Introduction to ICRC’s approach to green Logistics

Introduction to ICRC’s approach to green Logistics

The article was written by Carmen Garcia Duro
Article 07 July 2021

What does "sustainability" mean for the ICRC?

"Sustainability" is a commonly used word, and in the field of logistics, it is no exception. To dissect what it really means, where it applies, why is it so important and what our role in this really is, we are going to look at it from a humanitarian perspective.

"Sustainability means achieving a balance between the environment and the economy. Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generation to meet their needs." (Haider, 2011).

All of us have a moral duty to consider for future generations when designing and implementing our supply chains, and as humanitarian workers, we have a great responsibility towards our beneficiaries. As an organization that firmly believes in "do-no-harm" principles, it is essential that we make the best effort not to cause further damage and suffering as a result of their actions (Anderson, 1990).

It is our responsibility as humanitarian workers to identify and reduce the potential negative effects that our activities have on our beneficiaries, as well as on ourselves in the long term. To better understand what the three pillars of sustainability mean to the ICRC, these can be extrapolated to commercial companies also:

Sustainability is not a new concept to the ICRC, but now there is a stronger need to adhere to it as time and resources are becoming limited. The ICRC, together with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), has developed the Climate and Environmental Charter for humanitarian organizations to galvanize and steer collective action in response to the dramatic impacts of the climate and environmental crises.

The ICRC has committed to reducing the ICRC's greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2030, compared to the levels shown in 2018, including all direct and indirect emissions.

The ICRC logistics division has already started focusing on sustainability. One clear example is the Quality, Social, Environmental assessments that our quality team have been using to coach suppliers on becoming more sustainable. There are many other initiatives put in place by the fleet team along with other departments (e.g. reduction of packaging, going paperless, optimization of fleet, increase in the number of electrical cars, etc.).

The Sustainable Supply Chain Alliance kicked off in September 2020. The objective of the project was to embed the three pillars of sustainability – environmental (planet), social (people) and economic (performance) – in the supply chain activities of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, led by the ICRC.

The key component of this initiative is the contribution from all parties; it is imperative that all members of the organizations fulfil their parts in the collaborative effort.

Sustainability needs to be integrated into our daily activities at work, home, leisure, etc. Our future and our children's futures are at stake. The lack of sustainability could mean rising sea levels, extreme droughts, increases in slum populations, extinction of species and collapsing fisheries, erosion and loss of forests. And this is only the beginning.

This project is here to provide the ICRC staff with the tools and training needed to pool their effort for a more sustainable supply chain, and also to share those tools and training sessions with the rest of the humanitarian sector, ensuring that we all work and learn together. It is vital that we step out of our silos and take what the sector has already started working on and build upon it.

Below, you'll see a mapping of initiatives that have been in focus since the beginning of 2021. Some are expected to extend to 2023.

• Mapping the supply chain in terms of sustainability (ICRC and IFRC)

• Adapting a carbon footprint tool for the use of all humanitarian organizations. This project started in June 2021 and 46 organizations have already shown an interest. It has two objectives

  1. To work with different organizations and ECHO to agree on the specifications of how and what the carbon emissions should be accounted for in the humanitarian sector.
  2. 2. To provide a free tool, online training, etc. for the humanitarian organizations that are interested.
To take part in this initiative, please complete this survey.

• Sustainable procurement management

  • Integration of the QSE assessment in the selection process
  • Guidelines on EHI sustainable procurement
  • Sustainable tarpaulin (research and development project)

• Sustainable fleet management

  • Optimization of the Fleet
  • Workshop waste management – i.e. interagency workshop waste management in East Africa

Integration of "sustainability" into action

As a socially responsible organization, the ICRC continues to put emphasis on procurement ethics and compliance with quality and sustainability standards. Its Code of Ethics in Procurement sets out the principles that govern the behaviour and actions of ICRC employees when involved in the acquisition of goods or services.

Online channels for making procurement-related claims and complaints linked to fraud help the ICRC provide fair opportunities to interested suppliers and to improve its procurement process.

The ICRC assesses the main suppliers to ensure quality management as well as see that social and environmental safeguards are in line with international standards. These safeguards include respect for human rights, appropriate working and employment conditions and the proper management of environment-related aspects, such as waste and energy.

