Vanessa Stark: "Instead of reducing our impact to zero, we want to go for a positive impact."

Vanessa Stark: "Instead of reducing our impact to zero, we want to go for a positive impact."

June 08, 2021

Determined to lead the way into a new era

Vanessa Stark is the woman behind CHEP Benelux, the market leader in sustainable supply chain solutions. Two years ago she switched from CHEP Automotive in Germany to CHEP Benelux. She is determined to lead CHEP into a new era. Sustainability has always been a core value for CHEP and her goal is to create a net positive impact on businesses, the planet and the community. With all the challenges that come with it.

"By 2025, we want to plant two trees for every one we use."

Vanessa Stark Country General Manager CHEP Benelux

"Recently, we have had to deal with major challenges, such as brexit and the COVID-19 crisis. Like others, we had to adapt the way we work and react very quickly to the changing market. And that hasn’t always been easy. However, looking further into the future, I think the biggest challenge will be to make businesses as sustainable as possible."

So how do you make your business as sustainable as possible? 

"There are several possibilities, but one of the first steps you can take as a company is to move from a linear system to a circular one. Traditionally, a product is made, bought, used and thrown away. In a circular economy, those products are recycled as raw materials or re-used. Think of shared bicycles or shared cars and car pooling, for example."

Or pallet pooling, your core business?

"Indeed. Pooling is based on the principles of the circular economy. We rent out our pallets and containers to companies. They use them and afterwards we collect, check, repair them if necessary and offer them for use again. In this way, we close the cycle and extend the life of our products. This way, together with our customers we save an enormous amount of CO2, waste and, in the case of wooden pallets, reduce the consumption of wood.

There is a lot media attention around timber these days, ranging from sustainability to scarcity. What role do you, as pallet pooler, play in this?

" As a pallet pooling leader, wood is a key product for our business. That’s why we’ve always strived to make the best and most sustainable use of it. For instance in 2020 we achieved one of our sustainability targets to use only 100% certified sustainable wood. This means that the forests where we obtain wood from are managed in a sustainable way and that zero deforestation is guaranteed. We’ve now entered a new period of more ambitious sustainability goals to go beyond zero impact. So by 2025, we want to plant two trees for every one we use. In this way, we restore the ecosystem and take the next step towards regenerative supply chains."

Regenerative supply chains? Can you elaborate on that?

"Regeneration actually means 'rebirth'. By that we mean that we want to revive the earth and society. Instead of aiming for a zero operation and reducing our impact to zero, we want to go beyond that for a positive impact. To give back more than we take. We’ve been sharing and reusing pallets worldwide for over 60 years. We call ourselves the pioneers of the circular economy. Well, now we want to become the pioneer of regenerative supply chains and help other companies to take this path as well. That's why our slogan is: 'Helping the world move more with less'."

"I think any company can make the shift to regeneration." - Vanessa Stark

reusable bag

So, is the idea of regeneration only applicable to companies in logistics?

"No, not at all. I think any company can make that shift. For example, look at how your product is made, used and disposed of. How can you adjust and improve this? How you can create extra value for planet and society? For example, there are jeans brands that ask people to return worn jeans so that the fabric can be reused. In this case, and in any circular model, reverse logistics is also something to think about. In addition, I recommend not only being strict with yourself, but also with your collaborators and suppliers. Ask about their sustainability objectives and projects. Do they fit into your concept or idea?"

Sounds nice, but how do you ensure that you are not accused of green washing?

"Be transparent. Communicate openly about your goals and the steps you are taking, with your customers, stakeholders and especially your employees, they are your most important target group. Measure your KPI’s and results using official measurement tools and/or authorities and try to obtain official - very important - certificates or awards. These not only boost your credibility, but also provide valuable, independent information and feedback on your approach. They are, as it were, a point of comparison to be able to benchmark yourself against others and, above all, to learn from others."

To what extent are you working on certificates and awards?

"Very hard. We have a team that works every day on measurements, analyses and the follow-up of our objectives. We report our results continuously. This has also earned us global recognition, such as the EcoVadis Platinum award in Europe, the highest level. This puts us among the top 1% most sustainable companies evaluated worldwide. Barron's also named us this year the second most sustainable company in the world, and in the Netherlands we were one of the first six companies to receive three Lean & Green stars. This recognition feels good and makes me very proud to work for this company. I hope that everyone at CHEP is too.

How do you make sure that your employees are behind your sustainability policy?

"Well, we have now mainly talked about the ecological meaning of the word, but for me the social and human aspect is an integral part of it. A sustainability policy should include all kinds of different policies on diversity and inclusion, safety and well-being, talent development and human rights. Also think about how you involve the community in your business and your employees in the community. At CHEP, for example, all employees are given three paid workdays a year to use for volunteering and this is a great success. I notice that the colleagues like to use thee days for charities they feel passionate about, which makes them happy employees. For me, that's the most important thing."

Do you have a question for Vanessa?

Do you have a question for Vanessa about sustainability, regenerative supply chains or CHEP?
She is happy to answer them.
Ask your question here

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Vanessa Stark: "Instead of reducing our impact to zero, we want to go for a positive impact." | CHEP