CFO George de Beer unpacks Imperial Logistics’ key focus on reducing its carbon footprint

He explains how Imperial plans to change the ESG narrative for the logistics and freight industries.

Imperial Logistics has taken on the new year with a key focus on its ESG strategy, announcing the first of many plans in January, when it concluded a R1 billion sustainability-linked revolving credit facility with Nedbank Corporate and Investment Banking (CIB).

“In my mind, ESG first started out as a PR thing for many companies, but it’s actually about walking-the-walk on all three pillars,” Imperial’s Group CFO George de Beer says.

He explains that Imperial is strategically increasing its investment in ESG practices and initiatives across its operations. “We understand that to become a purpose-driven organisation that creates sustainable, long-term value for our stakeholders, we must prioritise people and planet in addition to profit.”

In fact, he adds that Imperial recently concluded another transaction with Rand Merchant Bank for another sustainability-linked credit facility of R500 million.

Environmental focus
George explains that contract logistics and freight management activities are significant contributors to environmental threats such as air pollution, climate change and resource depletion. “There is still scope for improvement in our environmental performance and this will increasingly be a focus going forward.”

These key focus areas include reducing the company’s carbon footprint by becoming more fuel and electricity efficient, reducing its water consumption, and managing hazardous chemicals and waste responsibly.

“Our transportation activities are the biggest contributor to our carbon footprint, followed by purchased electricity,” George explains. “By achieving lower than average carbon emissions in our transportation activities, we can, in turn, pass this benefit on to our clients’ supply chain carbon footprints.”

Imperial has also prioritised the installation of rainwater harvesting systems and lawfully abstracted borehole water for its operations in the water-scarce Western and Eastern Cape provinces.

“More sustainable waste management represents an important opportunity to drive a circular economy, reducing our demand on natural resources,” he says.

George further explains that Imperial also has plans to roll out various projects around green logistics, and that the company has partnered with some of its clients and suppliers to pilot alternative drive systems for its fleet, including liquified and compressed natural gas trucks (LNG and CNG).

He says that it is challenging to roll out some of these projects in South Africa because of the lack of supporting infrastructure such as re-fuelling stations for alternative fuels, but that they have to start somewhere.

“The logistics industry is pivotal to the growth and transformation of South Africa and other African economies,” George adds. “It supports the growth and development of industries, creates numerous employment opportunities and provides consumers with access to essential products at reasonable prices, which improve the quality of their everyday lives.”

In South Africa alone, the third-party logistics market is projected to grow at more than eight percent between 2020 and 2025.

“In our business activities, we also contribute towards infrastructure development through our warehouse capital expenditure, and create societal value through our tax contributions and gross domestic product uplift.”

Social focus
George explains that Imperial is creating a diverse and inclusive working environment that allows its people to apply their unique strengths and experience. “Accelerated talent development, strategic sourcing and targeted attraction and retention initiatives are used to deepen the talent pool for our organisation.”

He adds that the company’s commitment to gender diversity is also at the front of its social targets. “In the past year, there has been stronger introspection on ways in which we can uplift and empower women at Imperial and within our communities.”

Last year, Imperial appointed two new independent non-executive directors to its board, both of whom are women from Nigeria, and approximately 50 percent of Imperial’s Logistics Africa exco members are women. “We are pleased that, while there is still work to be done, women representation at management levels continues to gradually rise, supported also by structures such as our regional and global women’s forum initiatives,” he says.

Imperial was also recognised as the winner of the Women Empowerment in the Workplace for listed companies in Southern Africa at the 2021 Accenture Gender Mainstreaming Awards.

Governance focus
Imperial has adopted a zero-tolerance approach to unethical behaviour, bribery and corruption, ranging all the way from its board of directors through to the third parties who act on the company’s behalf. “Our people are encouraged to express their concerns in an open and direct manner, and are required to report any circumstances that may indicate an infringement of laws and internal directives, including allegations of harassment and discrimination,” George says.

Across its various operations globally in 2021, 3,894 Imperial employees completed anti-bribery and corruption training, 1,208 employees completed code of conduct training and 941 completed training on antitrust law.

To track progress against its ESG strategy, Imperial is reporting performance to its executive committee on a quarterly basis. “At Imperial, ESG is everyone’s responsibility. Through visible commitment to ESG at the senior management leves, we hope to create growing awareness and accountability to our ESG targets by all employees,” George concludes.