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Sustainability: No Pain, No Gain…No Thanks

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“Pain is never permanent” - Saint Teresa of Avila

When I ran cross country and track in high school, we used to stretch our cold, tight muscles before our warm-up runs, taxing them relentlessly in the effort to loosen up, rather than starting with a slow run to warm and gently loosen muscles before a more thorough stretching. And, it worked…even though it unnecessarily risked muscle pulls and worse. But, we were young. We were tough, or so we thought, and uninitiated in what we should be doing for our long-term resilience. It was a textbook case of that old adage, “no pain, no gain.”

A few years ago, a prominent line of thinking in sustainability was that organizations should not be fully credited for their progressive sustainability programs if they were good for their organizations from an economic or associated point of view - the rationale being that they would have done them anyway for business reasons, not for the “right” reasons, including civic, philanthropic or egalitarian considerations. We’ve moved beyond this somewhat, with professionals focusing upon integrating sustainability into their organizations, and interested stakeholders increasingly understanding the need for initiatives to make business sense, as well.

However, just like the “no pain, no gain” thinking persists in some degree in certain circles, so does a certain latent defensiveness when it comes to sustainability making good business sense. We tend to want to justify our actions, to explain that we undertook an initiative initially to be better civic partners, to solve a societal ill, or to help the planet. But, there’s sometimes a reticence to say we did so to meet a customer’s need, to provide returns for shareholders, to reward team members - all valid and appropriate reasons, too.
 
But, continuing to undertake initiatives that only hurt without providing tangible benefits, that are painful to an organization because they are isolated in their vision and limited in their scale, is not advisable for long-term resilience. Just as in running, pushing boundaries can be good - it betters our performance and leads to increased results. But, pushing through pain when it results in injury is not a good thing. It limits our performance initially, and jeopardizes our long-term participation in the sport. Just so with sustainability, I believe. Think about it: with long-term pain, we endure and cope with it, we do not prosper from it. And, we refer to long-term pain as being chronic, never sustainable.

You can find more about this in the post, Yin and Yang.

Follow Mitch on Twitter @twitter.com/mitch_Jackson or via earthsmart.van.fedex.com/#leader


Comments (11) 

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An important message that is actually relevant to so many aspects of society and our personal lives today. On a side note, I've struggled with generating any interest either individually or corporately in taking advantage of the Shelby County, TN, subsidy for Van Pooling for people in the Memphis area. My personal interest is between City of Memphis and the WTC in Collierville, but I'm sure there are opportunities for routes between other neighborhoods and campuses here and in other Fedex locations as well. Granted, I've left some stones unturned yet, but I'm interested to know if there any channels, groups, or programs available through the company or otherwise for getting something like this going. Does anyone know? I've put it to the spreadsheet, and folks like me can definitely save money by sharing the cost of van rental and gas while foregoing the purchase of a car, insurance and the gas for individual trips to work each day. Plus there are supporting programs, such as the county's "Emergence Ride Home" which offers van-poolers up to 6 free unscheduled rides home from work each year, to address situations when they need to leave work before the pool is ready to go.

Your comments on sustainability (1/26) are very refreshing. As in other places in our society, too often we are told that if one is pro-business, one must be anti-environment and vice versa. Real effectiveness in conservation is done somehere in the middle.

Thanks AFP for the comment. The visuals, entertainment value and message we conveyed in the commercial are all very satisfying. For those wondering where to find it, you can find it at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6_4wfEmPpc.

I adore the FedEx TV commercial promoting pro-environmental aspects of the company. The way the forest comes to life in animation is absolutely charming. Dancing acorns and singing mushrooms certainly command attention. The creative genius behind this deserves to be applauded.

Thanks for the comment. Actually, FedEx has been doing much more than just hybridization and electrification. Check out this press release from June 2011, where we detail replacement of thousands of vehicles that more than double the fuel economy of the replaced vehicles. And, note the reference that FedEx, too, had been working with composite vehicles: “FedEx Express has also been piloting five composite vehicles from Utilimaster in Detroit, Memphis, Jackson, Tenn., and Jonesboro, Ark.

Dubbed “The Reach,” it is able to achieve 35% better fuel economy than its predecessor and has been performing well. The smaller, more efficient engine and low weight of the composite materials, which includes recycled rubber material, resin, fiberglass and poly core, compared to aluminum, allows the vehicle to achieve these fuel efficiencies.”

Here’s the full press release: FedEx Adds More Than 4,000 New, Fuel Efficient Vehicles Doubling All-Electric Fleet, Adding Hybrid-Electric Vehicles, Piloting Low-Weight Composite Vehicles, and Upgrading Thousands of Conventional Vehicles to more Fuel-Efficient, Lower- Emitting Choices MEMPHIS, Tenn., June 28, 2011—FedEx Express, a subsidiary of FedEx Corp. (NYSE: FDX) and the world's largest express transportation company, continues its holistic fleet approach to fuel efficiency with significant expansion of its lower polluting, energy efficient vehicles.

Within the next two months, FedEx Express will place 24 new all-electric vehicles into service, expanding to three new cities and more than doubling its fleet to 43 all-electric vehicles while growing the diversity of suppliers it uses for electric vehicles.

