Logistics companies naturally have a huge environmental and social impact, and Ryder is no exception. The Fortune 500 transportation services giant, which generated over $6 billion in revenues last year, recently issued its third sustainability report. The 75-page document, which reads more like a marketing pamphlet than a serious corporate social responsibility (CSR) report, is loaded with feel-good and self-congratulatory anecdotes Stakeholders will find plenty of substance in there, but they will have to peel past the layers of public relations lingo to find some of the more interesting challenges and accomplishments.
A company that manages thousands of huge trucks and consumes copious amounts of fuel will face huge hurdles on the “going green” front, but Ryder is making progress. Here are a few highlights:
“Ryder is planting the environmental seeds of innovation tomorrow.” – page 6 of Ryder’s 2011 sustainability report.
Flex-to-Green: Ryder “is in a position to exert a positive influence on how the economic infrastructure evolves and grows.” In other words, the company launched a “Flex-to-Green” leasing program that makes it more seamless for their customers to transition away from diesel-powered trucks to ones that run on fuels that emit lower emissions. Businesses that outsource their logistics to Ryder can test such trucks and then decide whether they want to commit fully to these newer vehicles.
Greenhouse gas emissions: Since the company began tracking its total emissions in 2009, Ryder has reported incremental decreases in its annual Scope 1, 2 and 3 GHG emissions. The overall figures averaged about a 3 percent decrease, which is nothing to sniff at considering how vast the company’s operations are spread and the challenges involved in communicating new policies to employees and managers. This trend is also indicative of the future of the logistics industry–as natural gas becomes plentiful and cheaper, expect more logistics companies to turn to natural gas as a way to both step back from diesel and achieve lower emissions. Watch for alternative fuels to take a back seat until they become more cost competitive and reliable enough to meet the demands of Ryder and its competitors.
At least, we assume that partly explains Ryder’s achievements in addition to electricity conservation programs at some of its facilities: details about Ryder’s various programs were not easy to glean as they were spread and hyperlinked disjointedly across the report.
Employee well-being: Working within logistics and trucking is an exhausting and has its own sets of dangers. The company has made progress on several safety metrics, including injuries and vehicle accidents. Ryder also touts its “diversity and inclusion” program, but the details appear to have been copied and pasted out of a generic HR manual. If stakeholders want more details about what it is like working within Ryder, they should research elsewhere.
While Ryder’s sustainability report is a well written document, it flails as as effective stakeholder engagement tool. Full of self-promoting prose and heart-warming anecdotes, it lacks the frankness and clarity that we see, and stakeholders demand, in other recent corporate social responsibility reports. Of course it is hard for companies in Ryder’s space to tackle issues related to the environment, society and corporate governance–just ask FedEx and UPS. At the end of the day, CSR reports are communications tools. When done well they are based on those issues that are material to its stakeholders. Ryder would do well to focus on stakeholder concerns the next time around in addition to sharing glossy pages full of green leaves.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and covers sustainable architecture and design for Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.
Image courtesy Ryder.