Grafik-Quelle: Bundesumweltamtonline

Logistics industry under pressure: sustainable from the first to the last mile

Globalization is causing markets to grow together and the exchange of goods to intensify. The resulting increase in CO₂ emissions means that many companies in the logistics sector have also taken up the cause of sustainability. We are seeing a paradigm shift in the industry: the need for green logistics – sustainable logistics – is increasingly becoming the core of environmentally friendly corporate policy. Sustainability is increasingly being addressed both in annual reports and in the external communication of transport companies. However, the need for green logistics is also putting many companies under pressure. Guest author Julia Sanchez explains exactly what green logistics is all about and what challenges and opportunities exist for the future.

The impact of logistics on the environment

As an export nation, the logistics sector is particularly important for Germany. In 2022, the sector generated a turnover of around 310 billion euros in Germany. Efficient and smooth flows of goods are crucial for the competitiveness of German companies on the global market. In this international environment, however, another factor has been added in recent years: the issue of sustainability. As the figure shows, traffic and transportation account for around 20 percent of total CO₂ emissions. The impact on the environment in this sector is therefore enormous.

In 2020, CO2e emissions from freight transport totalled 58.10 million tons. This is an increase of around 60 percent compared to 1991. As freight and delivery vehicles mainly use fossil fuels, road freight transport accounted for 97.5 percent of total CO2e emissions in 2020. Rail accounts for 0.26 percent and inland shipping for around 2 percent. Growing globalization and the increasing movement of goods contribute to CO2 pollution.

The waste factor is also particularly important in the logistics sector. Inefficient logistics processes generate huge amounts of waste. Over-packaging, inadequate take-back systems and inefficient route planning lead to a waste of resources and an increase in the volume of waste.

The impact that traffic and transportation have on the necessary reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is correspondingly large. The 2022 review shows that Germany was unable to achieve the climate protection targets for the transport sector in 2022. It is clear that sustainable transportation and supply chains not only offer environmental benefits, but can also be economically more efficient and competitive in the long term.

How do logistics processes work?

Logistics is defined as the process of planning and executing the transportation of goods from the point of origin to the point of consumption and their storage. These processes are complex, as different types of transportation have to work together to ensure a smooth supply chain. The main modes of transportation are air, sea, rail and road. The so-called last mile, i.e. the final stretch of goods and parcels to the front door, is carried out by vans. In cities, these are often already electrically powered or are delivered via cargo bikes or other small urban vehicles.

Which means of transportation is the right one depends on various factors. Air transport enables fast deliveries over long distances and is particularly important for urgent or high-value goods. Shipping is ideal for transporting large quantities over long distances and is extremely important in international trade. Rail is efficient and sustainable, especially for freight transportation on longer inland routes. Road transportation is flexible and enables direct delivery to the customer’s address. Today’s logistics industry is global, so the different transportation options are usually integrated to ensure supply chains.

While the railroads are aiming for completely climate-neutral transportation by 2040, it will still take some time in other areas. Achieving a climate-neutral road transport industry depends on the development of emission-free vehicle technologies and the establishment of charging infrastructure. While “last mile” logistics will increasingly transport and deliver in a climate-neutral manner in the coming years, the conversion of truck fleets will still take some time. This is particularly due to the lack of a consistent charging and refueling infrastructure. According to the Federal Association of the German Air Transport Industry, kerosene consumption in air traffic falls by around 25 percent with each new generation of aircraft. However, climate-neutral flying, which the aviation industry is currently predicting by 2050, is unrealistic according to science. According to forecasts, air traffic will double by then, possibly even triple – so much synthetically produced kerosene or other sustainable fuels cannot be produced by then. It will also be decades before ships are completely climate-neutral.

So there are big differences between the individual sectors and when they will transport in a climate-neutral way. How individual logistics companies operate is described in the next section.

Transport companies invest in electromobility

Germany aims to become climate-neutral by 2045. This goal cannot be achieved without the logistics industry. Major transport companies have already set corresponding targets and made corresponding investments:

Deutsche Bahn wants to be completely climate-neutral by 2040, including in freight transport.

DPD is planning 7,000 low-emission vehicles and climate-neutral parcel shipping in 225 cities by 2025.

In 2023, Deutsche Post / DHL will invest 500 million euros in electromobility and green infrastructure. By 2025, they will expand their e-fleet to 38,000 electric vans and 14,000 e-trikes.

The fleets are therefore gradually becoming electric. Courier services in particular are increasingly relying on electric vans to cover the last mile with zero emissions. For large commercial vehicles, on the other hand, progress is slower. There are currently almost 61,000 trucks with electric drives in Germany. Although the number of trucks with alternative drive systems is increasing, the majority are still diesel-powered commercial vehicles.

The biggest obstacle to the decarbonization of transport and logistics is installing the appropriate infrastructure. A reliable and well-developed charging network often involves high investments as well as long planning and approval phases. There must therefore be political incentives and innovative technological solutions to encourage companies to switch to e-mobility. A combination of technology development, infrastructure improvements and political measures will be crucial to further electrify the logistics sector.

Rapid Charger 150: The grid-autonomous solution from me energy

The high costs and lengthy planning involved in installing grid-connected charging points are a particular challenge for companies that want to switch to e-mobility. An alternative to conventional charging stations is the Rapid Charger 150 from me energy.

The Rapid Charger 150 is the world’s first grid-autonomous charging station. CO₂-neutral electricity is generated directly in the rapid charging station from bioethanol – there is no dependence on the power grid at any time. The innovative charging solution can be used flexibly and easily relocated. The innovative solution can therefore simplify and accelerate the decarbonization of the logistics sector.

Read this guest article by Julia Sanchez in the current issue of eMove360° magazine in german language(download PDF).

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20.03.2024   |  

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