Wednesday, May 22, 2024
Turning ULDs green

Turning ULDs green

The focus on making airfreight more environmentally friendly is no longer just aspirational; it’s a tangible requirement for staying competitive and securing business. Meeting the market’s expectations for both efficiency and innovation has become crucial to secure the confidence of new and existing customers.

Sustainability has evolved from being a nice-to-have subject to an absolute core aspect akin to operational and safety key performance indicators (KPIs). This transformation is not merely a trend; it has become an imperative driven by demands from various stakeholders, making it a non-negotiable topic.

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 The ultimate question for an industry that has a global footprint is no longer about future promises but what organisations are doing today to reduce emissions and contribute to environmental goals. This shift signifies a pragmatic approach, aligning with the pressing need for real-world impact rather than distant aspirations.

 “Sustainability is a top agenda item at every business review we undertake. The shift over the last couple of years within the airlines and the priorities we’re seeing is so focused on sustainability; we’re constantly being asked, ‘What actions have we undertaken?’ and ‘What measures are we taking to make improvements?’” Ross Marino, Chief Executive Officer of Unilode stated.

 “The market has a huge expectation here,” Janis Balkens, Unilode’s Chief Operating Officer, stated clearly. “Sustainability is not only the right thing to do, but for many carriers, it is also a matter of cash for our customers. It’s not just good for the environment, it’s good economically for their business. That is extremely valuable. 

 “Our commitment to sustainability not only aligns with market movements but also contributes to the growth of our business,” Marino added. “There’s a huge amount of pressure on airlines to operate more sustainably, reducing their carbon footprint, and our ULD pooling model provides that opportunity. 

Operational efficiency

While the Unilode team was keen to highlight how their ULD pooling model’s key selling point has been around efficiency, ensuring assets are always available when needed and reducing time lost when equipment is damaged, Balkens explained that this actually plays directly into the sustainability discussion.

READ: Airfreight industry’s sustainable stance

 The pooling concept further contributes to sustainability by minimising the movement of empty stock across networks. This is achieved through the central maintenance of stock levels, which serves multiple carriers and effectively reduces overall emissions. 

In addition to this, Unilode’s maintenance, repair, and operations network adopts a proactive approach by conducting repairs at the point of damage, eliminating the need to transport damaged assets back to their home base location. 

 Additionally, the digital dimension plays a significant role in sustainability efforts, particularly in asset tracking, availability monitoring, and the adoption of pay-per-need models as alternatives to maintaining extensive stock levels. Making investments in technology, Operations Control Centre (OCC) personnel and facilities, and the products Unilode use are pivotal components of its sustainability roadmap.

 “Sustainability and digitalisation are at the core of our operation; not something that is a bolt on and optional extra,” Balkens explained. “If you look at the other industries, we are a bit behind in terms of digital tools but now we can bring improvements that are massive and will deliver immediate impact.

 “Sustainability is a complex challenge, and there’s no single solution,” Mohammed Akhlaq, Chief Commercial Officer, outlined. “Our commitment involves a combination of actions, including technological investments, personnel development, and strategic product choices, all working together to drive continuous improvement in our sustainability performance.

 “Our key focus areas are underpinned by operational excellence in terms of ensuring customers always have the assets they need at their disposal at any given time and location,” Marino added. “But the real driving force will be technology paired with sustainability.” 

 Sustainable team 

Over the next year, Unilode plans to collaborate closely with airlines to gather ideas about how to make further steps towards the goals outlined by their customers and the wider industry.  

 “We want to go beyond mere discussions and ensure we have measurable numbers that reflect the actual benefits,” Akhlaq highlighted. “The industry as a whole continues to mobilise itself in achieving sustainability goals but it’s important that we get the evidence out there and showcase how smarter ULD management can play its part from a cost and CO2-saving perspective.

“One of the most exciting developments we have is the recent addition of a sustainability manager to our team,” he outlined. “It represents our commitment in providing tangible support and evidence in realising the CO2 emission savings for our customers. Additionally, our Environmental, Social and Governance protocol is critical for our business. Ensuring that everyone works in a safe environment, that we are supporting the environments in which we work, and we contribute positively to our sustainability agenda will help build a better future for everyone.”

Picture of James Graham

James Graham

James Graham is an award-winning transport media journalist with a long background in the commercial freight sector, including commercial aviation and the aviation supply chain. He was the initial Air Cargo Week journalist and retuned later for a stint as editor. He continues his association as editor of the monthly supplements. He has reported for the newspaper from global locations as well as the UK.


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