Every day, thousands of animal health supplies and products are shipped to veterinary practices across the United Kingdom. The deliveries – which include a range of products, from innovative therapeutic options and vaccines to parasiticides and nutritional products – must arrive on time and in the right condition. Distributors and partners across the supply chain have made significant investments in infrastructure and advanced technology solutions in recent years to ensure veterinarians have timely and reliable access to the products they need when they need them, so they are able to protect the health of pets and drive improved outcomes. While those investments are still needed, it’s imperative that we, as an industry, expand our focus and seek opportunities to make practices and processes not only more efficient but also more sustainable.
It’s imperative that we, as an industry, expand our focus and seek opportunities to make practices and processes not only more efficient but also more sustainable
Veterinarians need sufficient inventory and access to a wide range of products to provide routine care, critical services and urgent treatment. That will never change. However, it’s clear that opportunities exist across the distribution journey to implement practices or models that lead to more sustainable and responsible operations, from the moment a product leaves the manufacturer’s facility or distribution centre through to its arrival at a veterinary practice.
Electrifying the vehicle fleet
The innovation of battery electric vehicles offers a significant opportunity for veterinary wholesalers and practices to add a layer of environmental friendliness to their operations. Research has shown that broadly speaking, electric vehicles produce lower greenhouse gas emissions and offer greater local air-quality benefits than combustion engine vehicles (Lattanzio and Clark, 2020).
As part of the United Kingdom’s overarching plan to reduce emissions, leaders in late 2020 announced the UK will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030 and ban the sale of new hybrid vehicles by 2035 (HM Government, 2020). As more companies begin to own and operate electric vehicles, it’s critical for them to carefully map out a delivery route to ensure they are able to reach all their veterinary customers in a timely and efficient manner. That’s particularly important until the UK has a more extensive charging infrastructure, which is outlined as a priority in the Ten Point Plan.
Reshaping delivery practices
While transitioning to an electric vehicle fleet is a significant step forward in reducing one’s impact on the environment, it’s just one piece of the sustainability puzzle. Veterinary practices and their distribution partners should also examine two other aspects of the delivery and ordering process: how frequently products are delivered and how they are packaged.
Veterinary practices and their distribution partners should also examine two other aspects of the delivery and ordering process: how frequently products are delivered and how they are packaged
Veterinary practices often operate a “just-in-time” model for medication orders, with new shipments arriving as frequently as every day. While the model enables veterinarians to manage their inventory, it leads to more vehicle miles and requires staff to spend more time focusing on ordering rather than communicating with pet owners or delivering care. There’s an alternate model that has proven to be viable: a two- or three-day-a-week delivery model. By transitioning from daily deliveries to two or three times a week, veterinary practices and their distribution partners can create efficiencies and limit the number of vans on the roads, ultimately reducing carbon emissions.
For example, a two-day delivery system that launched in January will reduce van traffic by more than 1 million kilometres per year. Consider this: for every 5,000km of van traffic taken off the road, carbon dioxide is reduced by one metric tonne, according to Drive Smart’s Van Carbon Footprint Calculator. By reducing the number of delivery days per week from five to two, each of the 664 veterinary practices participating in the initiative will help to cut van traffic by 1,635km, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by about 330kg each year.
By reducing the number of delivery days per week from five to two, each of the 664 veterinary practices participating in the initiative will help to cut van traffic by 1,635km, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by about 330kg each year
As more veterinary practices evaluate a reduced delivery day model, they should consider working with partners that can provide the necessary inventory management support, as well as emergency same-day or next-day orders if needed. Another effective tactic is using recycled and reusable packing materials. In that scenario, veterinary staff can unpack the shipment – which is carefully packaged with plant-based, compostable packing peanuts – and then return the reusable plastic tote to the driver, who will bring it back to the distribution centre where it’s sanitised.
Collaborating to create healthier futures
It’s clear that veterinarians are eager to participate – a survey found that 89 percent want to play a more active role in the UK’s sustainability agenda (BVA, 2019). By working with their distribution partners to reshape these delivery and ordering processes, veterinary practices can drive business success and create meaningful environmental change. While these actions certainly signal the process, our collective effort to create a healthier planet requires a long-term commitment. As we look ahead, it’s critical for us to continue to deploy innovations and systems to increase efficiency, product safety and quality, while also working to manage greenhouse gas emissions, improve energy efficiency and minimise waste.