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The green path to last-mile delivery

Flipkart's Head of Sustainability and Social Responsibility, Mahesh Pratap Singh talks to ETN about the e-commerce major's e-mobility plans and its pathway towards carbon neutrality.

Mahesh Pratap Singh, Head of Sustainability and Social Responsibility, Flipkart Group

Q. Flipkart has committed to a 100 percent transition to e-vehicle by joining the EV100 initiative. Please tell us more about this development?

As a responsible corporate citizen, Flipkart has always taken a proactive approach towards fostering environmental sustainability across its value chain. Electric vehicles (EVs) form an integral part of our sustainability vision and The Climate Group's EV100 initiative ties in with our larger vision of environmental sustainability. As part of our commitment to the EV100 initiative, we have pledged a 100 percent transition to electric vehicles in our logistics fleet by 2030.
As the first e-commerce player in India to join the globally recognized EV100 initiative, we will work towards furthering EV100's goal of catalyzing corporate leadership for electric vehicle uptake in India. This will also be an opportunity for us to exchange knowledge on e-mobility and learn from over 70 forward-looking companies from across the globe committed to accelerating the transition to electric vehicles.
2030 is considered to be the decade of change and we are proud to be part of this global initiative along with other international organizations in ushering the transition to a sustainable future. At Flipkart, we believe that global pledges like this bring in opportunities and synergies that can be leveraged across allied industries and sectors in a similar direction for the better cause.

Q. Recently, Flipkart announced the deployment of 25,000 e-vehicles by 2030. Which are some of the EV models used currently in your fleet? How do you plan to add more EVs?

We have already started deploying electric two-wheelers and three-wheelers in multiple locations for delivery across the country, including in Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Guwahati, and Pune, to name a few cities. Currently, we have two-wheelers from Hero Electric - 'The Nyx series' – deployed in our supply chain across Kolkata, Guwahati, and Bhubaneswar. We also have Mahindra Electric's three-wheeler 'Treo Zor' and Piaggio's newly announced 'Ape' E-Xtra FX' in our delivery fleet. We are further collaborating and working with leading OEMs and local players to procure and deploy EVs across the country while supporting the required infrastructure growth.

We have also been conducting various pilots across other locations while studying the nuances and optimizing various factors such as vehicle range, vehicle load charging stations, and even the vehicle design. We are looking to deploy more than 25,000 EVs by 2030. As we progress, we will have many other partners come on board to make this transition possible. As a responsible corporate citizen and industry leader, we are proud to lead e-commerce's transition towards sustainable mobility.

Mahindra Electric's 'Treo Zor' e-3W deployed by Flipkart in its supply chain

Q. Flipkart has worked with several partners to create reliable solutions which are scalable and affordable. Tell us more about these innovative solutions. 

The successful deployment of EVs depends on how innovation and ecosystem synergies happen across levels. From co-designing vehicles with ecosystem partners to create the designs best suited for e-commerce deliveries, to route-planning with logistics partners to maximize vehicle range, we have collaborated extensively with our partners to make a sustainable transition to electric mobility. We are also working with stakeholders such as regulators and policymakers to help understand and address various challenges and boost the adoption of EVs.

As an e-commerce company with a Pan-India presence, Flipkart is well-positioned to boost EV adoption across the country including Tier-2 cities and beyond. We are working with ecosystem players to build common solutions that are scalable and can be implemented across the country. Through our commitment to deploy 25,000 EVs by 2030, we are also giving out the demand signal for OEMs to collaborate and design EV models suitable for deployment in the e-commerce industry. We hope to boost local innovation and economy while embarking on building collaborative solutions for a greener supply chain.

Q. How is Flipkart addressing the need for robust charging infrastructure to keep up with the emerging wave of e-mobility in the country? Tell us more about your tie-ups and industry collaborations.

The uptake of EVs in India is hugely dependent on the availability of adequate charging infrastructure. Charging infrastructure is only present in certain places, and especially not in Tier-2 and smaller cities. The unavailability of one single company with Pan-India coverage too is a challenge that needs to be addressed. We are working with Hero Electric to deploy electric two-wheelers in Tier-2 cities, that can be charged at home, thereby negating the need for separate charging infrastructure. As part of our transition to EVs, we have committed to installing charging infrastructure close to 1,400 of our supply chain facilities. At present, our logistics partner - Mahindra Logistics Limited is already working on building these charging stations.

EVs are relatively new in the market, and we are undertaking multiple rounds of pilots and design iterations before incorporating them into our fleets. The supply chain staff will have a pivotal role to play in this transition as they are extensively involved in end-to-end logistics operations. While we have instilled sustainability into our corporate fabric, we believe that it is essential that each of our staff involved in the fundamental nuances of the supply chain operations is properly trained. We aim to bring in greater efficiency through an optimized model of operations including training our manpower to develop the right skills for operating the vehicles. We will also incentivize delivery executives towards the use of EVs as a viable mobility solution. This will induce a wider adoption of electric vehicles across the value chain.

Q. Being an e-commerce corporate giant, what kind of commitment has Flipkart committed to cut down its carbon footprints and establish a sustainable business environment?  

Flipkart is strongly committed to environmental sustainability and is looking at engaging with various stakeholders in the ecosystem on long-term sustainability initiatives. Apart from the deployment of EVs, some of these initiatives include reducing the consumption of single-use plastic in our packaging, promoting higher resource efficiency in our operations, and building green infrastructure.

We have undertaken several initiatives towards reducing single-use plastic packaging in our supply chain and have already achieved a 61 percent reduction. We are also the only e-commerce company to have an industry-first EPR authorization, wherein we have committed to collecting back the entire weight of the packaging that we use. We have also focused on resource efficiency within our operations by increasing the use of renewable energy for our power needs. We have also introduced projects to increase the overall energy production and to encourage zero liquid discharge of wastewater in warehouses. Flipkart's strategic facilities have received an ISO14001 certification, which highlights our preparedness to prevent environmental pollution in the workplace. Our data centre in Hyderabad runs largely on renewable energy and many of our large warehouse projects are being constructed in line with IGBC's Green Building Guidelines.

We believe that sustainability is a common goal, and it is important to develop a culture that encourages the participation of all stakeholders and enables continuous learning and action towards achieving sustainability and reducing the carbon footprint.

Q. What opportunities and challenges do you see for Indian corporates in their journey towards sustainable development and achieving net-zero carbon neutrality?

The COVID-19 pandemic has made us aware of the interconnected nature of the world we live in. It has exposed the dangers of a linear waste-making business model and underlined the importance of reducing the carbon footprint. The role of corporations in creating resilient and sustainable communities is vital. Data suggests that companies that manage their ESG (Environmental Social and Governance) goals well are outperforming other businesses. So, businesses need to learn how to build resilience, prepare themselves for risks, and build resilience within the communities they work with.

Corporates need to rethink their development strategies and adopt a holistic approach to sustainable growth through measures such as reducing the use of single-use plastic; rethinking the approach to food waste; fostering environmental awareness, and empowering vulnerable communities. Businesses also need to engage meaningfully with communities to foster resilience and to view sustainability as a common goal in the journey towards long-term growth.

Author : Moulin Oza
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