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e-LRN 2020

29 September 2020

Logo for academic conference on logistics

Sustainable and resilient supply chains in times of crises was the focus of a three-day virtual conference hosted by Cardiff University and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport UK between 9-11 September 2020.

Due to restrictions surrounding the COVID-19 global pandemic, the annual conference - now in its 25th year – was scaled back to an online event, hosted on Zoom Webinar, so as not to forgo the time and effort of organisers and contributors, and also to maintain the sharing of findings from research projects internationally for which the conference is known.

And so, the e-LRN 2020 Special Web Conference got underway on Wednesday 9 September 2020 with ten research streams run in parallel with expert leads in each session.

Stream themes varied from ‘Crisis and Disruption Management’, to ‘Making logistics more sustainable’. Authors had five minutes to present their research, followed by a panel discussion at the end of each session led by Stream chairs.

Screenshot of e-conference panellists
e-LRN 2020 panellists

Mohamed Naim, Professor in Logistics and Operations Management at Cardiff University and Chair of the e-LRN 2020 Organising committee, said: “Having such special streams is an innovation for the LRN Conference, which has greatly enhanced diversity and inclusivity with many new faces joining us for the first time. We had a record breaking 758 registrations...”

“The online format provided a taster of people’s research endeavours and provided a means for feedback and reflections. Such activity was particularly important for our PhD and early career researchers who will be our next generation logistics and supply chain management practitioners and academics.”

Professor Mohamed Naim Head of the Logistics and Operations Management Section, Professor in Logistics and Operations Management, Co-Director of CAMSAC

Cardiff University’s 4th ILEGO Workshop followed in the afternoon, led by Professor Maneesh Kumar and Dr Vasco Sanchez Rodrigues with support from final year PhD student Nadine Leder all from Cardiff Business School.

This year’s workshop focused on creating a loop by unlocking the value of circular business models.

Joseph Sarkis, Professor of Operations and Environmental Management at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Massachusetts, delivered the workshop’s keynote address, which asked if ‘circular economy principles can help address and recover from a socially and economically disruptive Black Swan event?’

Dr Vasco Sanchez Rodrigues, Reader in Logistics and Operations Management at Cardiff Business School, iLEGO Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the e-LRN 2020 Organising committee commented: “e-LRN2020 had three main aims – to organise the first virtual LRN conference, bring more practice to our academic community, and respond to COVID-19. I would say we excelled in those...”

“The conference was current and innovative with cutting edge outputs, such as the integration of the 4th iLEGO workshop into the schedule. E-LRN2020 showcased the applied research the LRN community generates and expanded the LRN network to a global audience from industry and academia.”

Professor Vasco Sanchez Rodrigues Professor in Sustainable Supply Chain Management

Major advances and future research challenges

The main conference event took place on Thursday 10 September and was delivered through a morning and afternoon session.

The sessions consisted of keynote practitioners, academic speakers and stream leaders, who gave summary presentations on major advances and future research challenges for their topic, finishing with a panel discussion.

Professor Rachel Ashworth, Dean of Cardiff Business School, welcomed participants to the morning session.

She explained how this year’s conference theme is closely linked to Cardiff Business School’s Public Value commitment, which recognises that there is more to business than economic success.

She explained the importance of bringing humanity, sustainability, generosity and innovation to the business sector together as a community of Logistics and Operations Management academics and practitioners.

A keynote presentation from Alan McKinnon, Professor of Logistics at Kühne Logistics University, Hamburg, followed Professor Ashworth’s address.

Graeme MacKay cartoon depicting subsequent waves of climate change, Brexit and COVID-19
© Graeme MacKay

His presentation focused on logistics and supply chain management in a post-COVID world. Professor McKinnon provided a broad overview of the potentially transformational impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on logistics systems and supply chains.

“We talk about a second wave of COVID-19, but the supply chain is actually dealing with three waves: COVID, Brexit and Climate Change. Perhaps the COVID wave is the least damaging of these.”