By working closely with its suppliers from different parts of the world, the ICRC ensures that the quality of procured products complies with its specifications, which include reducing the amount of unnecessary packaging.

Moreover, we have started working with a couple of universities – Coventry University and Universita di Milano – which have helped us develop the environmental impact of used oil in East Africa and they will continue helping us by focusing on the highest value and criticality. They will also conduct environmental assessments and literature reviews of those items, thus helping us develop the tools.

In addition, these are visual examples of how the ICRC in Venezuela and Syria have transformed different waste produced in the warehouse (MDF wood, pallets, etc.) into very impressive furniture. 

Caracas, Venezuela

Tartus, Syria

Broken or damaged wooden pallets were used to produce Christmas trees, archive rooms, office furniture, etc.

ICRC's approach to sustainable supply chain

In 2020, the ICRC started purchasing 20% certified RSPO palm oil that warrants the sustainability of the production of palm oil. The ICRC has built two green temperature-controlled warehouses for medical and nutritional food in Niamey, Niger.

The ICRC looked into ways of reducing the waste produced by the staff's personal protective equipment at a very early stage. Different measures were taken both at headquarters and delegation levels, replacing disposable face shields with reusable and easily disinfected face shields. This led to 90% reduction in orders. Other measures include using refillable containers for hand sanitizer and reusable certified masks.

The tools, training and knowledge from these initiatives would be shared with other humanitarian organizations to ensure that they could build on what has been developed, just like we did. It is important that we work in cooperation not only with the humanitarian organizations but also with the commercial sector as well as with the universities.

Voices from the Field

Gilles Benoit Favier, logistics country manager, Afghanistan

Introducing the sustainability concept into an operational delegation is not something easy, especially in the context we are working in. The main concerns of our staff or beneficiaries are usually more focused on their own survival and security, and sustainability can sometimes seem completely irrelevant to them.

Therefore, it is essential to also focus on changing mindsets and identifying local and cultural examples to back your concept.

At the managerial level, the review of our current and future supply chain could bring interesting and easy development to increase our sustainability without affecting lead time and cost efficiency.

This can be through a re-evaluation of supply chain corridors (i.e. the integration of the Belt Road initiative in Central Asia), integration of the sustainability concept into our choices for transport selection tables (i.e. railway versus road transport) and standards to be applied for contractors (i.e. insourced versus outsourced ICRC transport, EUR pollution norm and more). 

The procurement department can be another game-changer when addressing sustainability. Proposing various alternatives to internal clients could lead to a sustainable impact with only a few steps.

The ICRC delegation in Afghanistan is pleased to be a part of the waste management pilot project that would allow us to reduce and optimize the amount of waste our workshop is producing, while guaranteeing that such waste is properly disposed of.

It is key to have all colleagues fully onboard, and this can be done by showing them that small steps can have a big impact. Being creative and solution-oriented is a must and can help any logistics department.

Ahmad Tamim Shojai, logistics administrator and focal point for sustainability, Afghanistan

As a logistician in Kabul, I could not help but notice the amount of waste produced in one year at our logistics centre that was not properly managed.

The sustainable development project at the ICRC made us consider the management and segregation of the waste produced at the logistics centre. With the help of others, I conducted a training course for our logistics staff with the introduction to waste management. I also identified potential companies that could guarantee that the waste was effectively recycled.

We have become one of the pilot countries to better manage the waste produced in our workshop and we have started piloting the waste kit to handle, segregate and transport it properly. At the same time, proper assessment of the waste management suppliers in Kabul has been carried out, making sure that waste is properly recycled by our suppliers.


The challenge is huge. But if we all work together, we can bring about the change necessary for our future generations. These are the key takeaways from the lessons learnt and the best practices:

  • ● Sustainability is not an option.
    ● Small actions can have a big impact.
    ● Collaboration with other parties and organizations for informed decisions and bigger impact is the way forward.
    ● Think global. Act local.
    ● Be creative and solution-oriented.
    ● The best waste is the one not produced. Make sure packaging is reduced to the minimum and the waste produced is properly managed.