Going Green: Sendle
How this shipping service is delivering support to both people and the planet.
With online shopping now the new norm, both courier services and packaging have begun piling up – not to mention the carbon emissions.
In Australia, the transport and logistics industry contributes around 18% of all carbon emissions. It's also had the highest growth rate of any sector since 1990 and, according to the Australian Climate Council, is expected to reach 111 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030.
While shipping is only one part of this industry (public transport and air traffic also have a lot to answer for), it's a growing one. Billions of parcels are sent around the country – and the world – each year. In 2020, global shipping volumes are set to reach over 100 billion parcels, and that number is expected to double by 2025.
As well as the environmental cost, there's also the prices we pay for shipping, both as buyers and senders.
Sendle is one company that's used these costs as an opportunity for change. It offers 100% carbon offset shipping for small businesses (and individuals), with services in both Australia and the US. It also offers a price guarantee and clear details of costs for the sake of transparency, among other things.
We caught up with founder and CEO James Chin-Moody to learn more about Sendle's values and origins.
What does your company do and how is it green?
We're a shipping service that's cheaper than Australia Post – we've actually got a price guarantee – and we're also 100% carbon neutral.
Our purpose, as we think of it, is we're shipping that's good for the world.
We believe that, particularly with the shift towards online – and we're seeing that accelerating like mad during COVID – we can contribute towards society in two big ways.
One is that we level the playing field between small business and big business. Our business is 100% built around the needs of small shippers, whereas pretty much everyone else in the courier world generally started being there for the big enterprise folk. It's the small guys, the small shippers, who basically pay a lot more and get a lot less.
But the [second way] is… we actually believe that the whole shipping industry should take responsibility for its emissions. Every business, actually. And one of the things we've done, from day one, is we've been 100% carbon neutral.
We're very proud of that [because] we've actually sent over 13 billion kilometres of parcel deliveries, and that's like driving a truck beyond Pluto [or] from Earth to Mars and back 74 times. And we've done that 100% carbon neutral.
Our entire business is predicated on the idea that you can actually use resources a lot more efficiently.”
That's how we get the price down. We look for idle assets and idle capacity in network providers and we work with them to actually unlock that capacity and make it available. That has a huge dividend for the customer but, more importantly, you're increasing utilisation of existing infrastructure.
So the companies we work with, they might be delivering hundreds of parcels from one truck. But of course, that track goes back to the depot empty. So what we do is say, "Well, you know, if you can pick up parcels as you're delivering them [it's more efficient]."
You don't have to compromise between saving money and saving the planet.”
What inspires you and your business to be green?
We built Sendle with a very strong philosophy of taking responsibility. And I think that it was, from day one, just in terms of the parcel delivery itself – if a customer needs to contact us and something goes wrong, we will do everything we can to help.
That [philosophy of] taking responsibility extended very much into our ethos around being a sustainable shipper and this concept of shipping that's good for the world.
You take responsibility for things in your supply chain. And you take responsibility for your emissions, which is why we basically said, "It's a non-negotiable, we will just offset every single emission for every single delivery."”
And it's quite amazing when you build a business around the idea of responsibility. Some of these things, well, it's actually much easier to do when you when you're tiny and then you grow. That's what we found as we built [Sendle]. I think a thing that inspires us is actually saying "business can be a force for change".
We're also one of Australia's earliest [Certified] B Corps, and in fact, we were the first technology B Corp in Australia. And I've very much subscribed to that ethos of business as a positive force for change.
We love it when we can help a small business thrive. When we can help somebody, you know, they might have seen huge amounts of declining foot traffic… and we can help them make the transition to becoming an online business that increases their market share or market size.”
At the same time, we want to take responsibility for negative externalities, the hidden costs of the business, of like [asking] "What's your carbon emissions footprint? Are you treating folk in your supply chain well?" All of those things are important things to take into consideration.
So, I think that it is really about understanding your business and the broader impacts that your business has on society both for good and for bad. Because that's sort of the thing that inspires us.
