Editorial department: What exactly are your tasks as the Head of Sustainability?
Isa Kohn: The Rhenus Group Is a company that’s organised through local structures. Each unit therefore has its own areas of responsibility. I’m in charge of the entire issue of sustainability within the group at a central level, particularly for our strategy – including our policy on climate management. This includes, for example, determining our ecological footprint and deriving measures and reduction targets for the entire Rhenus Group. It also involves other strategic topics, for example, drawing up our SDGs, our ‘Sustainable Development Goals’. In addition, I support the various units when customers make enquiries. Another important topic involves communications, both internally for our employees and all the units, as well as for those outside the company. As a result, I play my part in ensuring that the public also becomes increasingly aware of the topic of sustainability, fully in line with the motto of ‘Do good and talk about it’.
Editorial department: Why does a logistics specialist decide to focus on the issue of sustainability?
Isa Kohn: Because the Rhenus Group is a family business, it’s very important for us to assume some responsibility for future generations. However, there’s no getting away from it: transport operations are at the heart of logistics services and the emissions caused by them are still unfortunately far too high. Operating a building or a warehouse can also trigger very high levels of emissions, depending on how new the building is. We’re well aware of our responsibility towards the environment and we’re therefore making progress with this topic and are thinking about the long-term effects, that is to say, we must find ways of being able to meet customers’ demand for CO2-neutral logistics services That’s why the topic of decarbonisation in particular is so important for us.
Many employees work at our business sites every day, so we’re naturally taking the social aspect into account too. We’re particularly interested in the health and safety of our employees. When it comes to sustainability, we act out of a sense of conviction. It goes without saying that we also have to comply with the stipulations provided by lawmakers, but we obtain a great deal of positive feedback from our customers and other stakeholders and this shows us that we’re pursuing the right course.
Editorial department: When it comes to considering sustainable activities, in what sense is it important that Rhenus is a company with global activities, but is also a family business?
Isa Kohn: Because we’re a family business, we’re very happy to play our part so that the planet is a place that future generations can continue to enjoy and one in which the diversity of the natural world is preserved. Alongside the environment and our employees, however, two other issues are important: firstly, our customers. We specifically adapt to their requirements because we can see that sustainability is increasingly what they’re calling for and we can already offer them a completely green supply chain. Secondly, we’re acting out of a fundamental conviction and in the full awareness that our services must be provided in a CO2-neutral way in future – and we want to be really prepared for this. We also feel encouraged by politicians and the growing pressure on those who are still trying to shirk their responsibility.
Editorial department: What’s the best way for companies to start becoming involved in the topic of sustainability and how is it possible to establish a strategy during the early phases?
Isa Kohn: Sustainability is a topic that has to be supported and maintained right from the top. You can see this happening at Rhenus: my department, for example, reports directly to the Management Board. When companies start to tackle the topic of sustainability, it always makes sense to first consider where the company’s influence is particularly great, whether it’s social or ecological, and then define at what point they can achieve the greatest impact. There may well be departments that you can influence a great deal, but you may not be able to accomplish a great deal there. An analysis of what’s essential plays a major role too, for example, when considering the ecological footprint: the ‘Scope 3’ emissions from our subcontractors, for instance, are very important for us because they’re much higher than commuter emissions.
When considering emissions, I’d recommend that people start taking measurements because ‘you can’t manage what you don’t measure’. It’s only possible to identify the most important driving forces when you have some idea of your footprint and you can then define reduction measures. In future, it will be possible to measure very accurately how well the action taken has helped and how effective the reduction has been. Ultimately, however, every department within a company and all the employees have to be involved because each person can really achieve something, even if this only involves small steps in the early stages.
Editorial department: What do companies particularly need to keep in mind and how can they tackle issues? Are there any particular requirements or restrictions?
Isa Kohn: There aren’t yet many binding stipulations for sustainability at this time. There is of course ISO 14001 for environmental management and ISO 50001 for energy management, but the topic is only starting to become increasingly important – particularly if we consider increases in regulations and tougher measures introduced by politicians. At Rhenus, we’re already adapting to the fact that we’ll have to fulfil particular requirements during the next few years and they’ll be mandatory – for example, non-financial reporting or EU taxonomy. We’re already taking action of our own accord here: for and with our customers and for and with our employees too.
