Nowadays logistics is essential for almost any type of business. The ongoing discussion on climate change has recently led to the development of a new concept that goes by the name of “sustainable logistics”: a series of practices and processes which aim at improving the sustainability of supply-chain activities, ranging from the supply of raw materials to the transformation processes, the packaging, the storage, the distribution and the management of the end-of-life cycle of products.
Also known as “green logistics”, this new approach targets the reduction of the environmental footprint by considering all the companies’ logistics activities which may impact not only the environment but also economy and society in general.
There are four main macro-areas that support the implementation of sustainable logistics:
environmentally friendly transportation and sustainable sources of energy;
conscious suppliers who respect and embrace the company’s environmental standards;
an optimized use of space and the reduction of waste caused by damages occurred during transportation;
the replacement of traditional packaging with sustainable ones.
Achieving sustainability in transportation – which is one of my main responsibilities at work – is probably the first and easiest step a company should take in order to implement a greener approach to logistics. When it comes to selecting the less polluting way of shipping goods, on average sea and rail freights are to be preferred over air freight.
As a matter of fact, sea freight produces only 0,7% emissions compared to air freight: 10 tons of freight carried in a 20 feet container from Shanghai to Long Beach (CA, USA) generate 320 kg of CO2, compared to 45,5 tons of CO2 if the freight is carried by plane for the same distance. Sea freight is also strictly regulated, thus making it one of the most advanced ways of transporting goods in terms of pollution containment and decreased energy consumption.
Back in January 2020, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) implemented its “IMO 2020”: a rule that limits the sulphur in the fuel oil used on board ships operating outside designated emission control areas to 0.50% m/m (mass by mass). With the intent of halving the emissions of the global maritime sector by 2050, last September IMO also made an appeal to 200 industry leaders in order to reach full decarbonization by 2050. Many important companies have already taken steps to achieve this goal: Maersk, for instance, has recently purchased 12 ocean-going container vessels capable of being operated on carbon neutral methanol in order to accomplish its entire fleet decarbonization by 2040.
To accelerate decarbonization, a recent study suggested the implementation of “green corridors”: specific trade routes between major port hubs where zero-emission solutions are supported. These green corridors would also allow policy makers to create an ecosystem with targeted regulatory measures which would support the use of green fuel and green vessels, financial incentives for smarter customs activities and safety regulations to protect both the health of the people and of the planet.
Similar initiatives are being pursued in the air freight sector as well. Although – as previously stated – this option is more polluting than sea freight, its faster shipping time still makes it a favorite choice by many businesses. In this perspective the French-Dutch airline Air France-KLM, that is planning to reach net zero emissions by 2050, has recently committed to setting additional CO2 reduction targets by halving them per passenger/km by 2030 if compared to 2005, and by then they expect to reach zero emissions for ground operations.
Between 2019 and 2021, the Group invested 2.5 billion euros in fleet renewal with new generation aircraft emitting 20 to 25% less CO2 and the process is still underway. In addition to this, last January, the Group carried out the world’s first commercial passenger flight from Amsterdam to Madrid, partially fueled by synthetic kerosene produced by Shell in a sustainable way, using CO2, water and renewable energy from sun and wind from Dutch soil.
All these initiatives bring hope for the future. Yet, as Robert Swan used to say, “the greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it”. This is why we believe that everyone should be actively involved in this great effort towards a green transition: companies, governments and individuals alike. The process has started but we are still at the beginning. More investments are needed and not just from a financial standpoint: the benefits on the long term will pay us all back for the “sacrifices” we are called to make.