Reducing the impact of transport on the environment with sustainable logistics

Globalization and, more recently, the growth of e-commerce, stimulated by the pandemic crisis, have led to an exponential development of the transport of goods and consumer products at an international level, contributing to an increase in pollution, CO2, the use of natural resources and energy sources, with an increasingly significant impact on our planet.

How polluting it is to transport goods and people

According to the ITF Transport Outlook report, which is published every two years by the International Transport Forum of the OECD, the transport sector – which involves both the movement of goods and people – accounts for 23% of global CO2 emissions. A figure which, however, is expected to grow steadily, since the study estimates that by 2050 the demand for passenger transport could increase by 79%, while that of goods could even double.

If all the decarbonisation measures already envisaged in the transport sector are implemented – the document specifies – it would be possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by only 3%, thus not reaching the objectives indicated by the Paris Agreement to contain global warming.

In summary, according to the OECD analysis, to significantly reduce the environmental impact of the transport sector, more aggressive actions are needed, which favor and encourage increasingly sustainable modes of transport. Only in this way does the International Transport Forum hope that it will be possible to reduce the level of harmful emissions deriving from the sector by 80% compared to 2019 values by 2050. A goal that must be pursued jointly and across the board, with the collaboration of all the stakeholders involved, from the institutions to the industrial system, leading not only to the decarbonisation of the transport system, but also to the development of truly sustainable local and global logistics for our planet.

Green Logistics

The key role of sustainable logistics

More and more often we talk about Green Logistics, but what does it mean? Green or sustainable logistics concerns the adoption of measures and technological solutions that make it possible to minimize the impacts of transport operations and all those activities directly connected to the logistics itself. Think therefore of the procurement of material, inventory management, goods storage, product packaging, order fulfillment practices, up to shipments. Unfortunately, each of these phases has its own environmental and social consequence, which involves the use of energy sources, the release of pollutants into nature, the use of specialized personnel, and so on. By promoting the sustainability of logistics activities, it’s possible to reduce the negative effects that the handling of goods and their marketing can have on the community and on the planet, in the medium and long term. Let’s see how.

1. Choose low-impact mobility

If transporting goods is indispensable, it’s important to start doing it in the most responsible and sustainable way possible. With the measures envisaged by the Green Deal, the European Union aims to reduce emissions generated by transport by 90% by 2050, in order to achieve climate neutrality. Specifically, with the strategy for sustainable and intelligent mobility adopted by the European Commission in 2020, it aims to encourage electric mobility by 2030, to double freight traffic by rail (less polluting than road traffic), to promote the production and dissemination of zero-emission vehicles, ships and aircraft, renewable and low-carbon fuels, also encouraging the creation of all infrastructures connected to their use. But the “cleaner” management of transport is only one of the aspects concerning the sustainability of commercial logistics.

Green Logistics

2. Improve the environmental impact of the supply chain

Making logistics more sustainable also implies, on the part of companies, optimizing the chain of suppliers and partners operating within the production chain. This means, optimizing batch management and delivery frequencies to reduce the number of transports, at the same time reducing costs and CO2 emissions, but also encouraging collaboration between the actors involved by promoting greater visibility, transparency, access to data in real time, in order to prevent errors, better plan deliveries and avoid interrupting supply chains, increasing efficiency along the entire supply chain.

3. Digitize processes to increase sustainability

Thanks to the digitization of the production and distribution system and the use of enabling technologies, it’s possible to improve the management of the supply chain and logistics activities. The use of artificial intelligence tools makes it possible, for example, to collect order trend data, to organize the inventory and to optimize the planning of deliveries and transport routes. This information can be used to predict the evolution of logistics operations and collect useful information to understand how to improve each work phase, reducing costs, times and the environmental impact of each process. Furthermore, the tracking and real-time visibility of shipments allow you to optimize resources and efficiently manage any unexpected events.

4. Reduce delivery distances

The recent pandemic has caused slowdowns and often disruption of supply chains, showing the vulnerability of logistics networks globally. This has led to the development of the so-called nearshoring or the localization of the supply chain, with a view to bringing producers and suppliers of products and services closer together. This is an important market approach which, in addition to counteracting the negative effects of production relocation, allows for the reduction of unforeseen events and supply risks, with a positive impact on the environment. Shortening distances in the freight transport sector also has an important value in the management of last mile logistics, i.e. all operations involving the delivery of a package from the moment it leaves the distribution hub until it reaches its destination the final. This is a very important issue for companies in the e-commerce sector, which with the opening and support of proximity warehouses can contain costs and the pollution caused by long-distance deliveries.

Green Logistics

5. Adopt sustainable packaging solutions

The improvement of logistics operations also concerns the use of eco-friendly packaging solutions. This means trying to design more sustainable packaging, already considering the environmental repercussions linked to their production, use and final disposal upstream. At the same time, it’s important to reduce the use and volume of the packaging itself, prompting companies to change operating methods, which favor packaging recovery, recycling and reuse actions, creating less waste, less waste of resources and less pollution. Automating product palletization processes helps speed up these processing phases, lowering costs and energy consumption, while many companies are already adopting closed-loop recycling processes, planning to package their products in a circular perspective – based on recovery, recycling and reuse.

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