The SME super savers

RICHARD MORTON, projects director, Haven Gateway, on the Low Carbon Freight Dividend: supporting SMEs in their ‘green’ aspirations

GLOBAL corporations are not shy when it comes to broadcasting their environmental virtues.

But what about SMEs? Can they been ‘green’ too?

We say yes: SMEs understand perfectly the need to minimise their carbon footprint – both to meet the expectations of their customers and the general public, and to play their part in reducing environmental damage. But without the support of whole teams of in-house environmentalists, the challenges can be considerable.

By their very nature, SMEs have limited time and resources to spend on reorganising their transport habits and supply chains. The focus, especially in these tough times, is on their core business – ‘producing the goods’ and keeping the books healthy.

This is where the Haven Gateway Partnership’s Low Carbon Freight Dividend comes in. Through this three-year project, we are offering eligible SMEs in the East of England a dividend of up to 30% for shifting their freight containers from road to rail. The �7.5m project, supported by nearly �3million from the European Regional Development Fund, is aiming to move 30,000 containers off the East of England’s roads. As a result, it is expected to eliminate at least 11.7m kgs of carbon dioxide from the logistics supply chain

Of course, financial support of any kind is very welcome for any SME – but the LCFD project extends far beyond that. From our own studies, it’s clear that there are two big reasons why SMEs don’t use rail. First, they don’t understand how to do it. Second, they are concerned by the extra administration involved. So the Low Carbon Freight Dividend project also includes the provision of practical support and advice, through personal contact and a series of workshops focusing on freight optimisation and low carbon marketing issues.

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The process for applying for the dividend has been made as simple as possible. Form filling is kept to a minimum; the team is there to help at every point.

The European Commission’s Transport White Paper, ‘Transport 2050 roadmap to a Single European Transport Area’, set out proposals for a competitive transport system that will ‘increase mobility, remove major barriers in key areas, and fuel growth and employment’. Published in 2011, it set some very some pretty demanding environmental targets: including cutting carbon emissions in transport by 60% by 2050, despite forecast huge growth in transport; and shifting 30% of road freight over 300 km to other modes by 2030, and shifting more than 50% by 2050.

As Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said at the launch of the White Paper, increasing mobility and cutting emissions can and must be done. “The widely held belief that you need to cut mobility to fight climate change is simply not true,” he said. “Competitive transport systems are vital for Europe’s ability to compete in the world, for economic growth, job creation and people’s everyday quality of life. Curbing mobility is not an option; neither is business as usual. We can break the transport system’s dependence on oil without sacrificing its efficiency and compromising mobility. It can be win-win.”

So, with these European targets in mind, it was fitting that the Haven Gateway should create this unique Low Carbon Freight Dividend project through another EU project, Dryport, in which we played a major role, and with strategic funding support from the ERDF.

In June, we took our message to the heart of Europe, presenting the LCFD project as part of the EU Sustainable Energy Week programme of events. A high-level audience were in attendance for our ‘Energy Efficiency in the Logistics Chain’ seminar, where the keynote address was given by the British Ambassador to Belgium, Jonathan Brenton, and my fellow speakers included LCFD project manager Lisa Brazier; Haven Gateway chairman George Kieffer; Leif Bigsten, one of our Swedish partners in Dryport; and, most importantly, two people from our local SME ‘sharp end’ – Chris Drayson whose company, Aceona, manages freight on trains for a variety of clients, and Dennis Simmonds, managing director of WS Logistics.

As the Ambassador put it: “Whatever happens with Greece, we are facing some challenges in Europe. But what we can agree on as the EU is growth – the right kind of growth, that is low carbon, that allows us to compete with emerging markets, and growth that can be shared around so it taps into SMEs. Logistics is key to that, in an era of globalisation and just-in-time.”

When it comes to the carbon reduction targets at EU and UK level, ‘I am not going to underestimate the challenges involved’, he said. “They are big, but not insurmountable – and there are also opportunities for business.”

Logistics isn’t just about big projects – it is about SMEs, he added. “Efficiency and growth will come from smaller companies.”

The baseline for the LCFD project is the Haven Gateway’s unique web-based Containerised Cargo Carbon Calculator, which enables users to work out the best way – road, rail, water, or a combination – for moving their containers to and from ports in the East of England. It’s a model that has attracted a good deal of interest from other regions.

We know that the future will bring carbon taxes, more low-emission zones, more restrictions, and when the opportunity came up for ERDF funding towards our Low Carbon project, we quickly spotted a great opportunity to be ‘trail-blazers’, as we were described by Baroness Hanham, CLG minister at the project launch!

Never mind the recession, long-term growth will bring more and more cargo and we need smarter logistics solutions to handle it. Large companies have, in many cases, led the way to carbon and fuel savings – but SMEs are often not aware of the potential for rail, or fear that this will incur additional cost, or hassle in setting up a new supply chain.

We need to keep repeating the numbers. By switching a container from road to rail, you can achieve a 76% reduction in carbon per tonne of cargo carried. The potential of rail for the East of England is huge.

“We are already sold on the concept of using rail – we are actively working to encourage more people to do so,” Chris Drayson said. “The scheme has proved to be a valuable marketing tool already. It is important to us to enable clients to improve their green credentials.”

Dennis Simmonds highlighted the issues of road congestion and said: “We need to have this change to rail. We are also all aware of the CO2 savings of switching from road to rail. The Haven Gateway initiative is most welcome and will help alleviate truck pressure on roads and CO2 emissions.”

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