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Sustainability Trailblazer Jim Hartzfeld Shares Insights on Building a Better Future

Interview with Jim Hartzfeld

In our ongoing commitment to inspire and educate the youth of today about sustainability, we have the distinct privilege of introducing you to a true pioneer in the field. Jim Hartzfeld, a name synonymous with sustainable practices and environmental stewardship, has graciously agreed to share his wealth of knowledge and experience with us in this exclusive interview.

As we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of sustainability, Jim’s insights and contributions stand as a testament to the impact one individual can have in shaping a more sustainable future. His dedication and groundbreaking work have not only made a difference but have also paved the way for future generations to take the mantle of sustainability forward.

Join us as we delve into a conversation with Jim Hartzfeld, exploring his journey, his vision for a sustainable world, and his work as the Head of Sustainability for North America at Brambles invaluable lessons. Prepare to be inspired and enlightened by the wisdom of a true sustainability trailblazer.

What inspired you to pursue a career in sustainability, and how did you become Brambles’ head of sustainability for North America?

Many years ago, I had just joined a new company and because of my technical, marketing and sales background, I was assigned to answer tough questions beginning to come from “green” customers about the environment. Initially, I thought it was a distraction from the “important” work of business (and my drive for my next promotion) and a waste of my college degree and business experience. As I began to read and study the issue, I was completely stunned at the damage industry was doing to the environment (mostly unintentional) AND the potential opportunity for companies to redesign themselves to create better, more innovative solutions to these challenges while serving a growing “market” of environmentally-conscious customers. 

Ever since that “epiphany,” my professional purpose has been to accelerate the transformation of business to serve all stakeholders, not just profits for owners and investors.

I have found that sustainability, in many ways, can create a better, more profitable business that people are proud to join, buy from or invest in. 

Can you explain how your role contributes to the overall goals of a company like Brambles?

As the head of sustainability for Brambles’ biggest region, I work with people from all parts of a company–sales, marketing, product development, accounting and even human resources–to educate them about sustainability and ways they can innovate in their roles to create more environmentally or socially responsible practices. I also work with our customers to help them see how our various products or solutions can help them meet their sustainability goals across the spectrum of our environmental and social challenges. For example, through an independent life cycle assessment, we’ve identified that our customers can reduce waste to landfill by 85%, reduce carbon emissions by 75% and wood utilization by 50% by transitioning to circular shared, repaired and reused CHEP pallets versus white wood pallets. Delivering these planet-positive benefits in support of their sustainability goals is just one way we provide value to our customers as we further innovate and collaborate with all our partners to build the supply chain of the future.

In addition to my work, a chief sustainability officer (CSO) engages directly with investors and the company’s board of directors to ensure our overall progress and strategies support the goals of the business. 

CHEP, A Brambles Company, is focused on efficient supply chain management that eliminates waste. How did the sustainability aspect of the company motivate your decision to work here?

The number one thing that attracted me to Brambles was CHEP’s core business model which is to provide logistics services to companies by renting our share, repair and reuse pallets and containers. We call It a circular business model: CHEP pallets and crates are designed to be reused (after being serviced by CHEP, of course) before supporting another trip through the supply network. Other non-CHEP pallets are considered single-use with the intent of discarding after one trip. 

When I learned of the Brambles’ business model and how sustainability was at the center of it, I applied for this role. 

The 2025 sustainability targets of CHEP include specific aspects of the planet, business, and the community. Why do you believe that it is important to foster interaction and benefits in all three of these spheres to truly achieve sustainability? 

A core idea behind sustainability is that there are many types of challenges that can cause us (people or businesses) danger or at least become barriers to improving the lives of people. Sustainability was originally a short way of talking about sustainable development, meaning how we can continue to improve the quality of life for all people. We can see the damage society has done over time to nature, land and water. Unfortunately, we are now seeing impacts to the climate. 

Also, we must recognize the damage we have done to our relationships with each other. We can’t heal one without the other. In addition, all of us, societally, must invent new business practices that are economically sustainable, too. When we have best practices to support the planet, business and the community, businesses can be a powerful driver of positive change that benefits everyone.      

An inspiring plan by Brambles is the roadmap to net-zero emissions by 2040. What methods is CHEP using specifically to ensure that this goal is met?

Brambles conducted a lot of research to understand where our organization can make the most positive—or in our 2025 targets’ case, regenerative—impact to reduce climate change. And with that, there are 3 basic categories. First, since Brambles operates in the supply chain space serving over 30,000 manufacturers and retailers within North America, we move a lot of pallets on big trucks, or on about 55,000 lanes through nearly 24,000 loads per week in the U.S. alone. Second, the main resource for the Brambles pool globally (pallets, containers and crates) is trees, which the harvesting process can release a lot of carbon. And third, the facilities we operate to share, repair and reuse our pallets, crates and containers use energy and create waste. 

Across the board, we’re focused on removing inefficiencies across our operations. Since 2010 when Brambles’ first sustainability targets were created for 2015, we’ve continued to challenge ourselves by doing what’s best for the environment. That started with doing less bad to being carbon neutral to 2025’s aspirations of being regenerative, or positive. As you may see in our 2025 sustainability targets, we’re on track to meet or exceed most of our targets, and do so through various innovations and initiatives. A few of those examples include evaluating (then actioning) how to reduce empty transport miles (miles traveled with an empty load), looking into alternative fuel sources like biodiesel or electric vehicles and automating our facilities to be more efficient and safer for our employees.

For students looking at their future careers, what would be your advice on how to incorporate values in sustainability and interests in certain subjects when choosing a profession, especially from your own experience? 

First, you don’t have to be on a sustainability team to do sustainability. Every job in a company can be influenced by sustainability including engineers, accountants, salespeople, marketers, factory workers, truck drivers, etc. We can all have an impact in our daily working behaviors and our jobs.

The most important thing is to find work that fits your talents and interests AND that someone is willing to pay you to do. Then, use your passion and knowledge about environmental or social challenges to do that job in a new and creative way. Companies around the world are searching for people in all roles throughout their organization who also know how to connect sustainability to their jobs. It’s not enough to be passionate about some part of sustainability, you should invest your time to building your knowledge and tools to do something with that passion in your chosen profession. Research companies and their commitment to sustainability- you can learn a lot from what is on their website, in their annual financial reports and from their brand presence on social media and other channels. Choose a company whose principles and commitment to sustainability and positive impacts align with yours. In fact, this is a common interest and passion for new talent joining CHEP; ultimately, it IS possible to match your interests and passions and drive a positive difference.

Ramya Shivkumar is the Youth Environmental Leadership Program Director at Green Cell, where her passion is directed towards utilizing her extensive expertise in sustainability to create actionable initiatives for k-12 students, driving positive change within her local community.

Yaashmita Senthilnathan is a junior at Johns Creek High School. She is one of the youth board members of Green Cell and one of the Youth Co-leads for the Georgia Youth Sustainability Conference (GYSC).

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