DHL is the largest logistics and express delivery company in the world (yes, they are bigger than FedEx and UPS). Given the German-based company’s size and the businesses they’re in, it’s not surprising that their carbon emissions are massive. But those emissions have declined substantively as compared to nine years ago and those reductions will be tiny compared to what DHL will achieve over the next three to 33 years, if their aggressive projections are realized. GreenSportsBlog spoke to Emily Davis, Sustainability Program Manager at DHL North America’s Supply Chain unit, to understand how the largest logistics company in the world will go about achieving its net zero emissions goal by 2050 and how sports fits into those plans.
GreenSportsBlog: I did not realize DHL was the biggest logistics company in the world. With that being the case, I am fascinated by the commitment of a company that big to get to “net zero” on carbon emissions by 2050. Before we get to the particulars of what DHL might do to get from here to there and where sports fits in, I’d like to find out how you got to DHL and its sustainability team.
Emily Davis: I have a scientific background, specifically the biological sciences. Even though I went to Notre Dame, don’t tell anybody but I’m not that big of a sports fan.
Emily Davis, Sustainability Program Manager at DHL North America’s Supply Chain unit (Photo credit: Summer Safrit)
GSB: Oh, your secret is safe with me!
ED: I won’t hold my breath on that one. I’m more of an outdoor sports person—caving, mountaineering, paddling, that sort of thing. I started my career in the clinical medicine space and decided to make the transition to sustainability while out in Denver.
Emily Davis, exploring virgin passage of a cave in Tennessee (Photo credit: Elliot Stahl)
GSB: Great place for outdoor sports…
ED: Exactly…And I could blend my dual passions for the environment and biology. I went back to school, getting my MBA from Vanderbilt in Nashville in environmental management to build a new skill set in this area.
GSB: What was the coursework like for an environmental management MBA?
ED: Good question. Some of it involved things like the business of forest certification standards and marketing. And that, in part, led to my getting a job at International Paper in forest resources in Savannah and then with their sustainability department in Memphis.
GSB: What was it like to work in corporate sustainability there back in the mid-to-late 2000s?
ED: Sustainability was important to a paper and packaging company as trees, the main raw material input, are a very finite resource if not appropriately managed. But not too many companies were talking about sustainability, ESG, life cycle assessment and climate change in those days. Even though sustainability was important to the culture at International Paper, I still wanted to make more of a difference. So I took a sabbatical and traveled. At some point, I decided that I needed to work for a company that believed in environmental protection at the top of the food chain and that had size and scale such that, when environmental improvements were made, the impacts would be significant.
GSB: And that company was…DHL? A company that ships stuff all over the world and, thus, must have a, sorry, yuuuugge carbon footprint?
ED: Yes, DHL North America it was. In 2011, they were looking for someone to run their North American supply chain and sustainability departments. And yes, we have a massive footprint. But that means, with a strong commitment, they—and I—could make a difference. At the time, I didn’t know much about the company. They were/are based overseas—headquartered in Germany. But I came to find out that they had ambitious sustainability goals. They believe deeply in environmental protection—it’s core to their DNA. And I thought to myself, “this is a company that has a chance to really make a positive impact on climate change.”
GSB: So what did your job entail?
ED: Many things. Meeting the company’s energy and fuel efficiency goals. Which meant accounting for and improving the efficiency of warehousing, heavy-duty trucking, aviation, express shipping and supply chain operations.
GSB: That is a BIG JOB. Seems to me like express delivery, which is what I thought was DHL’s main business, plays a smaller part in the US. So let’s go to a big part—supply chain. How does the company handle supply chain from a sustainability point of view?
ED: DHL, which tracks Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions, is the first logistics company to report CO2 emissions and to set targets, with 2007 as the base year. Our primary goal was to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2020. We achieved this in 2016, almost four years early, which we announced on March 8 of this year.
Environmental protection is core to DHL’s DNA, according to Emily Davis (Photo credit: DHL)
GSB: Somehow I don’t imagine you and DHL are going to rest on your laurels…
ED: You’re right. We announced a new goal and that is to be a Zero Emissions Logistics company by 2050.
GSB: That seems impossible for a company that depends on flying and driving for a good chunk of its business. There have to be some assumptions of some serious technological advances over the next 30 or so years in terms of Zero Emissions fuels…
ED: It’s a huge target, no doubt about it. I mean, we’re committing to making no contribution to climate change by 2050. So, yes, we are assuming there will be wide adoption of Zero Emission fuels and equipment by that time and DHL is working on that right now.
GSB: Are there any interim targets? I mean 2050 seems like it’s a long way away—although I know, in terms of climate change, it really isn’t—but it feels like a company could put a commitment like that out there and then let things slide a bit, you know?
ED: I hear you. And we do have four interim sub-targets for 2025: 1. Make a 50 percent improvement on CO2 efficiency over the 2007 base. 2. Improve local quality of life…that will involve delivering 70% of our own first and last mile services with clean pick-up and delivery solutions like EVs. 3. An economic target: 50 percent of DHL sales will incorporate “Green Solutions,” including carbon neutral parcel delivery.
GSB: What is that percentage now?
ED: About 10 percent. Finally, #4 is a “people target.” DHL is one of the largest employers in the world, with approximately 454,000, including about 29,000 in North America. By 2025 we commit to having trained and certified 80 percent of our employees worldwide to be GoGreen specialists. Every division has a program, from express delivery to supply chain. And we have a target to plant 1 million trees each year by 2025. We’ve found, by the way, that our GoGreen initiative helps with employee retention.
GSB: I always believed that would be the case. DHL’s current sustainability and climate change actions are exemplary; its future plans even more so. My only nagging doubt is this: Many corporations take incredible sustainable actions but, when it comes to lobbying and political actions—i.e. lobbying for a price on carbon—they’re silent or in opposition. DHL is walking the climate/green walk. Is it talking the talk where it counts?
ED: It’s both. DHL is certainly talking the talk, sharing how we’re using scientific targets to do our part to keep global temperature increase to 2°C or less vs. pre-industrial levels, we report our emissions to CDP, have been a longstanding partner of the UN and promoter of Sustainable Development Goals, part of the UNEP and vigorously support the Paris Climate Agreement.
GSB: OK, let’s talk Green-Sports, specifically DHL’s involvement with Formula-E, the EV racing series.
ED: DHL has been the Official Logistics Provider for Formula 1 since 2012 and for Formula-E since its 2014 launch. Among other things, we are responsible for getting the vehicles and tires to the race venues in a timely, economical, environmentally responsible fashion. Formula-E is a perfect fit for us, especially with our push on “E-mobility” and electric vehicles (EVs). And, to be clear, our push is not limited to electric cars. We’re working on electric trucks within our own operations…
DHL has been a sponsor of Formula-E, the EV racing circuit, since its founding in 2014. (Photo credit: DHL)
GSB: Not surprising…
ED: And also electric vans, electric scooters. So promoting the electrification of racing is a natural fit. To our way of thinking, eventually—say before 2050—we hope that F-1 will move transition towards all-electric…
GSB: And so Formula E would no longer need to exist.
ED: That is our goal. And, also in the sporting world, I should tell you that one of our customers in Brazil was a sponsor of the Rio Olympics in 2016—we weren’t but they were. Anyway our EVs were used by the sponsor at the Olympics—they were one of the first ever EVs to be used at an Olympics and certainly a pioneering event for Brazil.
GSB: And, if DHL has anything to say about it, not the last.