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Paving the way towards sustainable logistics, transforming waste into intelligence

Ponera Group was established in Switzerland in 2019 by two colleagues and friends from EPFL who believe that eco-friendly solutions are necessary to shape the future of the fast-growing world. Together they developed a unique logistic solution based on an innovative design of pallets’ system which decreases packing costs by minimizing the transport inefficiencies. Ponera Chief Executive Office, Matthew Reali, describes the benefits of investing in circular logistics.

The story of Ponera

The journey began many months prior to creating Ponera. Working in operations strategy for several years, the target was always to find ways to be more efficient, deliver on time, and with high quality. In the industrial sector for several years, I could observe first-hand how complex portfolios of goods being transported everyday leads to low standardization in industrial packaging and still relies on solutions which have not really evolved for decades. As the packaging is often produced in smaller quantities with diverse load requirements, the material and handling costs of industrial packaging are high and can have a huge negative impact on companies’ profits. The packaging is often used only once before going through their end of life cycle, which results in a vast volume of wood waste and an inefficient use of resources that offers very low sustainability. 

Having been exposed from a young age to the transport industry with access to seasoned logistics professionals, this situation seemed illogical and we could not find a good explanation for it. So there was a big impact opportunity to optimize the process. That’s when the spark came; what if we had a flexible solution which could be modelled to any specific need, work transversally for different product types easing the user’s pain, and allow an effective and seamless integration of state of the art technology to their supply chains? Since that thought, not a day went by without thinking of how to make this a reality.

We improvised a first meeting (Masoud [Ponera co-founder] and I) as a friendly get together where we spoke about this challenge. From there it quickly became clear that we had to embark in the journey of developing our innovative and disruptive venture, which we would later call Ponera. After numerous challenges, failures and pivots, we were happy to develop the patented concept and design, receiving very encouraging endorsements from industrial and academic environments. From there, creating Ponera Group, was the only logical next step.

Our mission is to create circular logistics through our modular and digitally enabled industrial packaging solution, delivering unprecedented efficiency and transparency in freight logistics. Our vision is to transform waste into intelligence, by substituting one-time use packaging into valuable operational assets, orchestrating a sharing economy and enabling activity-based digital solutions. To achieve this, we have built a strong team with passionate people with both scientific and industrial backgrounds who have jumped on the challenge. We were joined by world class advisors and have been granted much support by industry professionals. It has been very exciting!

The Ponera solution  

Think of Ponera as the LEGO of pallets. A smart, modular and digitally enabled solution, which by their assembly can provide any size. It facilitates circular logistics, guaranteeing full flexibility, and high convenience to the users. Given the right logistic flows, Ponera’s solution can reduce packaging costs and CO2 emissions by an order of magnitude. The introduction of smart modularity will allow us to provide effective IoT solutions in the whole freight transportation system, increasing transparency, efficiency, and effectiveness of the solution. The use of biopolymers ensures the possibility of reusing the packaging many times in the long duration of life, and its full recyclability. There are three core competences which we strive to put to our partner’s disposal: physical packaging innovation, IoT solutions, and process knowledge which acts as a precursor to all our developments.

Logistics can be a complex field where multiple services and factors need to be considered to provide the customer with a strong service. Working together with other like-minded logistic service providers; specially freight forwarders who play a key role in enabling their client’s effective processes through a circular economy, we can create huge impact. The freight forwarders can influence processes prior to and after the goods transport phase is completed. With Ponera’s solution, freight forwarders can enable their clients to make huge savings and have positive climate impact through their value chains, upstream, downstream and during transport.

Sustainable logistics in Switzerland and beyond

With regards to sustainability, we think individuals, companies and governmental entities all have an important role to play. From our interactions, both multinational corporations and young ventures are increasingly putting a focus on, and showing commitment towards, reaching the sustainable development goals. The Cleantec ecosystem is evolving in Switzerland, as we could see with governmental associations, speaking to potential clients, and through our interactions with other ventures at EPFL Innovation Park where we currently also reside.

One trend which we see however in the logistics space, is that much attention is placed on people mobility, less on freight logistics. Given that freight represent approximately one third of total global transport emissions, this is a topic which should continue gaining traction in the coming years. From our viewpoint, the international community also seems to be taking action and moving in this direction, as FIATA can testify.

Logistics being an international industry with interregional trade at an all-time historic high (pre-COVID-19) and sustainability being a global topic, it is fundamental that we reach a global audience to make a significant impact. The solution we propose is just as effective in regions outside of Europe and can even have higher potential of CO2 emissions mitigation in areas where topics like deforestation is an issue or where energy sources are more polluting, for example.

Addressing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

To put this in simple numbers, it has been estimated that up to 50% of the hardwood production in the United States is used to produce pallets and crates. Also, about 25% of global CO2 emissions are derived from freight logistics and manufacturing (8% and 17% respectively). Ponera impacts exactly these verticals. We have conducted specific analysis using historical client data on specific logistic flows, where our CO2 mitigation potential can be above 80%. At Ponera, we feel a big responsibility to support the achievement of the United Nations goal to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030. We are particularly committed to three SDGs: SDG 13 on climate action, SDG 12 on responsible consumption and production, and SDG 9 on industry innovation and infrastructure.

Looking into the future of logistics

The goals are to increase efficiency and sustainability by globally optimizing our transport capacity use, handling operations, and material use. This can be achieved through physical, operational, and digital interconnectivity, for which we need open and collaborative logistics systems.

Ponera can play a big role in fulfilling this direction by accomplishing our vision. By substituting consumable (few time usage) packaging material into connected assets, we will facilitate effective sharing economies, and enable our clients/partners to dynamically optimize operational processes.

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