I have been engaged recently in a number of debates about the future, and in particular the balance between commercial issues – how to remain profitable and successful in a challenging market whilst meeting customer expectations – and the costs of social expectations – most especially, protecting the environment. There is often a contradiction in the opinions of the public at large: a reluctance to meet the direct costs implicit in public expectations.
Though I am not a pessimist by nature, I believe we should see the world realistically. Some of the things we do should be open to question on the grounds of their cost and sustainability. For example, manufacturing to choice on demand offers benefits in terms of eliminating costs of over-production. But at the same time, such a system needs technical investment at a cost. Equally, speedy delivery to choice incurs costs both directly and indirectly, for example, additional traffic congestion. A better and broader understanding of these issues amongst the public at large must be a priority.
It is ironic that we in the logistics industry have been in part instrumental in forming the misunderstanding that the fruits of logistic improvements – better service, quicker delivery times and so on – come at little cost. Across Europe, the industry has been good at reducing costs whilst doing things better, thus achieving improvement that seems to the layman to be free. We are fast reaching a point where choices have to be made to achieve the benefits we need. For example, in the interests of sustainability, it may be better for consumers to accept that some things take longer to deliver but with no cost reduction, reducing journeys through load optimisation and freeing resources for investment in other benefits such as more competitive practice.
There is neither an easy answer to such questions nor an obvious forum to address them. But sustainability, both in economic and environmental terms, is a vital issue. I, for one, wish our European institutions would start looking toward better general understanding.
If we tackle the problem when it’s obvious, it will probably be too late
Graham A Ewer, ELA President