Green logistics and sustainable last mile delivery

July 2, 2021
Green logistics and sustainable last mile delivery

The goals of green logistics

In recent years, the field of green logistics has grown enormously in importance.

One reason for this is the increase in regulation within the logistics industry which requires companies to reduce their CO2 output to achieve the climate targets set out in the Paris Agreement, ratified by the EU in 2015 as part of an international treaty. This means that, by 2030, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by at least 40% compared to 1990 levels – a measure that has been adopted into national legislation by lawmakers in all EU member states.

However, legislation is not the only driving force behind a greener logistics industry. Pressure from society is also growing, with more and more consumers demanding sustainability throughout the sector. Green logistics is a part of the solution here, providing transparency when it comes to climate-damaging emissions and offering concrete alternatives. Its ultimate goal is to establish environmentally friendly and sustainable processes within companies.

  • Making processes sustainable: green logistics and measuring CO2 emissions

    The first step towards sustainability is calculating a tangible figure for greenhouse gases in the supply chain – and this must look at the entire supply chain, right up to the last mile. Here, the study on ecological footprints focused on the greenhouse gas CO2. This can be calculated particularly effectively, although, of course, there are other harmful gases that are generated throughout the supply chain. However, today the carbon footprint is an important measure for calculating the overall climate impact, outlining the total quantity of carbon dioxide emissions that a product or service generates in grams, kilograms or tons.

  • Using valuable resources (air, earth, water, etc.) sustainably

    Looking at measured CO2 is just one dimension of green logistics. There are also many natural resources that must be protected throughout a product’s journey to our door. Spills into oceans or rivers from cargo ships must be avoided, the effects of the delivery process on the earth and nature conservation areas must be kept to a minimum, and noise pollution must also be reduced. Green logistics considers all dimensions and always strives to find the more or most environmentally friendly alternative, e.g. by using greener transportation, optimizing routes and route planning, or making storage processes more sustainable.

  • Economic benefits through green logistics

    With increasing CO2 prices, those who produce a lot of CO2 are being economically punished. In other words: saving CO2 pays off and can give logistics and trading businesses a competitive edge in many respects.

So how does green logistics work and what solutions are there for the last mile? Professor Kai-Oliver Schocker from the Research Lab for Urban Transport (ReLUT) is researching the last mile of the future – we outline his five most important future trends in the article Last mile logistics – this is what it could look like in the future.

One thing is clear: when it comes to making a change in the logistics sector, it’s all about making the last mile more environmentally friendly – and rightly so. What concepts are there for a sustainable, green last mile?

Concepts for sustainable, last-mile logistics

Factor 1: climate-friendly parcel packaging

Green logistics starts with environmentally friendly packaging.The less packaging material used, the better. Good alternatives include packaging material made from recovered paper with high recycling rates or compostable packaging materials made from agricultural or forestry waste products such as wood shavings. Or businesses should at least avoid non-degradable Styrofoam, polystyrene, or multilayer films that cause problems for sorting and recycling.

Factor 2: climate-friendly parcel distribution

Dortmund is leading the way and has committed itself to climate-friendly parcel distribution. The city is planning a pilot project with micro-depots for storing goods for delivery and switching to climate-friendly transportation for fine distribution within the city. Participating parcel delivery service providers, UPS, DPD, GLS and Amazon Logistics, are currently delivering their transport goods from reusable overseas shipping containers stationed as temporary micro-depots, and switching to climate-friendly transportation such as cargo bikes for last-mile distribution within the city. The project could catch on and take us one step closer to sustainable last-mile logistics.

Climate-friendly micro-hub as intermediate storage before the last mile

Factor 3: local micro-hubs

Micro-hubs are premises or non-stationary intermediate storage facilities where goods can be stored and equipped with climate-friendly transportation such as cargo bikes or trolleys. Here, the focus is on the “final mile” and the question of how the last meters to the customer’s door can be made as sustainable as possible. Things don’t have to be too futuristic, however: the popular parcel stations are essentially a special form of the micro-hubs.

Factor 4: delivery time

What does delivery time have to do with sustainability, and what role does it play for the last mile in green logistics? Delivering overnight reduces traffic during the day, easing congestion and, in turn, reducing the associated CO2 emissions. What’s more, delivery overnight is quicker, reducing the need for energy intensive starting and stopping. Overnight operations are even beneficial when it comes to e-mobility, as less power is used overall, meaning no strain on electricity peaks. Combined with micro-hubs such as parcel stations, delivery time can be an extremely efficient solution for implementing green logistics.

Factor 5: sustainable transportation

Sea, air, and long rail routes can be difficult to shorten depending on the product group. However, when it comes to the last mile, electric alternatives such as electric cars, e-bikes, or e-scooters are a perfect choice. And better yet, more and more delivery companies are opting for CO2-neutral transportation (e.g., bicycle couriers) for the last mile – avoiding CO2 emissions altogether.

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Factor 6: route optimization

How can routes be optimized to shorten delivery channels, reduce CO2 and avoid empty trips? This is where logistics experts such as Seven Senders and intelligent software to facilitate continuous route optimization come in. Digital logistics solutions are a crucial component of green logistics.

An important lever for sustainability and, if nothing else, a convenience factor for consumers is time-window delivery, an approach becoming increasingly popular for online business. This approach allows an online store to confirm a specific delivery time with its customer base using optimized logistics processes. The customer can also track the delivery and ensure they are home to receive it. The advantage here is that the goods arrive when the customer is ready, instead of being delivered to neighbors or rerouted to a collection point hundreds of yards away or, in worst-case scenarios, sent back. After all, the best and most sustainable last mile is the mile that is avoided altogether.


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