Sustainable transport: What are the choices for shippers?

Contry road in the forest

Sustainable transport: What are the choices for shippers?

Why is sustainable transport such an important issue? These days, consumers are thinking carefully about environmental and sustainability issues when making their purchasing decisions. They want to find out whether each product complies with accepted societal standards and has been produced using environmentally friendly or “green” methods.

This means that companies must now seek to minimize their environmental footprint. Many have adopted sustainability strategies that contain buzzwords such as "zero emissions", "net positive" and "sustainable development". Companies don’t want to pollute the environment by their very existence and, ideally, they intend to make a positive impact on society and our planet. More and more companies are therefore aligning their entire supply chain with sustainability criteria – right through to transport logistics. So what choices are currently available for shippers to achieve sustainable transport?

Making the delivery of goods sustainable…but how?

Transport logistics offers considerable potential to reduce the environmental footprint. In general, companies can exert influence through shorter procurement channels and local sources of supply. For all transport journeys, especially the longer ones, there are many things to consider when optimizing sustainability.

For example, companies can split transportation over two or more different modes. Getting more traffic onto the railways has been a political concern for years, but clearly requires a functioning infrastructure. In terms of CO2 emissions in relation to transport capacity, ocean transport is considered a relatively green mode but incurs heavy consumption of fuel oil by freighters and container ships, putting a considerable strain on environmental resources and adding ecosystem risk along our coastlines. So many transport journeys continue to be handled by road. Here there are excellent opportunities to expand electric mobility and use low-emission trucks. Shippers are making informed choices about their freight forwarding agents and considering sustainability in the design of vehicle fleets.

There are many more opportunities for shippers to optimize sustainable transport and positively influence environmental impact. They can reduce consumption of finite fossil fuels such as diesel and oil and cut CO2 emissions through better truck utilization, fewer empty runs, and shorter waiting times during loading and unloading. Industry figures illustrate the potential scale of the savings: for example, according to the European Commission some 20% of international transports and 25% of national transports currently represent empty runs.

Is sustainable transport measurable at all?

There is no clear scientific definition of how to measure the sustainability of transport. The CO2 emissions generated by a journey are often roughly estimated using fuel consumption x kilometers driven. However, the European Standards CSN EN 16258 offers a standardized methodology for calculating and declaring energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions for all transport services (freight, passengers, or both). This is based on general principles, definitions, calculation methods, distribution rules, and data recommendations.

Many companies utilize this methodology. For example, the Transporeon cloud-based logistics platform enables shippers to determine the CO2 emissions of their transports each day and per customer on the basis of this EU standard.

How does digitization promote sustainable transport?

Efficient transport logistics and sustainable transport require the same thing: optimized coordination between manufacturers, retailers, suppliers, and transport service providers. In other words, what’s needed is close cooperation between all supply chain partners, ideally via online networks that enable real-time communication and provide full transparency of all processes. Logistics platforms such as the Transporeon cloud-based platform can support software solutions for efficient freight allocation, time slot management, status messaging, and real-time tracking. These digital platforms and software solutions take the complexity out of coordinating all processes. They also allow information exchange without any time delay and without paper trails. This, in turn, enables continuous optimization and simplification of transport logistics processes for all parties. And there are significant societal and environmental benefits too.

  • Electronic transport allocation reduces empty runs

Companies use online logistics platforms to place transport orders with freight forwarders. They also have the opportunity to perform RFQs (requests for quotation) with a pool of qualified carriers. Bids can be received and transports awarded with a few mouse clicks. In addition, carriers using this method can better plan their onward routes, minimizing empty runs by up to 13%.

  • Time slot management improves productivity and reduces loading/unloading time

Time slot management enables digital scheduling for loading and unloading. Carriers book their preferred available time slot in the shipper’s online timetable. They can usefully combine several deliveries into one booking, which increases loading productivity by up to 20% depending on the customer. Digital yard management enables better control of drivers arriving at the loading ramp. These and other functionalities reduce average loading/unloading times by up to 60 minutes and truck service life is reduced by an average of 40 minutes.

  • Status messages and real-time tracking for transparent transports

Status messages make the transport process much more transparent. Goods can be seamlessly monitored with real-time tracking – from initial collection to consignee receipt. Delays can be reported immediately. This also helps to further reduce unnecessary downtime during the delivery journey. Less ‘start-stop’ traffic at the ramp means less fuel consumption and lower CO2 emissions. 

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  • Better work-life balance for logistics staff and truck drivers

Time slot management can improve employee working conditions for all companies connected to a digital, network-based platform. It lowers work volumes, overtime requirements, and stress in the workplace.

Warehouse staff gain more control of logistics workflows by allocating precise time slots for the delivery and collection of goods. Instead of switching between busy peak times and idle times, an effective time slot management system ensures an evenly distributed workload throughout each day, increasing workplace safety and employee satisfaction.

A time slot management system is particularly helpful to truck drivers. They know when they are expected at the ramp, and they no longer experience long queues with ‘start-stop’ traffic. Other digital tools ensure driving times and rest periods are clearly identified and, above all, a digital tachograph records all kilometers travelled on the road as working time. Because of this, drivers are less likely to experience overtime and carriers can utilize all drivers and fleets more efficiently. As well as being more sustainable, these digital solutions provide much-needed answers to increasing driver shortages and decreasing freight capacities in Europe.

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