Professor Alan McKinnon Kühne Logistics University, Hamburg

Paul Clarke CBE, Chief Technology Officer at Ocado, followed Professor McKinnon with a keynote address on ‘Building an Internet of Atoms’.

In his talk, Paul explored a vision for how we might move food, freight, and all sorts of other atoms around with greater efficiency, scalability, sustainability, and resilience.

Sarah Lethbridge led the panel discussion to end the morning session, with all speakers and stream leaders attending as panel members.

Plastic pollution and health services

After a pause for lunch, the afternoon session begun with keynote speaker Susan Jay, Sector Specialist at WRAP UK.

Slide from conference presentation
Conference slide outlining the UK Plastics Pact

Susan discussed the UK Plastics Pact and how major brands, retailers, manufacturers and the waste sector have come together to address plastic pollution.

She also explored the impact COVID-19 has had on different parts of the plastics supply chain – some good, and some not so good – and the impact this might have on delivering the goals aligned to the UK Plastics Pact over the next five years.

Caroline Barber, Chief Executive at Translaid, was the final keynote speaker of the conference. Her presentation, entitled: ‘The importance of building resilient and sustainable supply chains in tackling mortality in low- and middle-income countries; Experiences from Zambia and Uganda’, explored the impact COVID-19 has had on already stretched health services.

She stressed the importance of ensuring an integrated response in a pandemic to ensure that we do not allow a reversal in gains made tackling child and maternal mortality.

Professor Joseph Sarkis joined the keynote speakers and stream leaders for the afternoon’s panel discussion.

Joseph Sarkis said: “The mix of practitioners and academics was a very wonderful aspect of this electronic conference. It’s clear that all involved were passionate about their topic...”

“The experience—although virtual—was enlivening. We need to have more of these events, in person or virtually, that bring together multiple communities including, business, government, NGOs, and academia. It was a very transdisciplinary experience.”

Professor Joseph Sarkis Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Massachusetts

“Including the synthesis of debates and main themes from the special stream sessions in to the webinar event enabled all participants to get an understanding of the topics and themes discussed.”

Professor Emrah Demir Professor of Operational Research, The PARC Professor of Manufacturing and Logistics

The eLRN 2020 PhD workshop rounded off proceedings at eLRN 2020, taking place on Friday 11 September, with a record 56 participants registering for the event.

Dr Irina Harris, Reader in Logistics and Operations Modelling at Cardiff Business School, together with Ed Sweeney, Professor of Logistics and Systems at Aston University,Birmingham, Maria Huge-Brodin Professor of Environmental Logistics Management at Linköping University, and Dr Graeme Heron, Senior University Teacher in Operations Management and Continuous Improvement at the University of Sheffield, facilitated the workshop.

Aimed at doctoral students, the workshop allowed participants to get expert advice from the facilitators and share challenges and learnings with their peer network.

Professor Sweeney said: “e-LRN2020 was our first virtual conference and it attracted a record number of delegates. The quality and range of research presented was outstanding, as were the contributions of the various invited keynote speakers. There was a strong focus on the real-world application of research with many delegates from industry and from public policy making entities...”

“The event's success was due in no small measure to the professionalism and hard work of the Cardiff Business School organising committee, which worked in close collaboration to the CILT events team and the LRN committee which I am privileged to chair.”

Professor Ed Sweeney Professor of Logistics and Systems at Aston University, Birmingham

“We now look forward optimistically to our community meeting in person in Cardiff in 2021,” he added.

The Logistics Research Network, part of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, is the UK's leading network for those involved in research and scholarship in supply chain logistics and allied fields.

The e-LRN 2020 Organising Committee included: Emrah Demir (Programme Chair), Beverly Francis (Conference Officer), Allison Glandfield (CILT Events Manager), Irina Harris (Lead Guest Editor - Special Issues), Lucy Hemmings (CILT Events Coordinator), Angharad Kearse, Communications Officer, Mohamed M. Naim (Conference Chair), Stephen Pettit (Specialist Streams Chair), Vasco Sanchez Rodrigues (Conference Co-Chair) and Xiaobei Wang (Conference Programme Co-Chair).

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