Why is being green personally important to you?
I think it's actually the same reason. But I mean, my personal journey is that I'm a satellite engineer. And it's funny, when I did a lot of stuff in space – and I see this in a lot of folk who have careers in aerospace – you start to realise more and more that we're on this one spaceship called planet Earth. And it's a closed ecosystem.
What we do now has lasting impacts on future generations.”
So I actually became quite involved in the environment movement 20 or so years ago. I actually was the co-chair of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) youth council, way back as a wide-eyed, young fellow.
I think it all comes down to – well, one [thing] is intergenerational equity. We're borrowing resources right now from future generations. That's really important. The second is, I think, what we're realising is that it doesn't have to be a giant trade-off anymore.
There are actual ways – and I think this is where I get a source of inspiration – [to see] waste as a source of opportunity.”
If you think about it, there are so many businesses now that are being created around these shifting business models. So here's an example of something we've done with one of our courier partners, Bonds. They've got a whole lot of trucks that they used to drive around, but they're actually sitting on another big asset, which is the roof of their depot. And if you think about it, that's a huge [space]. So the sunlight going onto that roof was basically a wasted asset.
Now what we've done is we've worked with them and they've now got solar panels on their roof, which will charge the 100% electric vehicles as they are being loaded and unloaded. What we end up with is a completely circular way of doing it.
So for me, the green [aspect] inspires me because it's about taking responsibility for our own personal footprint. And it is very important that we start to realise there is a big intergenerational equity issue.
But also, as a technologist and as an engineer, I think that this space is really exciting because if you think differently about it, you can actually see huge amounts of opportunity.
Could you describe one small step people could take towards being greener?
I'll use my children as inspiration here because this is the first one that jumps into my mind.
They actually made a commitment [to not] use plastic straws. And bless them, for a year and a half they have literally not touched the plastic straw. And if you see a young child trying to drink bubble tea without a plastic straw – it's pretty cool to watch.
I don't think it's about plastic straws. It's just actually saying: "This is one thing, and I'm just going to be really, really clear and I will find an alternative." So if you want a small step, just identify that one thing.
I think the other one that's interesting is that there are a whole lot of places now where you can start to see that it doesn't have to be a compromise between value and being great for the environment.
So you take, for example, Future Super, right? [It offers] great returns, you de-risk yourself from the carbon economy, as well as doing something positive. And there's amber electric, for example, which [sells] green energy at wholesale rates. So you save money as well.
That's what we're trying to do with Sendle. We're cheaper and understand [how to be] carbon neutral. That's the other piece… it's about just taking a little extra time and thinking "are there other alternatives here where I can actually have a positive impact?"
One of the cool things about what's happening across the green movement is that, as the cost of climate change becomes ever more apparent, and as waste becomes something that is actually seen as an opportunity, eventually these choices will align with things like better service, saving money and so on.”
What is one resource that you think people should read/watch/consume to understand more about sustainability and going green?
I think I'll put in a really big plug here and say the [United Nations] Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I think we should all – and I've done this with my kids – actually talk about the SDGs.
There is so much amazing material that is now being built around these goals. And if companies and if countries and others just started to say, "I'm going to choose one of these to push down on" and started to learn more – I'm a big fan [of that approach]. Because, if you think about it, it's a way of the world expressing the future that we want.
And I think… you go to Europe, and that is worked into a lot of government policies. And unfortunately, Australia, we're not doing nearly enough embrace that.
So we've actually spent a lot of time with the kids on the SDGs. The UN has actually got some great videos with insights, and they did some very simple stuff, particularly for kids.
If you think about it, it's that next generation that I look at – and helping them to take responsibility for the future that they want to create is really important.
Going Green is an interview series that sheds light on companies, organisations and initiatives that have a focus on sustainability and ethics. We ask a representative from each company the same five questions so you can get a snapshot of the work they are doing to help protect the planet.
Want more info and tips for making greener choices? Check out the Finder Green homepage.
Image credits: Getty Images, Supplied (Sendle)