It’s time for the logistics industry to go green

We are at a tipping point when it comes to sustainability in the freight and logistics industry. 

On the one hand, we’ve seen an acceleration in demand for logistics in response to the pandemic, driven by the surge in e-commerce sales in 2020. It has also increased demand for faster dispatch speed of logistics operations – customers will commonly choose speedy delivery or buy single items from different places, meaning sustainability is sacrificed for convenience. 

But at the same time, pressure is mounting on all businesses to ‘go green’, and to embed sustainability into their operations and processes. This is being spearheaded by legislation to try to stem the effects of climate change. The UK Government has set a Net Zero carbon emissions target by 2050, in line with its commitment under the Paris Agreement, while encouraging a green industrial revolution

Just as important, however, is consumers taking sustainability into account in their purchasing decisions. Despite now shopping online in greater numbers and frequency, consumers are conscious of their carbon footprint, particularly the younger generations of consumers. 

This means businesses in every sector are having to rethink their approach to sustainability. Add to this the sobering statistics that between 28,000 and 36,000 people die prematurely in the UK each year because of air pollution, it’s time the freight and logistics industry has a serious discussion about how to go green. 

Big ideas needed to achieve real change  

Schemes like the UK Government’s new £20 million challenge to help make shipping go green is a good start. Elsewhere, more companies like UPS are investing in electronic delivery vehicles

But to truly make a difference environmentally, there needs to be a fundamental shift in approach within the logistics industry. Transport is responsible for a huge chunk of the UK’s carbon emissions. In the last 30 years, van traffic has more than doubled in the UK and there has been a 67 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions from vans, according to a report by the Department for Transport

Black Friday alone in November 2020 released an estimated 429,000 tonnes of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. To put that into perspective, 429,000 tonnes of carbon is equivalent to 435 return flights from London to New York. 

So, while shifting to electricity does have clear environmental benefits, the batteries that power electric vehicles still have limitations. With issues around weight and the harm caused by materials used in their construction, more new and innovative ways are needed to help make the transport industry truly sustainable.  

We need more ideas that drive new and emerging technologies such as hydrogen and don’t simply fall back on trying to electrify existing transport options such as vans and trucks. It’s time then to look at what the green future of the logistics industry will look like. 

Rethinking the delivery model  

Once again innovation has come to the rescue with the creation of new high-capacity delivery systems. 

“Autonomous transportation systems will support speed, accuracy and better use of infrastructure,” notes a PwC report into the future of transport and logistics. 

At Magway, for instance, we are combining linear motor and control technology to magnetise tracks that propel deliveries through a network of pipes less than one meter in diameter. Imagine hyperloop, but for shopping instead of people. In fact, systems such as Magway can remove 90% of online delivery vehicles off our roads, helping reduce congestion and emissions while allowing cities to be built around people and not vehicles. At the same time, logistics businesses benefit from a huge increase in speed, flexibility and resilience as packages are delivered quickly and securely. Once products arrive at a CFC (Customer Fulfilment Centre) they can be offloaded to autonomous and electrified vehicles for the last mile.  

Time to step up 

The global green logistics market is predicted to reach $1.7 billion by 2027 as climate change, carbon emissions and sustainability continue to gain urgency on a worldwide scale. 

With the eyes of the world soon focusing on COP26, now is time for the freight and logistics industry to step up. A full root and branch rethink of operations and systems is needed to shift towards a more sustainable model. Making changes to operations will not just save the planet but also people’s lives. It’s time for change. 

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