What’s the footprint on your parcel?
6 May 2020 at 8:26 am
Each year, 841 million online deliveries arrive on Australian doorsteps, with most of us not stopping to think about what kind of impact that has on the planet. Sendle, Australia’s first carbon-neutral delivery service, is trying to change this, writes Maggie Coggan in this month’s Spotlight on social enterprise.
When James Chin-Moody, Sean Geoghegan and Craig Davis co-founded Sendle back in 2014, it wasn’t quite the business it is today.
With a mission to create something that had a positive impact on the world, the trio founded the online marketplace, Tushare. The idea was to get rid of household items and goods people didn’t need any more, and kick-start the circular economy.
But running this business actually revealed a bigger problem.
As Eva Ross, Sendle’s chief marketing and customer officer explains, not being able to post items quickly, efficiently and affordably was holding Two Share customers back.
“Shipping in Australia is a monopoly and for the individual seller, it’s not cheap nor easy to get things from A to B,” Ross says.
“You have to go to the post-office, you have to line up, and then it costs heaps.”
And so Tushare became Sendle, a logistics enterprise offering customers flat-rate pricing, at a cheaper rate than standard Parcel Post prices, and a guarantee that if a parcel is not picked up by a courier within a day of the scheduled pick-up, the cost of delivery is credited back to the customer.
Not just another postal service
While giving people a more convenient and cheaper way to send parcels is great, what really sets Sendle apart is its environmental piece.
Over 10 per cent of global carbon emissions come from transport and logistics. To counter this, Sendle offsets all of its carbon emissions by calculating the highest amount of carbon that could be generated by any parcel sent. This then generates a carbon yield number, which is used as a guide to contribute to sustainability projects via the organisation’s charity partner, South Pole.
In the past five years, Sendle’s carbon-neutral parcels have offset 6.5 billion kilometres of carbon, with current projects including regenerating and rehabilitating the Annya State Forest in Victoria, a carbon sequestration project in Alaska, and a project creating sustainable job opportunities to support rural communities and biodiversity in the Amazon.
Sendle customers are able to vote on where they want to contribute their carbon credits.
“We provide our customers with information on all of the projects and then they are able to vote on the projects that they would like to support through their shipping,” Ross says.
For Sendle customers, which are predominantly small, community-orientated businesses themselves, Ross says having this autonomy over their impact is important.
“Some of these businesses are sustainable from their core, they’ve got an ethically-sourced product and packaging and so forth, and so when they get to the point of the shipping, they want to do it carbon neutrally,” she says.
“And then being able to tell their customers how exactly their carbon emissions are being offset is really important.”
Up against the giants
Sendle might be small compared to the giants in the shipping industry, but it is trying to push for big change.
In 2019, it ran a campaign challenging Australia Post to immediately begin offsetting the carbon emissions generated by each parcel it shipped.
Sendle even offset all of Australia Post’s domestic parcels on 20 September 2019 – nearly 1.5 million parcels – in support of the global climate strikes.
After 18 days of campaigning, Australia Post announced it would deliver some parcels carbon neutral. That translates to 44.5 million tonnes of CO2 offset each year.
Ross says that ultimately, Sendle’s objective is that every parcel sent in Australia is carbon neutral.
“Our challenge to the industry is that if we can send carbon neutral parcels for small businesses, why can’t everyone else?” she asks.
The B Corp risk pays off
Sendle is Australia’s first registered technology B Corp. But this decision wasn’t supported by everyone in the early days.
Ross recalls one of their early investors offering $1 million in investment, on the condition that they didn’t become a B Corp.
“They felt it would be a distraction,” Ross says.
“They clearly didn’t know who they were talking to, because that was never how we wanted to do business. We rejected the offer. And here we are, still going strong five years later.”
From 2016 to the start of 2019, the organisation witnessed a 600 per cent customer base growth, and employed 85 staff.
At the start of 2019, the enterprise raised $20 million in Series B funding, attracting investment from Federation Asset Management, Full Circle Venture Capital, Rampersand and Giant Leap Fund.
Today, the enterprise’s major partners include Ebay, Gumtree, and Etsy, and the service is used by thousands of small, ethically-minded businesses such as Bed Threads, Good & Clean, and Sunday Minx.
Sendle is also on the way to travelling further, with the organisation setting up shop in the United States late last year.
American customers have the option of putting their carbon credits towards local sustainability projects, and choosing compostable mailers (this option is already available here in Australia).
Ross says that Sendle worked hard during this period of growth to make sure the company kept its mission at its core by partnering with sustainability firm, 3Degrees, to develop a program that kept Sendle’s emissions as low as possible.
Ethical, through and through
As a registered B Corp, Ross says the organisation is also constantly on the look-out for ways they can do more good, not only for their customers and the wider community, but internally as well.
The enterprise offers its employees flexible working conditions and activities such as Friday yoga, and it supports local businesses such as Four Brave Women for its Wednesday meal club.
Ross says a challenge is working out how they can do more.
“I would love us to do more volunteering, more internal cultural activities to really foster a sense of purpose within the organisation,” she says.
While they are waiting for every parcel sent in Australia to be carbon neutral, Ross says Sendle is focusing on how, alongside its partners, it can continue to reduce its impact on the world.
“We’re constantly looking at our emissions and what we can do from an operational standpoint to reduce our impact,” she says.