Exploring the underdeveloped field of sustainable logistics leads to international award for PhD graduate

Exploring the underdeveloped field of sustainable logistics leads to international award for PhD graduate

Dr Martin du Plessis, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Industrial Engineering at the Faculty of Engineering, has been announced the winner of the Dino Petrarolo Emerging Economies Doctoral Student Award (EEDSA), established in 2008 by the Production and Operations Management Society (POMS). The award ceremony occurred in Orlando, Florida, on Tuesday, 23 May 2023.

Martin says he was overwhelmed with surprise, joy, gratitude, and thankfulness when he found out. “It was a surreal experience, a validation of my hard work over the past three years and a reminder of the incredible support I had received. Despite my flaws and limitations, I am humbled and grateful that I have been honoured with this award.”

He developed a framework and factors to quantify emissions associated with the international distribution of fresh fruit from South Africa as international consumers are more and more sensitive to carbon emissions and the effect this has on climate change. His supervisors were Prof Joubert van Eeden (Department of Industrial Engineering) and Prof Leila Goedhals-Gerber (Department of Logistics).

“The framework and factors enable any stakeholder with reasonable knowledge to calculate the carbon footprint and the total emissions produced by the various distribution activities. Results show that the carbon footprint for scenarios where maritime transport is used as a mode for the main carriage varies between 0.31 and 0.84 kg CO2e/kg of fruit. When air transportation is used as a mode for the main carriage, the carbon footprint can be 11.35 kg CO2e/kg of fruit.

“These results confirm the carbon intensity of simply moving fresh fruit from South Africa to consumers in, for example, Europe while maintaining the cold chain. It is certain that the distribution of fresh fruit, like many other commodities, emits a significant amount of emissions, necessitating urgent decarbonisation,” he explains.

Martin and Prof Van Eeden will also be co-presenting at the upcoming 2023 SAPICS Conference in June, where he will introduce delegates to his important carbon mapping framework and associated emission intensity factors for export fruit. Prof van Eeden sees this as an opportunity to introduce this transferrable framework to stakeholders of other exported products. The accurate calculation methodology and in-depth understanding of the products’ emissions might soon prove extremely important when EU countries start implementing Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanisms on carbon-intensive imported products.

With his research, Martin aims to make a difference by addressing the underdeveloped field of sustainable logistics by providing stakeholders with the necessary tools and equipping them to easily and accurately quantify the emissions associated with logistical activities. He says: “Ultimately, we strive to contribute to a more environmentally conscious and efficient supply chain.”

He chose to pursue a PhD in Industrial Engineering because of his curiosity. “If there is no answer, I feel compelled to find or get closer to one! Further, I am passionate about logistics, agriculture, and the industry’s real-world practical problems. I’ve always been fascinated with the South African fruit export industry and its people, which my grandad, Martin van Niekerk, cultivated.”

He wants to give South Africans an edge in the fruit export market through his research. “The industry is the lifeblood of many rural areas, and its future is vital for our beautiful country.”

His advice to current and future PhD students is the following:

  • Pursue your passion: Choose a research topic that genuinely excites and aligns with your interests.
  • Take ownership: Take the initiative in shaping your research path and learning experience.
  • Time management: Develop good time management skills to balance your research, coursework, and personal life.
  • Choose good supervisors: I had the best supervisors. My PhD was possible with their guidance, meticulous attention, resources and time.
  • Take care of yourself: A healthy mind and body are essential for long-term success and good work!
  • Enjoy the journey: Celebrate small victories and remember that pursuing knowledge is a rewarding and fulfilling experience.

📸 – Dr Martin du Plessis, recipient of the esteemed Dino Petrarolo Emerging Economies Doctoral Student Award, exchanges a firm handshake with Dr Dino Petrarolo, the visionary behind the award.