At the same time, FedEx Express will be adding more hybrid-electrics, using composite vehicles and upgrading over a tenth of its conventional vehicle fleet to more energy-efficient vehicles.

“We are using efficient technologies that are readily available now, while investing in innovative technologies that we hope and believe can be vehicle workhorses for the future,” explained Dennis Beal, vice president of Global Vehicles at FedEx Express. “Our goal has always been to optimize and operate our vehicle fleet in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner, so that emissions are reduced while serving our customers in the best possible manner.”

FedEx Express is bringing new all-electric delivery vehicles to New York City, Chicago and Memphis, and diversifying the existing Los Angeles fleet. In all, FedEx will add into service 15 Navistar eStar electric vehicles, two Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation (FCCC) eCell electric vehicles and two FCCC electric vehicle retrofits, and five Ford Transit Connect Electric vans to complement the current 19 all-electric vehicles deployed in Los Angeles, London and Paris.

Not just an expansion in vehicle count, these vehicles will be studied to help evolve all-electric vehicle technology and to establish a foundation of understanding on utility grid needs by modeling impact of future all-electric vehicle growth on the shared energy grid.
• In New York, FedEx Express will be working with GE and Columbia University’s Engineering School to study energy grid impacts in an effort to project how large vehicle deployments would impact the energy grid.
• In Chicago, FedEx Express will be comparing different all-electric vehicle technologies to determine what works best for its fleet needs.
• In Memphis, FedEx Express is utilizing Enova Systems flexible drive technology to retrofit existing vehicles to make them all-electrics, saving resources through using existing vehicle bodies. And, FedEx has added five Transit Connect Electric vans from Ford Motor Company and Azure Dynamics to support the corporate Information Technology Asset Disposal program, driving regularly scheduled routes to pick up, recycle, reuse and dispose of IT assets.
• In Los Angeles FedEx Express is diversifying its fleet, adding an FCCC eCell to its current four Navistar eStar all-electric vehicles, and is in the midst of adding 45 new FCCC-Eaton hybrid-electric pickup and delivery vehicles to its fleet. “Different vehicles are appropriate for different routes,” explains Keshav Sondhi, manager of Asset Management for FedEx Express Global Vehicles. “The key is to use the right truck for the mission on the right route. FedEx Express is adding all-electric and hybrid-electric vehicles to dense urban routes that have a lot of starting and stopping. This use of regenerative braking and electric motors significantly improves the efficiency of the vehicles on such urban routes.

“On high-mileage routes, FedEx is upgrading vehicles with 4,000 fuel efficient, lower emitting BlueTEC clean diesel Sprinter Vans. Each Sprinter is at least 100% more fuel efficient than the most commonly found alternative it replaces. Since launching our first Sprinter in 2000, we have put close to 1.4 billion miles on these more fuel efficient vehicles, saving over 66 million gallons of fuel compared to their predecessors.”

FedEx Express has also been piloting five composite vehicles from Utilimaster in Detroit, Memphis, Jackson, Tenn., and Jonesboro, Ark. Dubbed “The Reach,” it is able to achieve 35% better fuel economy than its predecessor and has been performing well. The smaller, more efficient engine and low weight of the composite materials, which includes recycled rubber material, resin, fiberglass and poly core, compared to aluminum, allows the vehicle to achieve these fuel efficiencies.

I see a huge opportunity to improve our profit margins by reducing our fuel cost for the delivery vans. FedEx should gradually replace gasoline-powered vehicles for natural gas vehicles given the price diferential. Our main competitor, UPS is working on building a new van frame with light-composite materials to significantly reduce the weight of its vans and increase the mileage. Electrification and hybrids should also be part of the portfolio but our objective should be 100% sustitution of petroleum based vehicles for other types.

You are spot on! The concept that you should force decisions regardless of the economics doesn't take into account the concept that economically and environmentally smart decisions are not mutually exclusive. Smart, mutually beneficial decisions will always find a way to flurish somewhere in the world.

Mitch, I've coached football for the last 9 years. Your message is something I would apply in one of my half-time speeches! I use the term, "it only hurts for a little while". It's great to see a Corporation take responsibility for our future generations. http://greenbiolubes.com/ Best Regards, Joe J.

Mitch, unfortunately it seems we are conducting business in a societal atmosphere where somehow making money is almost regarded as evil. It makes running a business all the more challenging, but our leadership has done an outstanding job of rising to the occasion as both a corporate entity with a goal of making a profit and as a corporate citizen with goals of sustainability. I am impressed and, as always, proud to work for FedEx.

Mitch, wonderful analogy. I too see a big interesection in your "no pain" zone between CSR and business value. Taking action in that intersection is the optimum way to make early progress and create momentum. It diminishes neither the business nor the CSR value of the action. There are still potential pain zones where business interests and societal or environmental interests conflict. In tnat situation perhaps acting at the intersection can be a warm up that stretches our narrower view of the purely fiscal role business in society. Having excercised these muscles we are better able to translate what appeared at first sight to be painful short term compromises, into valauble contributions to society and long term benefit for the business !www.csrperspective.com

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About This Blogger

Mitch discusses sustainability, governance and energy management.

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