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Sustainability Now Central To Last-Mile Delivery

While the transportation industry is highly dependent on fossil fuels, there are several sustainability solutions to achieve a reduction in emissions, the benefits of improved fuel efficiency, and a lower logistics carbon footprint.

What this blog is about:

  • Freight transportation’s positioning in the market

  • The impact of the transportation industry on emissions and sustainability

  • Tips and technology to reduce emissions and lower costs

  • Decarbonization initiatives within the government and private sectors

  • Emerging technologies for sustainable logistics

For as long as I’ve worked in transportation, sustainability has always been a challenging topic and an opportunity for improvement. Today, the industry remains highly dependent on fossil fuels despite long-time efforts to manage and reduce our carbon footprint. Sustainability efforts can be secular and correlate to the viability of the freight market. When market indices are strong, organizations tend to invest in sustainability programs, but in cases when the market softens, or experiences reduced demand, it can become an undervalued issue where there is little willingness to pay for a better future.

Planning For Carbon-Free Logistics

The industry is extremely fossil-fuel dependent today, with most freight being transported by road.

In January 2020, the World Economic Forum’s report The Future of the Last-Mile Ecosystem forecasted that, by 2030, the number of delivery vehicles in cities will increase by 36%, leading to a 32% rise in emissions and 21% increase in congestion. This is no small challenge to manage emissions given that freight transportation is a particularly tricky sector to decarbonize. The industry is extremely fossil-fuel dependent today, with most freight being transported by road. In almost any major city, about 30% of transportation emissions can be attributed to the freight industry.

The rapidly growing sector forecasts the global market for trucks of 6 tons and higher will increase from about $177 billion in 2015 to $283 billion in 2025. Trucks also account for 40% of the expected growth in oil demand up to 2040 and are targets for governments and manufacturers who need to decarbonize to reach net-zero carbon goals.

Designing Programs To Reduce Emissions And Costs

Here are 6 ways the industry can reduce carbon emissions and costs.

  1. Improve powertrain efficiency

  2. Low-emission and electric engines

  3. Aerodynamic retrofits

  4. Low-rolling-resistance tires

  5. Reduced idle time and lightweight materials

  6. Fewer carbon fuels

Business and government sectors are focused on smart mobility, smart energy grids and electrification, with a specific focus on logistics. Several key themes include:

Traffic Management

  • Traffic management and optimization facilitated through connected smart sensors, location-based applications, intelligent infrastructure and IoT swarm algorithms all working together to make traffic, driving, loading/unloading, and parking more efficient.

Smart Infrastructure

  • Exhaust-related and uninterrupted tolls can reduce emissions, as can smart truck parking. IoT connected, clean electric vehicles mean connecting people, infrastructure, and intermediaries with low-to-no carbon emissions. For example, mobile apps and data distribution can enable truck-sharing and smart automation platforms to help organize trans-shipment processes for carbon-neutral distribution services.

Route Optimization

  • Real-time information and data sharing can also influence carrier route choice and driver behavior towards lower-carbon options. Connecting vehicles, products, and freight cargo information improve route and fuel optimization while reducing carbon waste in the system.

 Public And Private Sectors Must Collaborate

At the core of any urban freight transport decarbonization initiative are four things:

  1. Cooperation

  2. Functioning business models

  3. Innovative around procurement and regulation

  4. Low-emission and electric vehicles

Any changes directed to decarbonization must involve both the public and private industry sectors. The core focus of modern-day research looks at creating business models for urban freight solutions. The public authority plays a vital role in creating the right framework, access, and conditions for a higher level of sustainability.

Current electrification efforts and electric truck batteries used to power alternative fuel vehicles are gaining on long range utilization.

These carbon-related challenges in logistics can also be opportunities for tech or other start-ups, NGOs, and new government divisions. Current electrification efforts and electric truck batteries used to power alternative fuel vehicles are gaining on long range utilization. Tesla and other OEMs are investing in viable electric trucks. Some companies are also looking for alternatives by rail or waterways, avoiding the transport of goods by road altogether. Smaller range operations are fertile ground for the adoption of electric vehicles, as city emission regulations push delivery companies to convert much of their fleet to electric vehicles.

The US government continues to implement plans to accelerate and deploy electric vehicles and charging stations. A combination of grant and incentive programs for state and local governments and the private sector support a transformational acceleration in the deployment of chargers.

City governments could take a page from Amazon’s playbook and set central lockers for efficient, theft-proof deliveries. Many brands, merchants, and couriers can drop packages in these self-service safes for customers to pick up at their convenience. There is no reason for these parcel stores to be stationary. They could become autonomous mobile robots that transport multiple packages to a specific neighborhood or destination, such as a college or university.

 Technology: A Powerful Ally To Combat GHG

Although diesel vans dominate the parcel delivery market, they diversified in recent years with a range of modes and services emerging. These include electric vehicles, drones, autonomous vehicles and delivery bots, parcel lockers, and drop-off points. The market has also adopted walking, cycling, and light-powered delivery solutions, such as cargo bikes, e-cargo bikes, electric scooters, e-walkers, and e-micro vehicles.

By combining integrated deep data analytics, customized EV, and sustainable engineering, businesses can start adopting e-mobility models that address the environmental challenge while reducing costs and optimizing their last-mile operations.

Other policy opportunities and mechanisms could also be introduced to encourage a shift towards more sustainable logistics, taking a more data-driven approach. These mechanisms could include dynamic IoT swarm routing, smart loading lanes, curb side loading/unloading, shared multimodal micro-hubs, load pooling, and collaborative acquisitions.

All-sized businesses can focus on practical actions to achieve significant emissions reduction and realize the commercial benefits of improved fuel efficiency and a more sustainable logistics process.

Many of these solutions require considerable effort because they are still in the early stages of deployment and adoption. Still, first-mover advantage will make a competitive difference for companies that are already on the path to sustainability. All-sized businesses can focus on practical actions to achieve significant emissions reduction and realize the commercial benefits of improved fuel efficiency and a more sustainable logistics process.

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