Sustainable Logistics Can Really Make a Difference

In the previous post in the series, we talked about measuring a supply chain’s carbon footprint and few ways to reduce it. Today, I’d like to expand upon that, and discuss the importance of logistics in achieving substantially reduced greenhouse gas emissions while saving money at the same time.

Deutsche Post DHL, a well known European delivery company, which scored particularly high in the environmental category of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, conducted a study entitled Delivering Tomorrow: Towards Sustainable Logistics.

DHL provides a GoGreen, carbon neutral delivery service that utilizes offsets based on internal and external carbon reduction projects. In the study they point out a number of interesting facts, including:

  • The number of GoGreen CO2 neutral shipments by Deutsche Post DHL almost quintupled from 2008 to 2009 – from 145 million to 704 million showing the importance of global warming to their customers.
  • 63% of business customers believe that logistics will become a strategic lever for CO2 abatement.
  • 38% of risk managers consider the availability and price of fuel and power as one of the top future risks for companies.
  • Out of 1.62 billion tons of truck emissions in Europe, roughly one quarter are caused by trucks running empty – often due to legal requirements.
  • Aerodynamic drag is responsible for 40% of the fuel consumption of heavy trucks at highway speeds.
  • 253 million tons of packaging is used annually in the consumer industry – half paper, half plastic. The paper requires 7 million trees to be felled.
  • 84% of consumers in China, India, Malaysia and Singapore say they would accept a higher price for green products –compared to only 50 % in Western countries.

Just the one item about the number of trucks running empty gives some inkling of the kind of difference logistics can make.

UPS, which recently received the highest score in the Carbon Disclosure Project’s Global 500 Leadership Index, also knows a thing or two about logistics and its relationship to sustainability. For example, working with Toto USA, a plumbing supply company, UPS was able utilize offsets to provide carbon neutral shipping as part of that company’s overall sustainability strategy. In the first year, they achieved 75,000 carbon neutral shipments. Than translates into a lot of positive work being done through the offsets that are verified by SGS Group and implemented by and .

Some of the offset projects include:

  • Wind power development in Turkey
  • Methane emission reductions in Switzerland
  • Electricity from biogas in New Guinea and Thailand
  • Reforestation projects in Kenya
  • Efficient cook stoves in Africa and China
  • Solar lighting in Ethiopia, and many more.

UPS uses its proprietary Carbon Emissions Calculator V3.1 which includes the GHG Protocol Scopes 1, 2 and 3 in its calculations.

According to the DHL paper, logistics generates around 10% of the EU’s GDP. Since, according to the 2009 World Economic Forum, the logistics industry is responsible for around 2.8 m metric tons of GHG emissions per year, which is around 5.5 % of global GHG emissions, it is clear that improving efficiency is absolutely essential. Around 60% of this is burden comes from road freight.

Logistics companies are clearly motivated to do something about this since it directly impacts both their competitiveness and their bottom line. Options today are limited but growing. Moving to a less energy-intensive mode of transport such as rail, for example, is not always an option. But as new technologies are becoming available, logistics companies are quickly incorporating them.

For example, Fedex recently announced that it is utilizing 43 all-electric vehicles and 354 hybrid diesel-electrics. These vehicles have driven over 9.5 million miles, reducing fuel use along the way by almost 276,000 gallons and carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 2,800 metric tons since the program began.

Meanwhile, UPS, announced last year, that it was adding 130 hybrid trucks to its existing fleet of 250 hybrids. The trucks are made by Freightliner with drive systems from Eaton.

All told, UPS utilizes over 2,000 alternative vehicles including all-electric, CNG, LNG and propane powered drive trains.

Other measures they take include:

  • Preventive Maintenance Inspections (PMIs): The PMI process ensures peak performance and results in better fuel economy and lower emissions.
  • Package Flow Technologies (PFT): Effectively and efficiently delivering more than 15 million packages and documents a day. UPS has implemented several tools and procedures, called Package Flow Technologies, to optimize delivery routes.
  • DIAD: Since 1991, UPS revolutionized the package delivery business when it developed and deployed the first Delivery Information Acquisition Device, known as the DIAD. The DIAD is the most comprehensive tracking device in the delivery industry, providing UPS service providers with data collection and transmission technologies that increases operational efficiencies and enables customers to track their packages in real time.
  • Idling: UPS drivers are trained to always turn off their package cars when they stop for a delivery, never idling at the curb or in a driveway. Even if the driver is out of the truck for a few seconds, the vehicle is always turned off.
  • Lido: UPS uses a special program to calculate the most efficient air travel routes based on weather, winds, terrain and other factors. Through various strategies, including the re-dispatch of international flights, the program has managed to save more than one million gallons of fuel.
  • Continuous Decent Approach (CDA): Working to conserve fuel, limit emissions and reduce noise, UPS has tested CDA, which uses the jet’s idle power to glide toward the airport. At 1,000 feet, the aircraft’s power is again engaged to land the craft. UPS is currently awaiting FAA approval to implement this procedure on a broader basis.

As our society continues to evolve in a more sustainable direction, there will be many changes, but sustainable logistics, as we have seen here, can clearly make a difference.


RP Siegel is the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water.  Like airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.

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RP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering, and among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 52 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP recently returned from Abu Dhabi where he traveled as the winner of the 2015 Sustainability Week blogging competition.Contact:

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