucks. And so, you have a crazy large industry that’s being run by a bunch of micro companies that are making decisions in the moment. So, I think the ability to electrify and take different solutions to those different smaller companies to allow us on every shipment across North America, and start there and then move into other areas of the world as that technology becomes available. Can we replace those fleets with more sustainable options?
I think another interesting thing is a lot of our imports into the US, from an ocean perspective, are moving on vessels. And there’s a lot of cool initiatives, and I’ve seen some really interesting concepts of huge, large sailboats that are drafting and not using actual engine power to go and move forwards.
So, if you really can have an electric vessel or a sailboat, a large sailboat that’s moving containers into the US, that’s being picked up by an electric truck and delivering it, you can eliminate carbon on an international movement, in our current supply chains.
And then I think another thing that we’re thinking about as an industry and governments are thinking about, especially coming out of this pandemic, is how can we be sustainable within our own region and not rely on international trade as much?
Now, that won’t necessarily be the best thing for our company. But it will be the best thing for the world if as a country, as an international body, can we find a way to manufacture, procure, and deliver sustainably within region and not have to rely on moving things across the world in an elongated amount of time. So, that’s going to speed up transit. That’s going to reduce carbon.
So, a lot of those things are coming to fruition, and there’s going to be a lot of automation. So, autonomous vehicles are not too far down the road. I’d say in the next five years, we’re going to see the middle mile taken out of supply chains from a driver perspective. So, can we focus that talent elsewhere? And really, that’s going to allow us to be more sustainable, to run more consistent networks and not have to see a spike in expedites or a spike in cost that we normally see in the different cycles that we operate in within supply chain.
And I also think the ability to process, consume, and predict the amount of data that we’re able to intake now is growing exponentially day over day. So, you’re going to be able, as a company, to receive a lot more information, make more real-time decisions, and allow your people to be more productive and feel more empowered within their roles.
As I mentioned earlier, I feel that with some of the algorithms, with some of the capabilities that are coming to bear within our industry, people may become 10x more productive, and so we don’t have to grow and build these large teams to get things done. But we can sustain with our current size as we become more automated and more capable with some of the solutions that we’re rolling out.
So, all of those things are – I like to see the glass as half full. We have a lot of challenges on the horizon but if we can come together as different organizations and think about the best way to solve some of these challenges, I feel very confident that the future is bright for us as an industry.
Christina Cardoza: Great. I want to repeat one of the points you made, which was a lot of these things – some of these things that businesses are doing may not benefit the company the most, but it is going to benefit the world and making it better. And that’s really what’s behind all of these goals and initiatives. So, I love that you said that.
Jan, is there anything you want to expand on what a sustainable future looks like for Axians and VINCI?
Jan Hellgren: Yes, so I just want to thank Chris for the half-full-glass, because looking into the crystal ball right now, it’s not very pleasant. The emissions are increasing not decreasing, so it’s kind of scary.
I would… I think it’s not about technology. A lot of the technology that we already have would help us a lot in achieving the goals. But this is – it’s a question of do or die. Businesses have to start changing right now, and we need to keep track in doing this. And when I say do or die, for our company, if we’re not addressing the sustainability issue, we will probably not be competitive in the very near future, and we would, as a company, die. But if we are not, as a society, addressing this really, really fast, then it’s not looking good at all.
So, thank you, Chris, I really liked what you were saying. And I have actually the same opinion as you have.
Christina Cardoza: Great. Well, unfortunately, we are running out of time, and I know we covered a lot and there’s still so much more that we could cover.
So, before we go, I just want to throw it back to each of you for any final key thoughts or takeaways you want to leave attendees with today.
Jan, I’ll throw this one to you first.
Jan Hellgren: Yes, just what I’ve already said. If we address this fast, we have a really, really good competitive advantage towards whomever we are competing with.
I just want to mention an example from Sweden that I heard just last week that we have a company that is called Green Steel, so they are using hydrogen to create steel. They haven’t produced not one kilo of steel yet, I think, but they already have a 10 billion order book.
So, if you’re addressing this really fast, you have a competitive advantage and we should use that.
Christina Cardoza: And Chris, any final key thoughts or takeaway?
Chris Cutshaw: Yes, I appreciate the time today, nice talking with you, Jan, and Christina, thanks for moderating.
I would say that, really, as a company if those that are listening to this want to learn more about what we can offer and how we help identify and baseline and produce solutions that can become more sustainable within your business or supply chain or transportation needs, please reach out. chrobinson.com. You can ask to talk to an expert. We’re happy to walk through what we’re doing now and just be even more consultative in how we think about the future and how we think about sustainable practices within our industry.
So, thanks for the time and I look forward to what we can achieve together.
Jan Hellgren: And I would like to add the same as you were saying, Chris. That goes for Axians and VINCI Energies. Whomever would like to contact me, you can contact me personally and I will address the right person to talk to.
Christina Cardoza: Great. Well, with that, I just want to thank you both again for joining the webinar today and for your insightful conversation.
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I also want to thank our audience for listening today. If you’d like to learn more about building a sustainable supply chain, I invite you all to visit insight.tech where we have a wealth of articles and podcasts on the subject.
Until next time, I’m Christina Cardoza with insight.tech.
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