Logistics industry renews focus on sustainability


The list of Covid-19 impacts will be long, but as with many major economic events, over the long-term, the effects of the crisis are likely to be viewed as inflection points that spurred innovation. As we move into the second half of 2020 and with the tide beginning to turn on the immediate global healthcare struggle, attention can shift to recovery and the new landscape that may emerge.

One much-reported consequence of the global stay-at-home orders was a significant drop in CO2 emissions as commuter journeys were suspended, factories shuttered and non-essential travel halted. The near-overnight shift to a virtually global lockdown of social life and significantly altered rules of commercial operation say global greenhouse gas emissions drop some 17% in April, according to a study for Nature Climate Change. It was the sharpest annual fall on record, and in countries where lockdowns were most pervasive, the falls were even higher, at 26%. Compared with April 2019, CO2 emissions were 31% lower in the UK and fell 28% in Australia in 2020.

Yet, the effects were temporary – by early June, daily carbon emissions were just 5% below the same period in 2019, meaning over the first five months of 2020, the global fall was 8.6%. Perhaps more concerningly, the fall in emissions did little to force a drop in overall concentration of carbon in the atmosphere. At 418 parts per million in May 2020, there was more carbon in the atmosphere than at any time in recorded human history – indeed, likely more than at any time in the last 3 million years – and just 0.4 parts per million less than without any Covid-imposed lockdowns.

Speaking to The Guardian in May this year, Corinne Le Quéré, professor of climate change at the University of East Anglia and the lead author of the Nature Climate Change study said, “This is a really big fall, but at the same time, 83% of global emissions are left, which shows how difficult it is to reduce emissions with changes in behaviour.”

If then, the solution to climate change requires significantly more structural change than behavioural, it is worth asking what role the logistics industry is and should be playing? Such a question is massive and the answers complex, but the time period in which the response can be offered is almost certainly shrinking.

Sustainability initiatives at some logistics providers are not new, a fact illustrated by several reports published by the industry’s largest players in recent weeks. At Kuehne + Nagel, the KN Green programme was completed at the end of 2019 having marked its decade anniverary with “All targets were reached or exceeded. Over the last ten years, Kuehne + Nagel was able to reduce the CO2 emissions of its own locations by an impressive 27%. The share of renewable energies in total electricity consumption was 18% and the recycling rate over the ten-year average was 77%. By the end of 2019, the area equipped with LED lighting technology corresponded to around 3.8 million sqm.” Its Net Zero Carbon initiative commits it to further goals over the next decade.

June 2020 also saw the publishing of UPS’ 18th annual sustainability report, Accelerating Sustainable Solutions. It too announced significant progress in achieving its sustainability goals, completing four ahead of schedule and bringing its funding for alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles and supporting infrastructure to more than $1bn in the last decade. Finally, during the month, DSV Panalpina fixed its own sustainability goals as part of the Science Based Targets initiative.

Each of these providers, and many others it should be pointed out, are making significant and worthwhile progress. Although logistics alone will not drive the success or failure of the sustainability movement, the industry has a powerful role to play. Indeed, as in much of the global economy, logistics will play a vastly more important role than many may realise. For many retailers and manufacturers, logistics providers will be key partners in any move towards more sustainable operations and even carbon neutrality.

As consumers demand more transparency in the sustainability lifecycle of the brands they choose to support, logistics providers have the opportunity to play a number of roles. As sustainability partners, logistics providers will be expected to offer greener transportation, warehousing and related services. Beyond that, logistics partners can offer vital touchpoints between brands and suppliers – both in the physical and data world – that can drive deeper transparency and unlock new opportunities to capture, validate and improve the sustainability of supply chain operations.

Source: Transport Intelligence, 09 July, 2020

Author: Nick Bailey


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