About VRR
7 December 2020, last update 1 July 2021

The Role of Innovation in Driving Sustainability

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Establishing a culture of sustainability in any business requires more than pledging support to the cause. It requires forward-thinking business practices, the engagement of all employees, and a sustainability strategy that is based on a clear business case.

Ben Lakerveld, Sales Manager at VRR, a leading producer of air cargo containers, was a speaker on this year’s TIACA’s sustainability panel. We took some time out to discover the approach his company takes to making sustainability a part of everyday business.

Is sustainability a strategic priority for VRR and, if so, how is it implemented?

Making a positive impact on the environment and society is extremely important to VRR so, yes, it’s part of our corporate strategy. For us, innovation is the way to tackle sustainability. Fortunately, challenging the status quo is what we do every day. We like to say that we’re innovators, not imitators.

When we develop solutions, we make sure they make a real difference to our customer’s day-to-day operations and the wider air cargo industry. That innovative approach is even in our mission statement: “Inspiring our colleagues, partners and customers to co-create the safest and most efficient air cargo innovations.”

The way we see it, innovation drives sustainability.

How does this approach translate into daily operations?

To develop solutions that lead to the ‘next best practices’, we have to question our assumptions of current practices. That’s exactly what our people do every day, and not just on the factory floor but with all our processes. Can we find a more durable material? How do we maximise cargo volume? How do we improve our workflows?

One slogan regarding sustainability comes to mind: “Small actions can make a big difference” and that’s something all employees here take to heart. That can be challenging though. You sometimes get the feeling you’re continuously questioning everything around you.

But in the end, it leads to a new perspective on the way we do things and—ultimately—progress.

What helps VRR in their drive to find sustainable solutions?

Co-creation. Without a doubt. We can’t do this on our own. Innovation requires close collaboration between internal and external stakeholders. Not just our customers but also suppliers and members of industry associations.

To really understand the needs and challenges of our markets, and then find solutions, we cast our net wide. That has led to some great partnerships over the years. And it’s mutually beneficial. We’re always happy to share our knowledge as ULD experts.

After all, we all gain from sustainable solutions, don’t we?

How do VRR’s products incorporate sustainability?

A good example of that is our range of collapsible ULDs, the “We keep it small series”. We introduced this category at the start of 2019 because we wanted to tackle the growing imbalance of global ULD stocks. These days, the flow of physical goods goes mostly East to West.

That leads to an expensive surplus of ULDs in some countries and an inconvenient shortage in others.

We estimate that roughly 20% of all ULD fleets are imbalanced. And that is where the sustainability problem starts. Fleet managers are flying back empty ULDs because they need them elsewhere. But that has an obvious economic and environmental impact.

So, we asked ourselves: How can we make the redistribution of ULDs more efficient? The answer was to make the ULDs collapsible and, therefore, stackable. Folded, they take up far less space in a warehouse or a plane, yet when they’re unfolded, they carry the same amount of cargo and offer the same protection.

Some of the ULDs in this range are collapsed using conventional methods, meaning mechanically; But the inflatable Air7 uses air, a completely new method that makes it possible for two people to deflate an AKE-sized container in just two minutes.

Would you say that COVID-19 has affected your sustainability strategy?

The pandemic has definitely affected our company. However, it hasn’t affected our sustainability strategy. In fact, it’s encouraged us to focus even more on innovation. To survive a crisis, you have to be prepared to come up with new ideas and methods.

Something else COVID-19 has done is expose the need for more sustainable air cargo solutions. Airport facilities are now packed with empty containers, but when the planes start flying again, it’s going to be a hell of a job repositioning the ULDs. We’re already joking that we should have developed our inflatable AKE container years ago. It would have saved airlines an awful lot of money.

The pandemic will come to an end, but—like other businesses that focus on sustainability—I reckon we’ll emerge from this crisis stronger.

We’ll still be upsetting the status quo.

Why does sustainability matter to your company?

Because it is the only way we can grow as a company and as a industry. At VRR, sustainability equals innovation, and without innovation we’re standing still. We have to evolve along with the world and even stay ahead of the pack.

Our thanks to Ben for sharing his insights into sustainability. If you’re interested in discovering more about VRR’s range of collapsible ULDs, contact us at sales@vrr.aero.


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