Innovative approaches to improve sustainability of physical distribution in the Dutch agro-food industry

R. Pieters, E. Bogers, H.H. Glöckner, S.W.F. Omta, S. Weijers

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractAcademic


Since the publication of the Brundlandt report (1987), organizations have put sustainability at the top of their agendas (Szekely & Knirsch, 2005). Nowadays sustainability is incorporated into the strategy of almost all organizations (De Ron, 2001; McDonough & Braungart, 2002). The agro-food sector has a long history of sustainable awareness on the use of land, water, pesticides, fertilizers and energy (Leaver, 2011; Leach et al., 2012). Most literature on transportation of agro business products concentrates on food security (Henson & Caswell, 1999; Maloni & Brown, 2006; Godfray et al., 2010). Few studies have addressed the role of sustainability when transporting agro-food product. But how do logistics service providers, shippers and private carriers in the agro-food industry translate strategic policies into tangible innovative sustainable physical distribution? This paper focuses on sustainability in physical distribution of agro-food products and the role logistics service providers, shippers and private carriers play in this process. Do they approach sustainability as an integrated and repeatable phenomenon or is it seen as a singular action concerning individual situations? And what are the new, innovative ideas concerning making physical distribution more sustainable which are generated by this process? The purpose of this study is to help increase our understanding on how the relationship between shipper, private carrier and logistics service provider in the food industry relates to improving sustainability. If properly understood, it will aid us in making physical distribution in the food industry more sustainable. We want to answer the following questions: 1. What innovative actions have Dutch logistics service providers, shippers and private carriers in the agro-food industry undertaken to make physical distribution more sustainable? 2. What can be learned from the experience of best cases on making physical distribution in the Dutch agro-food industry more sustainable? The conceptual framework for our research is based on the same heuristic model used in the 1994 NEA/Cranfield study. Weijers, Kuipers and Becker (2002) adapted this framework for research in industry driven innovations for logistics service providers. We have adapted their model to trace the elements in sustainable physical distribution trends. Figure 1 Conceptual Framework For this we have interviewed seven logistics service providers, two private carriers and four producers of agro-food items. We have asked them how they approach and improve sustainability within physical distribution. Which strategies they have developed for sustainability. What kind of actions do they undertake on the field of sustainability and if so, what kind of innovative ways they have introduced to make physical distribution of food items more sustainable. We found that most of these innovations were related to bilateral relationships between one shipper with one logistics service provider. Learning from experiences obtained by colleagues and competitors was not an issue. A pity, as we believe that sharing of experience will help the sector to improve sustainability within the physical distribution of food items. We will give examples where an innovation in shipping agro-food products created not only a positive effect on the sustainability in the physical distribution, but also created an unforeseen positive impact on other aspects in the value chain. Finally we will show the results of an in-depth research (Yin, 2009) into an interesting project in the Netherlands where various shippers of food items share transportation capacity with each other even if they are competitors for the same agro-food market. This sharing has increased the loading capacity and reduced cost drastically. References De Ron, A. 2001 Duurzaam ondernemen: een inleiding. Deventer, The Netherlands: Kluwer. Godfray, H. C. J., Beddington, J. R., Crute, I. R., Haddad, L., Lawrence, D., Muir, J. F., ... & Toulmin, C. (2010). Food security: the challenge of feeding 9 billion people. Science, 327(5967), 812-818. Henson, S., & Caswell, J. (1999). Food safety regulation: an overview of contemporary issues. Food policy, 24(6), 589-603. Leach, M., J. Rockström, P. Raskin, I. Scoones, A. C. Stirling, A. Smith, J. Thompson, E. Millstone, A. Ely, E. Arond, C. Folke, & P. Olsson. (2012) Transforming innovation for sustainability. Ecology and Society 17(2): 11. Leaver, J. D. (2011). Global food supply: a challenge for sustainable agriculture. Nutrition Bulletin, 36(4), 416-421. doi:10.1111/j.1467-3010.2011.01925.x Maloni, M. J., & M. E Brown. 2006. Corporate Social Responsibility in the Supply Chain: An Application in the Food Industry. Journal of Business Ethics 68 (1): 35-52. McDonough, W., & M. Braungart. 2002. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way we Make Things. New York, N.Y.: North Point Press. NEA/Cranfield. 1994. Future Logistics Structures, the development of integrated supply chain management across 6 industry sectors. Tilburg, The Netherlands: NEA/Cranfield. Szekely, F., & M. Knirsch. 2005. Responsible Leadership and Corporate Social Responsibility: Metrics for Sustainable Performance. European Management Journal 23 (6): 628-647. Tobler, C. , V.H. Visschers, M. Siegrist, (2011), Eating green. Consumers’ willingness to adopt ecological food consumption behaviors. Appetite, 57 pp. 674–682 Vollenbroek, F. A. 2002. Sustainable development and the challenge of innovation. Journal of Cleaner Production 10 (3): 215–223. Weijers, S., B. Kuipers, & J. Beckers. 2002. Industry driven innovation for logistics service providers. Actes des Quatrièmes Rencontres Internacionales de la Recherche en Logistique (accessed February 20 ,2012). World Commission on Environment and Development. 1987. Our common future : the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. New York, N.Y. : Oxford University Press. Yin R. K. 2009. Case Study Research: Design and Methods. 4th Edition. Thousands Oals, CA: SAGE
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2014
EventSustainability and Innovation in Chains and Networks, Capri, Italy -
Duration: 4 Jun 20146 Jun 2014


ConferenceSustainability and Innovation in Chains and Networks, Capri, Italy

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