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Sam Warren is the Sustainability Manager at Woodland Group, one of the UK’s largest privately-owned global logistics and supply chain companies. Sam’s role is to manage the Group’s journey towards net zero, whilst overseeing its sustainable supply chain solutions; helping customers develop and implement carbon-reduction strategies within their transport supply chain. 

Sam also Chairs the British International Freight Association’s Sustainable Logistics Policy Group which aims to help guide the freight transport industry towards positive environmental action.

Here, in his interview with ITN Business, Sam shares his thoughts on creating positive change within the logistics industry, the power of collective action, and the exciting prospect of zero emission supply chains…

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the logistics and supply chain industry today?  

One of the biggest challenges we face today is the growing demand to decarbonise and take action on issues regarding sustainability. B2C businesses have been tasked to act as a result of changing government legislation, demand by the general public, and increasing awareness by consumers and official groups. This works its way up the supply chains to transport suppliers, and to manufacturers.

The industry is becoming more and more aware of both its impact and responsibility to create positive change.

How are you navigating this challenge, as an organisation?

Governments are putting in place targets and legislation, forcing those companies that may not want to take immediate action to do so. But the truth is, there’s a huge group of companies that haven’t been waiting for regulations to come into force, and are already taking action — and Woodland is in this group. This has given us some competitive advantage (something companies should recognise as a benefit of acting sustainably), but ultimately, it’s what we as a company believe is the right thing to do.

The desire to ‘do good’ often comes at a cost; biofuels, solar panels, carbon calculation tools, etc, all come at a premium. We’ve been lucky that some of our biggest customers have recognised that sharing some of those financial burdens is the quickest way to allow us to collectively take action. Nevertheless, it remains a challenging process to decarbonise supply chains at scale.

What major trends or innovations affecting your industry have had the most impact on your business? 

The increase in alternative fuels such as biodiesel (HVO), sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), and sustainable marine fuels (SMF) had had a huge impact. Many of these fuels don’t require any modification to the existing internal combustion engines that are running fossil fuels, which keeps costs down, whilst also providing drop-in solutions to move goods with significantly lower environmental impact. This can allow for over 90% emission savings.

The logistics and supply chain sector has seen many challenges in recent years, from rising fuel and transportation costs, to ongoing labour shortages.

This is extremely exciting, but there’s a limited supply of these fuels at the moment, and not enough to switch every litre of diesel, Jet A, or heavy fuel oil over to a low carbon alternative. The supply will continue to grow, however, if we can find a way to funnel more funds towards these technologies.

We continuously need to think about what other alternatives are available, remain agile and adapt to what needs to be done to create the most sustainable version of our global supply chains.

What excites you most about the future of the industry?

If we look at how the global energy sector has tackled decarbonisation over the last 10 years, we can start to see real evidence that one day we can get to a point where we have a net-zero global transport sector. We don’t have all the solutions yet, but I think the foundations are there and with the right amount of public pressure, government regulation, and industry innovation we can see an incredibly exciting future emerging.

The idea that one day the food we eat, the medicines we need, and the materials we use to keep growing our society could be transported around the world and to our doorsteps, with no impact on our environment, is something to strive for. 

Zero emission supply chains create a huge opportunity to allow our economies to continue developing without damaging our people or our planet. The ultimate challenge is trying to achieve it before we reach the critical point of climate collapse in 2050, or potentially sooner.

How do you measure the success and impact of your business, beyond financial performance?

Like most other companies taking action on sustainability, we measure and track our impact on an ongoing basis, which we pull together annually within our Sustainability Reports.

These documents are a huge undertaking for our team but their value is very significant. It sets an annual marker for what we have achieved so far, and allows us to reset and think about what we can do over the next 12 months to tackle climate change and create a more fair and inclusive space for our staff and stakeholders.

We recently released our 2023 annual Sustainability Report and what I was most proud of when we were putting it together, was the number of staff at Woodland Group that wanted to participate in the report to say that they had taken positive action or had committed to doing so.

There was no legal requirement for us to start creating these reports, but we felt that by sharing publicly everything that we’re doing — and the direction that we’re taking — we’re setting a standard for the wider industry.

What’s been a personal career highlight?

Earlier this year, Woodland Group won the inaugural BIFA Sustainable Logistics and Environment award. This award considered everything that we are doing as a group to tackle sustainability and placed us in competition with some of the biggest players in our industry. To come out on top felt like a massive achievement and reaffirmed that what we’re doing is having a positive impact in our industry.

I was subsequently offered the chance to chair BIFA’s Sustainable Logistics Policy Group, which brings companies together from across the UK’s freight industry to discuss and drive action. So far it’s been a great experience, and I’m looking forward to building momentum with the group over the coming months to see what we can collectively achieve.

Woodland Group has been providing innovative logistics, e-commerce and supply chain management services since 1988. Learn more about the organisation here.

Our upcoming programme: ‘Transforming Logistics: Precision and Purpose’

View the trailer

The logistics sector is the backbone to industry and plays a critical role in ensuring smooth business operations, which in turn supports the economy to grow. The logistics and supply chain sector has seen many challenges in recent years from the pandemic, rising fuel and transportation costs, as well as ongoing labour shortages. As customer demand rises alongside the adoption of more sustainable practices and advancements in technology and innovation, the sector continues to adapt.​

Transforming Logistics: Precision and Purposewill feature organisations at the core of the logistics and supply chain sector and show how they are adapting and rising to the challenges the sector is facing and looking to encourage the next generation. Case study led stories will demonstrate support going on in the sector, how organisations are innovating and using technology to generate value and feature organisations who are supporting in finding efficient and sustainable ways to deliver goods in crowded urban environments. ​Featuring interviews with thought leaders from BIFA, the British International Freight Association, Logistics UK and CILT, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in the UK.

There are commercial opportunities for leading organisations to be featured in the programme and spearhead their own news item. If your organisation wants to share what you stand for and be part of this important conversation about logistics, please contact ITN Business’ Programming Directors Michael Holt and Tamsin Luck.