Gnewt, by Menzies Distribution, was founded in 2009 by Sam Clarke after he, along with his co-director, identified a niche in the environmental logistics space. Although we are seeing a lot more companies in the transport sector pledge their commitment to low emission business structures, it has taken an extremely long time for most people to react. Due to this, Gnewt has made a name for itself, forming strong relationships with the likes of Transport for London and The Greater London Authority. With its latest partnership with leading retailer ASOS, the company is looking forward to a promising 2020.
To begin with, Clarke tells me it was all about securing clients and angel investors, to help him bring his vision of a zero-emission delivery company to life. Now, celebrating its 10 year anniversary, he looks back at what he started with Auto Futures.
“Firstly, I never wanted to touch a diesel van or anything of that nature at all,” he assures me, as we begin our conversation.
If you didn’t already know, Clarke’s business is based around a small fleet of electric vans, aimed at dealing with high-volumes in the city of London. This proved difficult at first, as the electric vehicles on offer didn’t have anywhere near the range we are seeing in EVs today, which made it extremely difficult to compete with the larger and more established players.
But Clarke and his team identified that they could start by helping these large players with their volume, allowing Gnewt to scale in a time of small EV growth. More recently, the company has started to work with retailers directly again, which have quickly become some of its key clients.
Clarke says that this not only came down to the development of EVs but the implementation of technology within the logistics sector. “Because of the huge change in technology over the last 10 years, the ability to communicate with the recipient is better than ever. You can not only deliver a good service but also be able to communicate in tandem with the end-user and now, with us, let the end-user know that their parcel is being delivered by an electric vehicle.”
This was important for Clarke, as Gnewt had already been delivering millions of parcels without the recipient having any idea it was being delivered by EVs. Now, he can convey his message more positively to the end-user and make them recognise that Gnewt is an environmental way of delivering “style to your door” – without being thrown into the back of a dirty diesel van.
Leading by Example
The freight and logistics industry has pioneered smart, safe and clean transport. It’s the sort of industry where connected technologies and cleaner transportation were vital to business models and strict global regulations.
This has continued to be the case in the last mile delivery sector, where we have seen the most improvement in the shortest amount of time. Clarke thinks that we’re going to start to see a lot more movement in the logistics and delivery sectors, but warns that there are a lot of larger players in the market talking the talk, but not necessarily walking the walk.
“There are large carriers out there that have been focusing on the environmental side of logistics in a similar capacity to us, but there’s an awful lot of greenwash where people are talking a very big game but putting little effort into it, which I find quite frustrating.”
Yes, there are companies out there that have got far larger fleets than Gnewt, but their existing diesel fleets are counteracting their net-zero goals.’ As Clarke says, Gnewt is “just a little guy doing it 100% right.”
“Personally, what I can’t bear is people talking about doing stuff with clever marketing and painting pictures which simply aren’t accurate,” he continues. “We’re not going to be able to reduce the emissions and environmental logistics if people are going to just use their marketing teams to gloss it up.”
Well said. If you’re going to do it, do it properly.
Hitting the Sweet Spot
Now, of course, this change is not going to happen overnight. We’ve seen companies implement ideas such as ‘pedal power’ delivery to combat emissions, which is great, but these cannot serve the entire urban supply chain. So, how do we hit the sweet spot in cities?
“There is no silver bullet to any of this,” Clarke answers, “so there is a need for a multimodal approach where we do not isolate systems.”
In this case, bike delivery services are able to get around tight streets easily, but they simply can’t carry enough. Plus, these services have to remain very central, meaning that companies will have to import a lot of cargo in by vans anyways.
“I don’t subscribe to the fact that the van is king, but it’s probably the biggest slice of the pie in terms of efficiently moving goods around town,” adds Clarke. “However, I still think there is a place for these other solutions; most appropriately, as a last-mile solution.”
On the other end of the spectrum, he also believes that there are some companies getting carried away with technology, creating complicated and expensive ‘solutions’ that are not commercially practical.
“I love innovation and new ideas, but not just for the sake of it,” he says. “These ideas may look great on paper, but they cost tens of millions and, ultimately, operate as a novelty.”
The Death of the High Street
The high street is dying. And we all know why.
The e-commerce industry has created a society that demands next-day delivery – and sometimes even sooner. People want to be able to buy from wherever they want and receive it whenever they want which, ultimately, cannot continue. The amount of next-day deliveries and returns that fill up most of the deliveries on London roads each day are becoming a detrimental problem to the environment.
But we find ourselves in this situation and need to act on the best solution. Clarke believes that, due to urban road layouts like London, it will come down to some sort of zonal solution including multi-modal delivery systems.
“Eventually, I could potentially see some sort of zonal solution where bike carriers will tender for certain areas of London and other carriers will have an obligation to drop off at consolidation centres,” he adds.
The urban environment will continue to evolve, but it will also bring further complications, especially as cities fill up with people and vehicles.
“In London, the roads are getting more congested with more people, vehicles, scooters, bikes, cycle highways and additional infrastructure; I can go on forever,” lists Clarke. “We’re all wanting to use the same space at the same time and, eventually, everything will burst unless we do something about it.”
Above all else, we must work toward as a zero-emission society but, with it, introduce the correct procedures to manage this e-mobility overhaul.
“We need to work together, from companies to governments, to introduce regulations, business cases and, most importantly, a new way of thinking in order to keep the city moving.”