How Waitrose set its own standard

From the February 2017 issue.

By using aerodynamically improved trailing equipment, one of Britain’s largest retail organisations is proving that even in a highly competitive marketplace, there is a business case for sustainability.

Located in the town of Bracknell in Berkshire, England, the John Lewis Partnership (JLP) head office and key distribution hub is more akin to a bustling campus than an austere industrial estate – not just because of the size and scope of the company itself, but more so because of the unique business model behind it.

With revenues of £9.75 billion (€11.6 billion) in 2015, JLP – which controls the John Lewis and Waitrose store chains – is the third largest privately owned company in the UK and employs some 92,000 people. Each of them is not just an employee, but also a shareholder in the business, with ownership managed through a trust that both reinvests profits back into the company and shares them among the staff in the form of an annual bonus. The result is an almost tangible buzz permeating the Bracknell site that is considered unique in modern British business.

In 2015, JLP paid out a bonus of 10 per cent of salary to everyone in the business – including the drivers of the 3,367 vehicles in the fleet, which breaks down into around 1,000 trailers, some 530 prime movers, 80 heavy rigid trucks, 237 light rigid trucks, plus nearly 1,000 3.5-tonne vans.

As such, the in-house transport fleet is more than a means to an end, says Simon Gray, JLP’s Vehicle Engineering Manager, pointing out that everyone in the business has a vested interest in keeping costs low and running the fleet as efficiently as possible. Procuring the right equipment to do so is one of Gray’s key responsibilities, and it doesn’t just extend to fuel efficiency alone.

According to Gray, his quest for achieving both environmental and financial benefits has recently led him to examine how aerodynamic drag may influence the performance of the JLP fleet, especially in a trailer context. While JLP had been specifying large radius capping on the lead corners for a long time, Gray admits there hasn’t been a systematic effort to understand aerodynamics until a government initiative – and the subsequent involvement of the Engineering Department at Cambridge University – triggered the company’s interest and led to the formation of a dedicated research team.

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