KLU alumnus Moritz Tölke wins prestigious sustainable logistics prize

Photo of the winners of the International Prize for Logistics

KLU Masters of Global Logistics and Supply Chain Management graduate Moritz Tölke and his firm Sovereign Speed saw off stiff competition to capture the HANSE GLOBE 2023, awarded by the Hamburg Logistics Initiative for outstanding work in the field of sustainable logistics, for their project “ourwaytozero”. Tölke, an environmental sustainability senior manager, explains the reasons for the company’s success and the path that led him to where he is now.

What set Sovereign Speed’s “ourwaytozero” project apart from the other finalists - DHL and the Hamburg Port Authority?

The difference between us and the other submissions is we submitted not a single project but a start-to-finish project, a general approach and strategy towards decarbonizing our logistics operations as a medium-sized company. We want to reduce our general environmental impact, but the focus for us is on zero greenhouse gas emissions because of the way our business model works, which is running diesel trucks and planes as an asset-heavy carrier. We haven’t set a final date for its achievement, but it was important to start because we believe we cannot be doing nothing until 2035. Therefore, we’ve been implementing various steps over the last three years, and they follow five pillars.

How do you plan to achieve its targets?

First, we measure what is happening where in regard to fuel and energy consumption, then we look at it how we can reduce it. We are quite diverse in our product portfolio, so I can do different things with a truck that runs only through Hamburg and one that runs on the long distances to Toulouse, for example, because there are different levers to their logistics footprint. Then, avoiding fossil fuels, so switching to renewable diesel and battery electric vehicles in the fleet and solar-powered energy in the warehouses and so on. In addition, we have two supporting pillars, which are compensation and working with our staff,  clients and partners, such as the KLU and its Center for Sustainable Logistics and Supply Chains, and going down the path of sustainability together.

How did you get to where you are today, and what sparked your interest in sustainability?

I started my career in 2012 with Sovereign Speed and then my master’s at KLU in 2018. I took part in Alan McKinnon’s classes on sustainable logistics and that got me hooked, because I was always leaning towards sustainability in my private life but was missing it within my job. Then, in the fourth semester we had the opportunity to do a practical semester - going to a company and writing your master’s thesis. I took the opportunity to deep dive into sustainability and joined the Smart Freight Centre, which is a leading NGO on decarbonizing logistics and a KLU partner. I worked there for six months and when I finished, I wrote my thesis on the decarbonization of medium-sized road-freight companies. I arranged to work with the NGO as a technical manager to focus more on CO2 reporting and reduction but also became an independent consultant to work with medium-sized companies taking their first steps towards sustainability.

One of my main clients was my old company Sovereign and that's really where I was able to combine the theoretical part of the NGO where you talk a lot about guidelines and frameworks and so on, and my practical experience. I did that for one-and-a-half years, then last year I made the decision that I had too many hats on, and I needed to focus on one. I decided to go back to Sovereign because they had built on the first strategy steps mentioned before and it felt like a bit of a full circle to come back as the Sustainability Manager.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to establish a career in sustainability in the logistics industry?

It’s important to differentiate the various sustainability layers because there's the social part, the economic part, and the environmental part, which is again much more diverse than just decarbonization. I think it's important to understand where you want to focus. You don’t have to only go in that direction, but it's good I think to have a general understanding of what sustainability means to you and where you want to actually deep dive.

My second piece of advice is to network. Read a lot, do an internship or traineeship somewhere, then build a network. The logistics sustainability bubble is quite small and the major players meet tomorrow at the Smart Freight Week in Amsterdam for three days. Networking somewhere like there is helpful for your career because there's always going to be people looking for people. The field can be quite overwhelming and technical at the beginning, and you need little pieces to put together to understand it and that can be very much supported by networking. Also, in the logistics industry there’s currently not a lot of people who have both a logistics background and expertise in sustainability. The industry is always looking for people that can combine an understanding of both, because that actually makes things actionable in the long run.