Leading the Charge: Lessons Learned in Sustainability and Electrifying the Last Mile

As shoppers increasingly prioritize sustainability, retailers and ecommerce brands are assessing how their business, including their logistics practices, are helping the planet – or hurting it. Co-Founders Mark Ang and Heindrik Bernabe faced these same questions when they started GoBolt. 

Rather than operate as a third-party logistics (3PL) partner that relied on gas guzzling vehicles (and leave a sizeable able carbon footprint as the company grew), Mark and Heindrik opted to chart a new, environmentally friendly course. Their decision now gives brands an option that helps move the needle on their own sustainability goals.

So, what can brand and logistics leaders learn from GoBolt’s experience building a sustainability-driven, tech-enabled, and electric last mile solution? We asked Mark and Heindrik to find out.

Was your goal to offer sustainable logistics when you founded GoBolt? 

Mark: Actually we had a different plan altogether. Back in university, we started a valet consumer storage company to help fellow students store their belongings over summer breaks – we would pick up and return their items on request. This naturally expanded beyond campus as we began to offer a similar storage model for consumers who needed more space, or a Second Closet (the company name at the time). Though convenient, we essentially ended up providing people with space to accumulate more things. In the future, we knew that wasn’t something we’d be proud of. 

The business-to-business (B2B) division of the company was growing organically – thanks to local companies using our business-to-consumer (B2C) offering. So, we went all-in on a B2B model. As we modeled out how the business could continue to grow, we knew we would need to put more and more trucks on the road, ultimately increasing the size of our carbon footprint. That didn’t sit well with us, so we vowed to build the business through a sustainable lens.

How would you describe GoBolt today?

Mark: GoBolt is a technology company building the world’s largest sustainable supply chain network. 

Our model allows us to seamlessly support every aspect of a brand’s logistics operations, from inventory storage and management to warehousing, order fulfillment, deliveries and even returns. And our model helps brand’s maintain complete control of their end-to-end logistics operation, even though they’ve outsourced elements from start to finish. 

That’s a game changer in an industry that’s long tried forcing brands into standardized offerings. But we know that no two of our brand partners are the same. No shopper either. 

Today, our in-house product and engineering teams have designed and built a proprietary suite of apps to support all facets of our interconnected operation – including our mixed fleet of diesel and electric delivery vehicles. We will always prioritize the use of electric vehicles for first-party deliveries, and in cases where this isn’t possible, we are working with partners to sequester carbon emissions through verified nature restoration projects.

What can brand and logistics leaders learn from GoBolt’s sustainability efforts?

Heindrik: It’s all about being intentional and tracking progress toward big goals. We have this saying on our website: Protecting the planet is in our DNA. This isn’t just a catchphrase. We’ve actually built our entire operation on sustainable practices. 

We sequester our carbon emissions, use sustainable materials, and are part of a Canadian circular supply chain that sees returned and unsellable household items being donated to community members in need. Our main focus right now is electrifying our last mile deliveries.

Today, we have a few hundred vehicles in our electric fleet ranging from parcel vans to three and five ton trucks. We’re expecting to grow that number a couple times over by this time next year. As we mentioned, we’re pushing hard to meet our goal of 90% of our last mile deliveries being completed via EV by the end of 2023. To achieve this goal, we’re doubling down on our vehicle orders and investment in charging infrastructure to support our growing fleet of EVs. 

We’re faced with choices every day, and every step of the way, we’ve opted to take the path that’s better for the environment. For companies out there that want to do better for the environment, the best advice is to get started and stay true to your sustainability goals, one decision at a time.

What has it been like to shift to an electrified delivery fleet? 

Mark: It’s not as simple as just ordering the vehicles and driving them off the lot. We needed to also establish the infrastructure, training, technical, and systematic aspects to support our electric fleet. On top of that, it’s no secret that EVs are a massive investment. The vehicles are expensive. The chargers, infrastructure, and cost of learning are too. 

So, why make this investment? We’re focused on our end state. We know we want to achieve carbon-neutral deliveries by the end of 2023. That’s why we are consciously making these investments to accelerate our goal. And we are OK with the bumps and bruises that we experience along the way.

When it comes to extracting data, what can EV systems offer that gas-powered vehicles can’t?

Heindrik: With both vehicles it comes down to your ability to tap into the system to visualize information. If you have a problem with a gas-powered vehicle, you can buy a product online that plugs into the mainframe and diagnoses the issue. It could save you thousands of dollars at the mechanic. The data is there — you just have to extract it. 

The same rings true with EVs. But because they are newer, and more technologically loaded, we get easy access to metrics on telematics, battery level, degradation average, average speed traveled, and the overall performance of the vehicle itself. At GoBolt, we sync this information up with our internal operating system and are able to learn about, and better understand, our drivers and vehicles. We can then assign drivers and routes based on payloads and vehicles. 

This data enables us to give our brand partners even more insight into their deliveries, such as the kilometers traveled via EV and gas vehicles and the emissions avoided or produced. We are continually pushing to better our reporting for our brand partners and their shoppers.

Do you have sustainability insights you’re able to provide to the brands you partner with?

Heindrik: Yes. There was a time when we only operated gas delivery vehicles, so we have really good data on metrics like how many kilometers were traveled and how much fuel was consumed. And we have a baseline for the emissions-production we want to avoid. Digging deeper, we even have an understanding of the distance a payload traveled, giving us the ability to attribute our emissions down to the order level. That’s really the Gold Standard for reporting. 

GoBolt is a data-rich environment, so we’re able to produce accurate numbers on simple metrics such as the percentage of EV delivery share to the more complex ones like the impact of our EVs and carbon sequestered versus gas-powered vehicles. That’s something retailers really value for their own metrics, goals, and impact.

Why should brands prioritize sustainable logistics now versus putting it off for the future? 

Mark: Research shows that some 50% of consumers rate sustainable practices as a top factor in their purchasing decisions. That’s one reason retailers are really making an effort to embrace sustainable practices, be it turning trash into products, adopting renewable energy sources, using recycled packaging, giving away reusable bags or partnering with a sustainable 3PL. 

Sustainability is increasingly becoming a part of many brands’ ethos. To satisfy environmentally conscious shoppers, we see brands wanting to align themselves with logistics providers that are fully committed to reducing a brand’s scope three emissions –– the emissions not controlled by the brand themselves. We’re proud to report that we’ve partnered with brand leaders across fashion, furniture, and more that are pushing their industries toward a greener, more sustainable future. At the end of the day, shoppers are the ones to thank for this progress we’ll continue to see.

Want to learn more about how your logistics can become more sustainable? Reach out to the GoBolt team today.