The Why and How of Pledge 1% at Flexport
This is the first of two blogs motivated by a discussion with Susy Schöneberg, the Head of Flexport.org (www.flexport.org), Flexport’s social and environmental impact group. We discussed their participation in the Pledge 1% movement. Flexport (www.flexport.com) is the highest-profile company in logistics and seafreight to join the Pledge 1% movement and has much to share about their experience.
Flexport is the largest of the new breed of logistics companies called ‘digital forwarders’. The company was started in 2013 with the vision to “make global trade easy for everyone”. Flexport’s 1,500+ employees serve more than 10,000 clients and suppliers across the world, offering a full range of services, including ocean, air, truck and rail freight, drayage & cartage, warehousing, customs brokerage, financing and insurance.
Susy Schöneberg joined Flexport in 2015 with extensive prior experience in international logistics. With the full support of Ryan Petersen, the CEO, and the senior management team, Flexport joined the Pledge 1% movement in December 2017 with a pledge commitment of 1% of profit, product and employee time. To execute on this commitment, Susy led the creation and consequent expansion of Flexport.org to “use technology to help solve humanity’s most pressing challenges.” Today, Susy and a team of 10 full-time employees at Flexport.org work to leverage the capabilities of Flexport to help others around the globe.
From its founding, Flexport’s employees understood the vital importance and impact of global logistics. In the early days of the company, a team of volunteers worked to deliver emergency-relief supplies to global hot spots including the Syrian Refugee Crisis occurring in Jordan and Turkey. Other employees were concerned about environmental and social issues and organized informal efforts to use their expertise and Flexport’s tech platform to make an impact on these topics.
As time passed, it became obvious that there was a passion among the employees for social impact but inadequate formal structures. Flexport’s strategic positioning as a ‘new kind of forwarder’ drove senior management to encourage this enthusiasm by providing permanent corporate resources and funding. The team decided to take the 1% Pledge with three different pledge types to enable robust and efficient philanthropy by the company and its employees.
In late 2017, Flexport pledged 1% of its profit, product and employee time to use logistics as a force for social and environmental good. The entire effort is executed and managed by Susy and the Flexport.org team. The multi-faceted program consists of three pillars: logistics for non-profits and managing corporate excess inventory for a good cause, reducing global carbon emissions, and community impact.
● Logistics for non-profits. Funded by the 1% profit commitment, Flexport offers discounted logistics services to emergency-relief and other non-profit shipments. Staffed by employees under the 1%-employee-time commitment, Flexport offers free consulting to non-profits on their logistics challenges. Under this program, as part of its COVID-19 efforts, Flexport has shipped over 242 million units of personal protective equipment and other pandemic-related supplies. Other recent examples include shipments for the Puerto Rico earthquake, the Bahamas tsunami and Australian wildfires. Early on, Flexport.org recognized the acute need for funding support for emergency relief or non-profit shipments. In 2018, they launched the Flexport.org Fund, allowing anyone to donate to help cover the cost of shipments for humanitarian aid, which allows Flexport to extend discounted or fully covered shipment services to hundreds of nonprofits and organizations around the world. In addition, Flexport coordinates and executes the donation of excess inventory by customers to non-profits to reduce waste and provide needed supplies and materials to those in need.
● Reducing carbon emissions. Funded by the 1% product commitment, Flexport built a carbon footprint assessment platform to allow its customers to properly evaluate their environmental impact. A number of the full-time staff at Flexport.org are software engineers who build and manage this system. In addition, under the same rubric, Flexport offers programs that enable customers to balance their CO2 emissions with the purchase of voluntary offset credits.
● Community social impact. Funded by the 1%-employee-time commitment, Flexport provides ten hours per year of paid time off for each full-time employee to volunteer in community service. The employee can select their own project or participate in events organized by the company.
An effort of this magnitude requires full-time management and leadership. Susy leads this effort and is assisted by a number of colleagues on the Flexport.org team.
Susy is part of Flexport CEO Ryan Petersen’s department. She meets with him on a monthly basis and provides management reporting with the same frequency. Flexport.org publicizes their programs and impacts in the corporate monthly newsletter and through a dedicated Slack channel. Susy says “the entire effort is integrated into our culture and business. Every day we are executing our 1% Pledge in countless ways around the world.”
My next blog entry will leverage the takeaways from this Flexport interview to encourage companies to take the 1% Pledge and the #SeaFreight1percentPledge.