A new year – new resolutions and new ideas. Becoming greener will probably be on the list of most everyone. Companies and consumers are concerned about the effects our actions are having on the earth and are looking for sustainable solutions.
Conscious consumerism has become the buzzword for the movement that believes that there is power in purchasing items that have a positive social, environmental, or economic effect. In fact, a recent report by Forbes states that 68% of highly empowered shoppers plan to base their buying decisions on a company’s environmental impact. However, consumerism, in and of itself, is bad for the environment because it increases our global footprint.
From a logistics business point of view, the problem is compounded by the consumer expectation that deliveries will be made within hours. Numerous, short, one-item trips have a much greater negative environmental impact than a carefully planned route with one driver, a full truck, and multiple stops.
What can a logistics business do?
There are several positive steps that a company can undertake to achieve both goals of customer satisfaction and a cleaner world. Sustainable logistics requires a balance between financial growth and the health of the environment. Let’s look at three ways to improve sustainability.
Greener packaging means promoting renewable and reusable materials, eliminating toxic chemicals in their production, and using less product packaging overall.
Many companies have already initiated the switch to more sustainable packaging. Unfortunately, it is not always easy or straightforward. It can also require significant financial investment (i.e., research and development for new materials, retrofitting equipment).
Businesses are gradually moving away from plastic and polystyrene foam. Some options that are considered green packaging include cornstarch-, mushroom-, or other plant-based materials, biodegradable packing peanuts, corrugated bubble wrap, recycled cardboard/paper/plastic, and organic fabrics.
Key to making this process work are more flexible systems that will ensure that these newer materials can be collected, cleaned, and returned to the manufacturer for refill. This 4 R strategy is particularly relevant to the logistics industry. Reduce waste by optimizing the use of resources, Recycle, Reuse if possible, and Recover.
Although there has been a flurry of legislation around recycling, Ryan Smith, CEO of Recyclops, writes that there is still a lot of work to do in this area. Reducing waste and increasing reuse will require the combined efforts of manufacturers, municipalities, and consumers.
There are several variables that need to be considered when talking about route optimization. Some of them include total distance and drive time, terrain, traffic patterns, driver availability, and customer preferred delivery windows. Because of this, advanced information systems that use real-time data are crucial. These information systems can use those factors to provide better estimates of when a shipment will arrive. By continuously tracking all variables, these estimates can be constantly updated and refined.
Graham Kendall, in an article published in The Conversation, reminds us that some companies implemented eco-friendly driving practices years ago. United Parcel Service (UPS) has been requiring their drivers to favor right-hand over left-hand turns since 2007. This reduces accidents, cuts idle time, and increases fuel efficiency. Other companies tout simple things like the importance of proper vehicle maintenance and tire pressure to save energy.
One way to free up additional time for drivers is to have them put items in smart lockers, rather than on individual doorsteps. There are numerous benefits for consumers. It can eliminate package theft, they don’t need to be home, they can retrieve the item when desired, it provides a contactless pickup option, and it can also be used for returns.
More efficient routes lead to reduced costs (i.e., fewer empty trucks and better use of space), less stressed employees, and more satisfied customers.
Greener Modes of Transportation
There is no denying that the logistics industry is a significant contributor to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Any plan for CO2 reduction will require a thorough analysis of a company’s current transportation fleet and routes.
As older vehicles are retired, newer ones that use alternative fuels should be considered. Battery-powered electric engines or hybrids are options. This does require proper disposal or recycling of batteries. Other fuels that are actively being researched are biodiesel (i.e., vegetable oil, animal fat, recycled restaurant grease), ethanol, hydrogen, methanol, and natural gas.
The Fraunhofer Institute in Germany is demonstrating the feasibility of using photovoltaic modules to help power commercial trucks. The solar energy will generate 5-10% of the 18-ton truck’s total energy needs. The truck will be in testing for one year under real-life conditions.
Some industries, such as food service, have started using automated delivery vehicles (i.e., robots, drones). Bikes are also being used for drops in congested, urban areas. Whether this will be practical on a larger scale remains to be seen.
The trends discussed above all have one thing in common. They do require a balancing act between being socially conscious yet highly responsive. Consumers want a sustainable product, but they want it fast. Logistics companies that can successfully navigate through these uncharted waters by finding creative, affordable solutions to be both environmentally friendly and meet customer demand for speedy deliveries will be a valuable partner.
Rest assured Aero Fulfillment Services is doing its part to ensure our fulfillment services you require for your business are provided in the most environmentally friendly way possible. See if we are the right fit for you by taking this 1-minute survey.