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A-List Insights: Petra Åkerblom (Part 4)

Welcome to A-List Insights!

A-List Insights is an interview series where we talk with industry thought leaders and experts about different topics surrounding logistics and supply chain – gathering their insights and experience firsthand.

Thought Leader: Petra Åkerblom

Part 4 of 5

In this segment we feature Petra Åkerblom, Senior Customer Service & Logistics Manager at The Absolut Company, part of Pernod Ricard, a leading global wine & spirits manufacturer. Petra has been with the company for 20 years, holding several positions across the logistics and procurement functions.

Petra leads the logistics customer service team and is responsible for freight procurement for Absolut and Malibu (another Pernod Ricard brand). She is also a core member of the company’s Freight Board Council, which handles freight procurement for the whole Pernod Ricard group.

This is the fourth of a 5-part series interview with Petra. To provide context to the current climate, the entire interview was conducted in September 2020, during the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

Part 4: Sustainability

Sustainability is a key trend within logistics and supply chains, and obviously, Absolut is at the forefront of that. We’ve talked about how other shippers are reluctant to get on board because of the cost. What opportunities do you think shippers have in this area, and will they weigh the environmental benefit against the impact to their bottom line?

I think sustainability is more and more on top of everybody’s mind. If you talk about Sweden, you have the Greta Thunberg effect. We have this young girl travelling around the world talking about sustainability. And I think that for the young people today, this is a very important topic. And I think everybody needs to start looking at it for several reasons, one being the young people of today will look at this when buying product.

One thing that really needs improvements are packaging. Today when I buy something, I sometimes get this big box, and inside you have all this wrapping around….it’s not a sustainable way of shipping. What is being shipped most is air. When you talk about sustainability, it’s not only about clean trucks or trying to use the best fuel, you also need to look at packaging and load optimization. If you start looking at that, and you make changes, it also saves money. So now you help save the planet and you save money at the same time.

Sometimes people think they need to take this huge step to do something. I say, just start moving in the right direction. Even if its small steps. There are a lot of things we can do. If you’re looking at trucks, just start by going up a level in engines. That will help. Small steps.

Ok…let’s take any other shipper, and they want to do something to make their logistics and supply chains more sustainable. What one thing could they do to start that could have a positive impact?

Load optimization. That’s the easiest way to start. You will save money, and you will start saving CO2 and the environment because you will load less containers or less trucks. It’s a win-win situation. I think that’s where everybody should start. Load optimization and packaging.

What do you think carriers’ role is in adopting sustainability practices?

Their role is to meet our [shipper] demands. The challenge today when it comes to sustainability, is that a lot of companies are talking about it, but they’re not willing to pay for it. And I think that’s a difference in the company I work for. Sustainability is one of our top priorities.

Of course, when it comes to freight, my top, top priority is security and service. We need to make sure that our brand reaches the market on the right time. That’s most important for us. But like mentioned before, sustainability is also a high priority for us. Today, if you’re looking at our production in Åhus, approximately 90% of the energy that we use at our facilities comes from renewable sources and the distillery is CO2 negative. We are one of the few distilleries in the world that are CO2 negative. Also, the distribution from the plant in Åhus to the warehouse is done by a hybrid electric truck.

In 2019 we also decided to try to find a better solution for our finished goods distributed from Åhus to 3 different locations within Sweden.

We decided to look at HVO [Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil, a fossil-free, renewable diesel fuel made from sustainable raw materials that offers up to 90% reduction in greenhouse emissions as compared to regular diesel or biodiesel] for shipments within Sweden. Of course, this led to a freight cost increase and when presenting this idea to our Management board they approved it. For me this was a true proof that sustainability is important for us, we are not only talking about it, we do it.

Obviously, your efforts to implement sustainability practices is easier because it is one of Pernod Ricard’s strategic initiatives. It’s a top down initiative. Whereas, others in your position across other companies, cost is the number one issue. And not that cost isn’t a factor for Absolut, but it’s not the most important factor. It must be weighed and compared with other criteria important to the company.

My personal view is, when I talk to other people in other companies, they’re not willing to pay for it [sustainability practices]. How can we ever make a change if companies aren’t willing to pay the price for it? Also, it is not all or nothing — a small change in the right direction is better than no change.

And I also read that Absolut has the lowest energy consumption per unit among the world’s largest distilleries, and that 80% of local deliveries are made with renewable fuels. Is that correct?

Yes, that’s correct, and we also have an HVO refueling station at our distillery. On top of this part of our local deliveries between distillery and bottling factory is done on a hybrid electric truck. In addition to the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the vehicle is also silent and less disturbing to residents in Åhus.

Look for the final Part 5 of our “A-List Insights” Series interview with Petra Åkerblom where we discuss shipper/carrier collaboration, what keeps her up at night, and Pernod Ricard’s motto.

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