Going green is no longer an option; it is a necessity. Global warming is a pressing problem and the conservation of our planet is a priority on the agenda of companies, citizens and, increasingly, governments. This urgency has led in recent years to the development of Environmental Logistics, the branch of the sector that deals with reducing and improving the impact that its activity has on the environment.
The general logistics sector accounts for around 6% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to data from the World Economic Forum. That is why it is one of the sectors that is working hardest to improve its footprint on the environment. And it is that a supply chain, throughout all its processes, is an environment full of opportunities to improve and optimize the use of resources and their recovery.
Beyond Reverse Logistics
Environmental Logistics, also known as Green Logistics, is frequently confused with Reverse Logistics. However, while Reverse Logistics is limited to handling products beyond the point of sale (whether for returns, reconditioning or recycling), Environmental Logistics encompasses everything that companies do to minimize the ecological impact of their activity. Therefore, Reverse Logistics is only a part of Environmental Logistics.
To understand this breadth, it is enough to list some of the usual tasks of Green Logistics:
Vehicle maintenance: From checking the condition of the tires -which have a huge influence on fuel consumption-, to the selection of new models that are more respectful of the ecosystem.
Design and use of packaging and containers: Make designs that make the most of space, both at the product level and when it comes to being located and transported on pallets, trucks, containers, etc. In the same way, the use of recycled and recyclable materials helps to make logistics more ecological.
Cargo optimization: achieve the reduction of empty kilometers traveled, increase the tons transported per trip, optimize routes to reduce the number of kilometers traveled, consolidate shipments, etc.
Reduce energy spending: all consumption in the company is likely to be improved. Whether it is the light in the office, the recycling of water and paper or the reuse of materials.
Challenges for Environmental Logistics
All this diversity of tasks gives an idea of the global approach that we must have when talking about Reverse Logistics. But in addition to these tasks, it is necessary to take into account the variety of actors that are responsible for promoting Environmental Logistics.
States and international organizations are key in the development of Green Logistics. From the legislation, the maximum consumption of vehicles can be limited by law, the use of more efficient trucks and/or the consumption of clean energy can be subsidized, etc.
At the infrastructure level, its role is also essential. Create logistics enclaves that facilitate intermodal operations, maintain good highway maintenance, develop logistics corridors, improve the railway structure, make decisions to improve urban logistics…
The development of certifications, such as ISO 14001 in Environmental Management that Transgesa has held since 2004, is also a tool that helps improve logistics sustainability. These types of initiatives allow companies to show their commitment to the environment by adding image value to the brand.
We have already seen several of the tasks that logistics companies have entrusted to take care of the environment. And in several of them we can see how technology plays a leading role. This means that companies will need to make investments to be efficient in the management of their warehouse, in the layout of their routes, in the management of loads, in the recycling of their waste or that of their customers, etc.
However, assuming these investments is not always going to be easy, since their benefit in the improvement of costs will usually be seen in the long term. Carriers must be able to value the advantages of green logistics to the customer, in order to make them part of these costs.
Another challenge they face is making use of intermodality when it represents the best option. Although in the first place the adequate conditions and infrastructures must be provided for this intermodal transport to be possible, then the duty falls on the companies to take it into account when preparing their routes.
Companies that ship merchandise also play a critical role in the supply chain. Previously we have pointed to the design of containers and packaging, which is used more and more every day -in addition to optimizing space- as a claim on the company’s ecological awareness.
However, there are still several companies that show reluctance when it comes to assuming the costs involved in some tasks of Environmental Logistics. Whether they are new costs for recycling tasks or for the investments necessary to reduce the carbon footprint of companies.
Looking at the future
Among the strongest logistics trends today we have the increase in last-mile delivery, due to the constant growth of e-commerce and the reduction in the size of orders and the increase in their frequency. This means an increase in the kilometers traveled by vehicles and, therefore, more fuel consumption. The development of more efficient engines, vehicles and fuels will be key to offsetting this situation.
There is also a lot of work to be done to raise awareness among companies. Measuring the carbon footprint and creating initiatives to reduce it is a perfect way for companies to undertake the improvement of their processes and end up not only taking better care of the planet but also reducing their costs and improving their service.
Involving the staff in this task will also be a good way to reinforce teamwork and to improve the relationship of the employees with the firm, seeing it as an entity that is not only concerned with the results but with the way to obtain them and in How to improve the society in which you work.
Ultimately, companies must know how to make their ecological commitment profitable at the level of image and sales. Although they are currently having difficulties to do so, the growing concern for our planet augurs for the future a greater importance of Environmental Logistics when companies choose suppliers.
Improving the planet by improving your companies is the objective of Environmental Logistics.