Delivery trucks are busier than ever as more shoppers buy online to avoid visiting shops in the midst of the pandemic. But more ‘on-demand’ parcels means more carbon emissions from freight when hundreds of UK local authorities have declared climate emergencies and are developing corresponding decarbonisation plans. We asked our Sustainable Future Transport Lead Gavin Bailey what this means for the freight industry. Gavin said:

Swapping trucks not the answer

“Many in the industry believe that switching from fossil-fuel powered trucks to electric is the answer, Amazon mentions it in its recently announced plans to be carbon neutral by 2040, but the decarbonisation of fleet, is only part of the answer. To adapt to the current circumstances freight needs to change the system it operates in, that means a different way of ordering, consuming, and shipping goods. Electric vehicles still cause large quantities of air pollution from tyre and brake wear. The production of electric vehicles isn’t clean either, it’s water-intense and uses rare minerals. We need to be considered so we don’t rush from fossil-fuels to unsustainable rare mineral extraction and damage other ecosystems. Research shows that there isn’t the supply of minerals to support a like-for-like transition to electrification across the transport sector. In addition to this, a reduction of vehicles on the roads can help to reduce congestion which has been estimated to cost the UK billions each year. These are some of the reasons why reducing the amount of freight traffic should be a cornerstone to making the industry more sustainable.

A system not fit for purpose

“The freight and logistics sector is highly reactive, responding to the requirements of increasingly demanding customers who want same-day and next-day deliveries. This consumer behaviour adds unpredictability and volatility to the freight and logistics sector, diminishing the scope of environmental sustainability. In the absence of pricing mechanisms to encourage consumers to be more flexible in terms of when they require their goods, data and collaboration are key to achieving sustainability. Accurate and current data, which can be analysed in a timely fashion in which it is still relevant, would allow operators to plan the use of their vehicles more effectively and enable greater visibility of what is going where, and when. This greater visibility could potentially unlock collaborative benefits, enabling the exploitation of usable empty capacity within the freight system to improve the forward supply chain, and backhaul dry bulk waste.

A new but tried and tested roadmap

To map this sort of system out competing retailers would need to collaborate. It has been done before, energy service providers can buy energy from another supplier when customers outstrip demand through the Energy Trading System, or train companies split fares across long journeys. At Eunomia, we have developed and optimised waste and recycling collection systems delivered by Refuse Collection Vehicles for local governments around the world. In this context we take account of budgetary and resource constraints, limited data to work with, driving routes in different contexts, pressures to decarbonise, and more. The freight sector faces some of the same challenges the resource sector has already overcome, and one solution to the mounting problems freight faces could be developing franchises, where local authorities contract a company to manage deliveries in their area on behalf of retailers. This is quite a shift, but with all of government and industry under pressure to protect citizens from the current climate crisis and environmental killers like air pollution, companies who want to remain competitive should look at how they can adapt to this new normal and remain sustainable. While any retailer serious about their environmental declarations should scrap their next day, next hour, deliveries and tell their now very environmentally conscious customers why.”


Image courtesy of Thomas Hawk via Flikr CC BY 2.0.