Editorial department: Which sustainability projects have already been introduced within the Rhenus Group or which ones are still being planned?
Isa Kohn: We have our best practice example in Tilburg, a warehouse in the Netherlands, in our warehousing division. It’s one of the most sustainable warehouses in the world and was even nominated for the ‘BREEAM Award’ in 2019. It won the ‘National Steel Award’ for building design in 2020 and, among other things, it stands out because it manages to link ecological and social aspects. The warehouse has solar modules on its roof, triple glazing and heat pumps. The facades and roof are all highly insulated and rainwater is used in the plumbing facilities. In addition to LEDs, there are areas where daylight makes its way into the building and we’ve even considered our employees by providing recreational areas outside the warehouse.
We’re using EcoTransIT in our freight division, that is to say, for road transport and for air and ocean freight. We can use this system to calculate the emissions caused by each individual consignment. We’re also actively using our “RHEGREEN“ programme for airfreight: it provides an opportunity for our customers to transport airfreight consignments on particular routes with more environmentally-friendly aircraft, i.e. planes that consume less fuel – and it’s a system that still doesn’t cost anything. It’s also enabling us to achieve actual reductions of between 10 to 40 per cent in terms of our CO2emissions.
We’re using alternative drive systems or those that cause lower emissions at many units as well, whether this involves, for instance, fairly small electric vehicles, CNG vehicles in the ‘Home Delivery’ unit or in fact heavy electric trucks to transport containers. We actually have one of the largest electric truck fleets with heavy 40-tonne vehicles in Europe.
As far as inland waterway shipping is concerned, we operate the ‘MS Duisburg’, for example. The vessel has a father-son drive system, which provides thrust in line with the amount of power that’s required. Depending on whether it is travelling upstream or downstream, the more powerful or less powerful engine is used. This vessel also has a stern that is optimised for currents; as a result, it’s possible to transmit the thrust to the water almost without incurring any losses and this also helps reduce fuel consumption. We’re currently in the process of establishing our so-called ‘Eco Short Sea’ fleet as well, which will then directly consist of five environmentally-friendly vessels.
We naturally want to expand alternative drive systems in all our units and also press ahead with building more logistics warehouses, but I would just say here, ‘Stay tuned!’ There will be some exciting innovations soon, particularly at logistics warehouses.
Editorial department: What are the next steps in terms of sustainability? Where is the journey heading?
Isa Kohn: I think each of us would like to know where we’re heading to, but it’s not possible to precisely map it out, because each business unit faces its own challenges. What’s definitely clear is that the transition process will take different amounts of time for the individual units. The truck business, for example, is much further ahead than inland waterway shipping when it comes to decarbonisation – or at least the change is more measurable there.
There are naturally regional differences too: we have trimodal transport operations in Central Asia, but also in Germany. However, there are huge differences just in the age of the means of transport available in each region. When it comes to buildings, the aspect of ‘renting or having your own property’’ is also a huge challenge because, depending on what we opt for, we then have more or less room to manoeuvre when it comes to implementing particular measures.
But we’re also dependent on technological progress and we can predict with a fair degree of accuracy what’s going to happen until the year 2025 or 2030. However, it’s fairly difficult to assess what will happen after that, how quickly new innovations will appear or what kind of pressure will be exerted to make investments that we’d perhaps still shy away from at this time. But we can comfortably live with this uncertainty factor because we’re working with the PDCA cycle, that is to say, the “plan, do, check, act” system. We can then always adapt our strategy to the changes that emerge.
Editorial department: Which ideas can companies implement quickly and easily in order to become more sustainable?
Isa Kohn: It’s always easiest to persuade people about the benefits of sustainability if a solution is cost-effective at the same time. But process optimisation can also be introduced easily. If I use a forklift management system to help reduce the distances covered, for example, I can also save energy: and if I don’t have to charge my forklifts so often, I save electricity and so on.
Finally, I need to mention the classic items that are easy for all employees to implement: save paper, save water, turn off the light or switch off the monitor and multipoint extension leads. However, you first have to think clearly in order to develop a strategy for the measures and reductions: what sources of emissions can I completely eliminate? For example, not travelling by car at all. Or what can I reduce to a certain degree? Travel by car less or buy a different vehicle. Only after you’ve thought along these lines should you consider opting for compensation, which is admittedly a rather controversial issue.
Editorial department: Thank you very much for talking to us!