By Lindsay Key

Operating “sustainably” is a feather in the cap for any company today, no matter whether it’s situated in the field of technology, tourism, transportation, or elsewhere. The global crisis of climate change has led informed citizens to strategically support businesses that can claim this important distinction. On top of that, many executives feel personally driven to develop practices that benefit society and the environment. But what does it mean to be sustainable? 

Andrew Ernest, an Online Master of Natural Resources (OMNR) student at Virginia Tech’s Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability, is helping his employer, FourKites, define sustainability and develop an actionable plan to operate sustainably. FourKites is a real-time supply chain visibility platform that major global companies use to track and manage their freight.

“Over 380 of the world’s largest companies are shipping products all over the world and using FourKites to gain insight into their freight in transit,” said Andrew. “We plot the movement of the carriers in real time on our platform so our customers can log in and see exactly where their product is, and get better insight into ETAs and any weather or traffic delays. This allows them to figure out where some of the bottlenecks are, and helps them make more informed decisions about how to move products from point A to point B.”

Ernest, who is based in Chicago, Illinois, began working as an Operations Associate at FourKites in May 2019. Previously, he worked as a Lead Vehicle Movement Specialist at Tesla. At FourKites, Andrew is responsible for leading all sustainability initiatives and collaborating with customers to find sustainable solutions to reduce supply chain emissions. He created the FourKites Sustainability Center of Excellence, which helps customers lower their carbon footprint and make more sustainable decisions in their supply chains.

At first, Andrew, who received an undergraduate degree in business from North Park University, resisted the idea of getting a Master’s degree.“I didn’t know if the time and the commitment was worth it,” he said. “Can you just drop everything and go and do a degree? Probably not, for most folks.”

But as he grew in his role at FourKites, he realized that technical knowledge in the field of sustainability would help him to make more informed decisions. Plus, he found Virginia Tech’s Online Master of Natural Resources degree program, which allows professionals to complete all coursework online and in a flexible format while continuing to work.

“I spoke to a recent Virginia Tech MNR graduate when I was in the process of figuring out if I wanted to go, and just getting his firsthand experience about it was pretty incredible,” explained Andrew. “You can learn so much from the program, and the professors, and their backgrounds. It’s obviously a top tier school when it comes to the sustainability field. It just made sense to go after it and become a Hokie.” 

His supervisors at FourKites have been very supportive of his participation in the degree. “The research on how companies can reduce the environmental impact of their supply chain continues to grow, and we’re proud to be a part of the conversation through our Sustainability Center of Excellence,” said Susie Bodnar, Director of Operations & Client Strategy at FourKites.“It’s a huge benefit to have employees, such as Andrew, who are knowledgeable about this topic so that we can support our customers on their sustainability journey.”

While sustainability is important for all companies, it’s especially important for the transportation sector, because the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States currently comes from transportation, writes Matt Elenjickal, CEO and Founder of FourKites.

“As shippers optimize their internal freight networks, they increasingly turn to each other to identify complementary lanes on which they might share capacity, thereby even further reducing empty backhaul miles,” he elaborates. “This collaboration was almost impossible five years ago, as companies lacked the data to effectively identify mutually beneficial lanes with other companies.”

But “the growing adoption of real-time visibility software has led to a network of shippers armed with the necessary information to effectively collaborate to reach their sustainability targets,” writes Elenjickal. “We at FourKites, the largest predictive visibility platform on the market, are wholeheartedly committed to sustainable practices, and to helping our customers meet their sustainability goals.”

Andrew Ernest

Andrew Ernest started the Online Master of Natural Resources program in May 2020 and plans to complete it in 2022.