While many businesses are setting their own targets and strategies to meet the UK’s Net Zero 2050 goal, others are still uncertain about how to approach this new obligation, especially with so much detail still unknown. We ask sustainability professional Olly Craughan, whose company DPD has been working towards carbon reductions and zero-emission deliveries since 2012/13, to share his views and any pointers on how best to approach a net zero strategy.
Q: Do you feel clear in your role – and as a business – about what's expected of you with regards to the UK's Net Zero target?
OC: At DPD, we’ve already had carbon-reduction commitments in place for many years. For example, in 2012, we set ourselves a target to reduce CO2 emission by 30% by 2025. So we’re just extending and moving forward with these goals. To support this, we recently made becoming leaders in sustainable delivery one of DPD’s core business pillars. But to plan successfully, we need to see more specific actions and targets from the government to make their 10 Point Plan and 2030 ban on sales of new diesel/petrol vehicles more tangible. For example, around EV charging infrastructure, we need to know how many chargers will be installed each year. Working backwards from the 2050 Net Zero target and setting stepping-stone goals would be really useful, so we then know what we can realistically achieve by when. I don’t think the UK wants to see another Brexit scenario!
Q: How easy has it been to track and understand DPD's carbon emissions? Do you believe this is a key first step before planning how to reduce emissions?
OC: As an organisation, we are very data driven. So we use software to track, measure and analyse all our energy, fuel and emissions sources, as well as monitor generation from the solar PV we have sited on many of our depot roofs. Data visibility is key for any business – if you can‘t measure what you are producing, you cannot work out what you need to save and/or offset. So yes, I do believe this a key first step on the net zero journey.
Q: As a parcel delivery business, incorporating more electric vehicles within your fleet is a key part of reducing your emissions. What are the challenges with this – and what needs to happen before you can become 100% electric?
OC: In 2019, we delivered 1.3 million parcels by our EV fleet. By the end of last year (2020), that had grown to 11.2 million. Our aim is to reach more than 100 million zero-emission deliveries by the end of 2025, or 25% of our total.
But moving to 100% EVs has its challenges. For example, sourcing 3.5 tonne EVs is challenging. Last year, we ordered 100 MAN eTGE 3.5 vehicles, but they had to be converted to right-hand drive before use, as they weren’t manufactured for UK customers. So we are waiting for more options to come to market, which will happen as diesel van manufacturers start looking more to EV solutions, and for the vehicle costs to fall.
The other challenge we face is with charging infrastructure. Around 60% of our EV drivers charge their vehicles from home with chargers we install on their behalf. But for those without off-street parking or who rent their homes – which applies more around cities such as London – the options are far more limited. While we wait for wider infrastructure solutions, we are aiming to expand our number of chargers in depots, and are also working in partnership with companies who operate public charging facilities.
Q: What is your approach to embracing new technologies, such as vehicle to grid charging or battery storage?
OC: We always follow the development of new technologies, but the return on investment (ROI) needs to work. When it comes to vehicle to grid (V2G) charging, this is unlikely to work for us. It’s far better suited to the public domain, where people don’t use their vehicles as much. For example, the average car journey is just 8 miles. Our biggest logistical operation time is throughout the night, when we are preparing parcels for delivery and charging vehicles. Our drivers then use their vehicles all day from 7am.
When it comes to battery storage, this doesn’t currently work economically for us either, for similar reasons. Although we have solar PV on many of our depot roofs, we tend to use that energy, or export any excess during the day. As things develop, this may change. So we will be watching for new uses and cheaper batteries.
Q: How easy has it been to get staff on board with your low-carbon goals?
OC: DPD is an amazing place to work and our people are genuinely motivated to adopt a cleaner way of working and delivering. I worked within our network before moving to my current CSR role, and I had drivers coming to me really keen to be the next to switch to an EV. Our staff are also very engaged to find new more sustainable ways of working. For example, for many years, we had a paper delivery document used by every driver. But it began to be replicated by the automated information stored on our PDA units. So once a driver highlighted this, it was removed within a week, saving 68 trees and £70k each year. Making small changes like this can have a big impact.
Q: Do you feel the energy market is keeping step with demand from large consumers for low/no-carbon solutions?
OC: There are definitely lots of positive moves in that space, although EV providers are not as quick to progress as we need them to be. Of course, change can’t happen overnight – but it’s definitely moving. It would be good to get more action from the government to support and incentivise the change we need to see, and potentially even enforce it. For example, by phasing out diesel vehicles and setting increasing targets on the numbers of EVs the UK imports. If you can still invest in a diesel fleet on 31 December 2029, the day before the ban comes into force, that’s not really progress.
Q: Finally, as someone in a business already quite a way down the Net Zero path, do you have any pointers or advice for other businesses still in the initial stages?
OC: Don’t be afraid of blue sky thinking. As the saying goes, if you aim for the stars, you’ll hit the moon! Once you set out your goals, you can then work backwards to create a step-by-step plan. For example, around decarbonising your fleet, your manufacturing operation, your machinery. Also, do some serious cost evaluation so you can calculate the cost of your plan – e.g. how much your chargers or vans will cost by 2025, then by 2030 etc. The nitty gritty is key. It can also be helpful to order your projects from easiest to deliver to hardest, so you can start with some quick wins. And it’s worth remembering, technology is moving at pace, so keep checking for new developments. For example, for us, the ROI for battery storage currently doesn’t stack up, but at some point it will. So keep an eye on the market to stay aware of developments so you can be ready to work them into your plan.
If you’d like to find out more about net zero, or the help and support we can offer on your decarbonisation journey, please get in touch via email@example.com. Or contact your Client Lead if you’re an existing customer.