In a planet ravaged by pollution, the result of industrial processes and polluting emissions, the future of the environment depends on how we decide to handle this emergency. Given the impossibility of curbing the activities responsible for pollution, as they are essential to our livelihood, the goal of modern society is to reduce the harmful effects they have on the environment. And this is where sustainable logistics, sometimes also called environmental logistics, comes into play.
Objective truth is that the Earth is suffering more and more each year due to global warming, caused by the emission of harmful gases into the atmosphere that change the climatic conditions to which humans, animals and plants are commonly accustomed and lead to the melting of glaciers, thus raising water levels. In the long run, effects that might at first seem almost imperceptible are leading to a radical change for all the Earth’s inhabitants. To help reduce this within a few years, at least in the transport sector, sustainable logistics has stepped in, which is gaining the interest of many companies and which the SMET Group has already been practising for some time.
Sustainable logistics: introduction
Logistics, when oriented towards solving environmental problems, is an essential strategic key to development and innovation. In fact, environmental sustainability represents a real opportunity for growth and not a brake on the economy, the secret for a more liveable and eco-developed future, which does not lack the competitive component between the various economic systems, fundamental for the growth of the sectors themselves. The primary aim of sustainable logistics, therefore, is to allow companies to grow in a respectful and sustainable manner, even achieving a perfect balance between the financial needs of the company and the ecological needs of the environment.
Environmental logistics is undoubtedly more costly than conventional logistics, as it involves the adaptation of business processes in the distribution area or a more or less drastic change of infrastructure in the intra-logistics area. In spite of this, it provides numerous alternatives and endless means to make one’s efforts meaningful and finally take a step towards eco-sustainability for companies. Some of the main tools to succeed are renewable energies, hybrid and integrated carbon footprints and, finally, moving away from fossil fuels, as well as recycling and reusing products. So, what is sustainable logistics?
Sustainable logistics: what it is and what means it uses
Sustainable logistics, or green logistics, refers to the set of updates, measures and policies that aim to rework all logistics and product transport, delivery and recycling activities from an environmental perspective. This collaborative logistics between companies makes it possible to develop business activities while minimising environmental impact. The challenge launched by the European Union to reduce CO2 emissions in Europe by more than 50 per cent has been accepted and companies intend to use environmentally sustainable logistics policies to meet it. Sticking to these, everything must be reviewed, updated and modified to be more eco-friendly, starting from the transport of materials and semi-finished and finished products, to the recycling of packaging, from the emission of harmful substances due to production, to the possibility of producing goods having already planned a way to recycle them later.
All that needs to be done is to start transforming processes and products in a way that is sustainable, more efficient and more respectful of the quality of life. This also involves reducing waste, optimising consumption and encouraging reuse. The challenges for green logistics are numerous, in particular it is necessary to look for a solution that leads to:
- the reduction of pollution by analysing the current environmental impact;
- the implementation of a green chain in which both goods and packaging are created from recyclable material;
- the optimisation of resources such as energy, space, containers and packaging.
Despite these major challenges, there are also numerous advantages of adopting sustainable logistics. Firstly, there is a great competitive advantage created by environmental policies among different companies. This is not only because renewable energies and recyclable materials lower energy costs, but also because customers are increasingly looking for eco-sustainability nowadays, which means that the company gains positive publicity and greater notoriety in a landscape where eco-friendly companies are still a minority. As mentioned earlier, sustainable logistics harnesses different resources to ensure that the policies adopted have the desired effects. Among these, the most well-known and fundamental ones are highlighted.
Non-polluting means of transport
It is certainly no secret that the biggest contributor to urban pollution in modern society is smog, emitted by private and non-private, petrol and diesel vehicles stuck in city traffic. Already problematic enough before, the traffic continues to increase due to the large volumes of deliveries generated by e-commerce. An excellent solution to this problem, which has been plaguing the air of towns and population centres for years now, is the use of electrically driven vehicles in urban distribution. It reduces CO2 emissions and noise pollution, and solves possible problems with tolls and traffic bans. Many environmentally friendly companies make use of scooters or cargo bikes, four-wheeled, pedal-assisted ‘bicycles’ with a battery-electric motor and a large heavy-duty carrier. Transport by rail vehicles is already widely used. Interesting from a logistical point of view would be to work on vehicles that transport by road: using trucks with a high Euro classification (4, 5 and 6) reduces diesel consumption and CO2 emissions per kilometre travelled. Even heavy-duty vehicles now use engines powered by non-conventional fuels (biogas, compressed methane, liquefied methane), which not only drastically reduce emissions but also achieve high performance with minimal noise.
Dependence on fossil fuels is still a deeply felt and sensitive issue, so the solutions applied are not entirely safe and definitive. At the moment, there is talk of an ecological motorway or eHighway, which has already achieved not inconsiderable popularity in Sweden. This is an experimental project, which consists of connecting lorries to a network of electric cables that allows heavy transports to hook up and unhook when needed. If all goes well, electric roads will be built with overhead lines for electric or hybrid trucks, and the entire concept of ‘road’ as we know it today would then be revolutionised. Not to mention the countless positive impacts this would have on the environment (the bigger the petrol-powered vehicle, the heavier the transport, the greater the CO2 emission). Hydrogen fuel cell technology is also undergoing various tests to ensure its success.
Environmentally sustainable infrastructures
Infrastructure refers in particular to warehouses. Old warehouses have to be renovated and optimised, new ones have to be built in better conditions, with higher surfaces and heights, and be more efficient in the selection of construction and recycling materials. The main objective is to make the warehouse self-sufficient and capable of producing clean energy. Soon, it will also be possible for green warehouses to achieve process automation, through the use of intelligent electrical systems with motion sensors to exclusively illuminate work areas and robotic solutions to perform traditional handling, storage and order picking tasks in a technological manner, without the help of labour.
Sustainable logistics: why is it important?
As we have observed, the actions of companies undermine the health of the planet on countless fronts and climate change, compromised by the emission of CO2, methane and other similar gases (CO2 equivalents), is the most at risk of all. The goal set by the 2015 Paris Accords is to hold the temperature increase constant at only 2 per cent, but this will be impossible if the emission of harmful gases is not significantly reduced within a short period of time. For this reason, adopting the policies of sustainable logistics is important. If the measures suggested by green logistics are followed, all companies will fulfil their promise and their environmental impact will be halved. We will all see the difference in the quality of air and life in general, which is expected to improve within a few years of perseverance. Now, all that remains is to convert the last remaining companies with conventional logistics, but the scenario is not entirely far-fetched.