Proximus targets a CO2-neutral supply chain by 2030

Published on 02/06/2021 in Inspire

Proximus targets a CO2-neutral supply chain by 2030

Proximus reduced its own emissions by over 70% between 2007 and 2015 and has been CO2-neutral since 2016. But its ambitions do not stop there. Hans Schurmans, Director of Logistics and Operations talks about how the company intends to make the supply chain more sustainable.

How important is sustainability in the Proximus strategy?

Hans Schurmans: “I see sustainability and circularity as connected. The circular model implies preserving the value of our raw materials and equipment for as long and as well as possible. Sustainability and circularity are currently two of the four key Proximus strategy priorities. This effort extends beyond just the supply chain. It encompasses our entire ecosystem, to include our networks, fleet, and how we procure energy.”

Sustainability and circularity are currently two out of Proximus’s four key priorities.

Hans Schurmans, Proximus Director of Logistics and Operations

Where is the margin for progress at the network level?

“The 5G network, in and of itself, is more energy efficient than the 4G network. On the other hand, the data consumption will be higher due to new 5G applications, among others, which means higher energy demands. To resolve this issue, an additional focus on locally-sourced renewable energy is a great goal. However, we could also consider producing more energy ourselves... Our networks are decentralized, making that endeavor seem slightly more daunting than it would in a traditional business environment.”

How can the Proximus fleet become more sustainable?

“Our fleet includes vans, passenger cars, and logistics vehicles. We look into alternative fuel options, like CNG and electric cars, within the big mobility picture. Are all journeys really necessary? What's the most efficient means of transport for our technicians? What about commuting and remote work? COVID-19 has accelerated these considerations in a host of organizations. And it’s been no different for Proximus.”

When discussing making the supply chain more sustainable – which links are involved?

“The supply chain covers our global manufacturers, transport to our warehouses, management of those warehouses, and the supply to our installers, sales outlets, and end customers. Each of these axes can be made more sustainable.”

“For the flow of incoming goods, we rely on a method that allows us to calculate the CO2 footprint in detail. We take that data and use it to persuade our suppliers to act and bring that number down. We bundle that in a kind of manifest with performance targets (KPIs) that we continuously test. Our suppliers know what our sustainability goals are. While our procurement criteria used to be limited to technological, commercial, and financial expectations, sustainability now carries equal weight.”

“There are currently several shipping companies that already use biofuel instead of conventional fuel oil for transport. In terms of production, equipment can be produced smaller and lighter and less and more sustainable packaging can be used. The plastic we use for our new generation of modems is 100% recycled. Our goal is totally plastic-free packaging.”

How is sustainability incorporated in Proximus logistics activities?

“We centralized our logistics activities in 2011. To make that happen, the logistics service provider, H.Essers, built a 22,500 m2 BREEAM-certified distribution center in Courcelles, especially for Proximus. H.Essers’ green rate aligns perfectly with our sustainability vision. Together, we are continuously on the lookout for opportunities to make our ecological footprint even smaller. We set the bar high and aim to roll out the first CO2-neutral supply chain by 2030.”

We've noticed that tenders by professional customers increasingly contain more environmental guidelines and requirements.

Hans Schurmans, Proximus Director of Logistics and Operations

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Why does H.Essers see taking the lead and sharing the burden of sustainability as important?

“Sustainability isn’t optional anymore. It's a must for us and our professional and private clients. Customers are incorporating sustainability in their purchasing decisions the same way we do. How can we tell? We've noticed that tenders by professional customers increasingly contain more environmental guidelines and requirements. While companies used to make claims in relatively short order about sustainable work and being compliant with ESG standards, they’re now forced to demonstrate that with hard evidence too.”

You are a big believer in combining forces within the logistics chain. How do you see that playing out specifically?

“If several companies acquire insight into local transport options, then they'll be able to jointly optimize their loads. Open and connected logistics networks offer an alternative to the traditional supply chain. Why should we all be forced to build an individual warehouse? Wouldn’t a sharing model be more efficient? We’re trying to take the lead ourselves there, too. One nice example is a test project with L'Oréal on the combined urban delivery of telecom and hairdressing products by e-bike.”

Could we say that sometimes a sustainable approach is in the details?

“Sure. We try to eliminate any unnecessary elements. We're replacing the traditional paper user manual with a QR code. We’re also looking at how to get things to the customer in an environmentally responsible way – down to the last mile. What's more, soon we'll put the best environmental delivery method at the top for when a consumer places an order with us. For example, in-store pickup is usually more sustainable than home delivery. Anyone who wants an express delivery will need to pay a supplement.

I don’t consider that to be a miracle cure at all, but it does get the consumer to pause and reflect on sustainability with every order.”

What is the price tag?

“I don’t look at sustainability as a cost factor. As far as I'm concerned, it's cost neutral. Several efforts mean additional costs, while others – reducing redundant elements, for instance – lead to savings. In the end, it's also about the big societal picture.”

What opportunities for consumers and companies are there in a circular model?

“The ‘Don’t miss the call’ campaign is a great example. We encourage consumers to take a look through their stuff and bring in old, unused cell phones for sustainable recycling. We’re also looking into how routers at business centers can be given a new lease on life. Taking into account how we annually refurbish 400,000 residential market modems and decoders, there’s potential to expand that to the professional market too. It’s our job to take reuse possibilities into account when producing our devices.”

Proximus receives 'A' rating for climate efforts

Proximus was given an 'A' rating by the CDP, an international non-profit organization specializing in the environment, for its fight against global warming. Together with AB-Inbev, Proximus was the only Belgian company to obtain an ‘A' rating. The strong strategic focus on sustainability of Proximus underpins this 'A' rating.

Read more about the rating

(*) The BREEAM certificate is a sustainability label for the construction of sustainable buildings with a minimal environmental impact.

Proximus and H.Essers, a joint sustainability mission

Logistics service provider H.Essers is a key partner on the Proximus road to a climate-neutral supply chain. Bob Van Steenweghen, H.Essers Marketing & Corporate Affairs Manager: “Proximus is a unique customer where we’re concerned, since we mainly collaborate with multinationals. However, while Proximus is a local player, its scope is extraordinarily broad. For example, consider the thousands of technicians and many retail outlets that the company supplies. However, the sustainability goals are remarkable too.

When Hans Schurmans proposed that we develop a CO2-neutral supply chain, we were instantly hooked. Proximus doesn’t wait for stricter legislation but takes the lead itself. We share the same ambitions and values in terms of sustainability. It wasn’t that long ago that sustainability was mainly window dressing for many companies; however, these days, planet carries at least as much weight as the other two p’s: people and profit.”

As Director of Logistics and Operations at Proximus, Hans Schurmans is co-developing the CO2-neutral logistics strategy.

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