Grocers gear up to green their fleets

Making transportation more sustainable in their operations is becoming a bigger priority for retailers

At a time when grocers are making efforts to be more sustainable store-wide, retailers large and small are recognizing that reducing their carbon impact on the road has to be just as big a priority.

A key reason why is being fuelled by government. Canada’s carbon tax is already impacting current transportation fleets, and with the federal government’s goal to reduce emissions by 30% by 2030, more incentives to minimize pollution could be coming. In the meantime, countries like the United Kingdom are taking more drastic measures to preserve the environment. In April, the United Kingdom implemented clean air zones in London (with more cities to follow) where drivers of polluting cars are charged up to £100 (about $170) to enter the area.

Two years after both Loblaw and Walmart announced major plans to convert their fleets to electric and hybrid varieties to reduce carbon emissions, the retail giants remain committed to making good on their word.

“As one of Canada’s largest energy users, given the size and scope of our retail network and supply chain, we know we have a critical role to play in helping Canada reach its carbon reduction targets,” says Wayne Scott, Loblaw’s senior director transport maintenance. Although the grocer is still waiting on pre-orders of electric trucks from a variety of suppliers, Scott says he is optimistic the first deliveries will happen this year.

READ: Loblaw, Walmart pre-order Tesla all-electric transport trucks

Loblaw is also working with technology providers on alternative energy products to reduce diesel emissions, adds Scott. “For example, we’re now trialling generators that will run off the trucks’ power, which eliminates the need for the diesel engine to run in the refrigerated trailer while it’s driving,” he says. “We also have a number of trucks on the road with solar panels on the roof to power electric air conditioning units, and internal power in sleeper cabs.”

John Bayliss, senior vice-president of logistics at Walmart Canada, says the company is well on its way to converting 20% of its fleet to electric vehicles by 2022. The retailer has also committed to alternative power for all its fleet vehicles by 2028. “Walmart Canada is putting sustainability at the forefront of our logistics network,” he says.

Walmart recently announced plans to acquire 30 additional Tesla 18-wheeler semi-trucks to add to its original order, in November 2017, of 10 trucks. With a total of 40 trucks, Walmart will have one of the largest electrified fleets planned by any company in Canada.

In the meantime, smaller retailers like B.C.’s Save-On-Foods, which has already implemented various programs to reduce food waste and save energy, says greening its transportation methods is “absolutely” on the radar.

Given that sustainability is top of mind for consumers, retailers big and small have to recognize this is an issue that’s important to their shoppers too, says Jason Peattie, director of sales and marketing at CHEP Canada, which helps companies improve efficiencies around their supply chains. “Independents are close to their local markets so sustainability is especially relevant,” he says. “Even from a marketing perspective, greening your fleet is a good news story.”

Over the last five to seven years, Peattie says he has seen a change in mindset from hesitancy and fear of costs involved in greening a fleet, to a realization that doing so will be the most cost-effective way to do business. “As we continue to digitize the physical network and gain more visibility on how products move, it will give us even more insight on how to drive better decisions too.”

In fact, he says retailers not already exploring greener transportation options for the future risk being left behind. “We are really at the tipping point where are becoming available and that will drive change down the supply chain very quickly,” he says.

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer's May issue.

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