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Wanted: Logistical innovations!

Carbon dioxide emissions from truck transports are expected to increase drastically, despite the fact that truck motors are now more frugal with fuel. During this year’s Transport Forum, researchers from Linköping University (LiU) and Lund University showed that there are no simple solutions to the problem. So where are the innovations?

During a session at this year’s Transport Forum on green logistics, both lecturers and the audience agreed that more innovations within the logistics sector were needed.

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Within the EU, we are committed to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by at least 40%, yet we’re seeing an increase due to factors such as increased truck transportation and the fact that trucks are often driven only half-full, or even empty.

“Poor logistics offsets the benefits of improved motor technology,” argues Maria Huge-Brodin, Associate Professor of Logistics Management at LiU.

Logistics’ companies themselves have, until now, been quite uninterested in competing with green offers, but according to Huge-Brodin they’re at the starting gate and have been so for the last four years.

“However they fail to see the strategic significance of the environment. There are no regulations forcing the issue, either, and both business models and price models that take environmental costs into consideration do not exist,” she claims.

Nor, it seems, is it so easy to determine a green solution i.e. a transport solution that eases the burden on the environment.

Maria Björklund, also an Associate Professor in Logistics Management at LiU, pointed to a number of examples where it was believed things were being made more efficient and green transport was being created, yet the result was the exact opposite.
It’s often profitable to use empty transport; goods can be hauled for longer distances without increasing transport work, but in other cases it can mean that transport work increases. It depends on what the last link of the chain looks like.

“It’s important to determine the scope you’re looking at, the parameters of the system. An individual transport can be made greener, but that means the entire benefit is offset somewhere else in the chain. There are no obvious solutions so continuing on in this way is always good,” Björklund argues.

Goods transport is still significantly more efficient than passenger transport, and if we could move some part of passenger transport, which represents 72% of transport work, to the more efficient goods transport then we would make great strides forward.” This is according to Lena Hiselius at Lund University, whose research areas includes e-commerce.
However there are no simple solutions here, either. According to the Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket), increased e-commerce means reduced passenger transport. E-commerce is certainly increasing which today represents 4.6% of retail sales; it is increasing significantly more than the rest of commerce. But so far no effect on transport work has been seen.

The question is, then, how we shop electronically: Does this mean we shop more, or does it replace a few trips to the shopping centre? If we go to the supermarket to test a camera out before we order it on the Net, we’ve increased the amount of transport instead. On the other hand, perhaps we do our weekly food shopping in connection with looking at cameras, which makes calculating the results even more complicated.

“Research has also shown that the more opportunities we have to travel, the more we travel. If we’re closer to the goal, we travel more often, which can result in the same total distance travelled. IT, teleworking, and e-commerce should reduce travel, but we’re not seeing any such results so far,” Hiselius says.

Several lecturers stressed the need for innovation in the logistics industry.

“Why do universities fail to deliver innovations in this field?” Christina Wolf from IVL in Göteborg, the session’s moderator, finally asked.

There are no simple solutions here.

The Transport Forum was arranged by VTI and has been held every year since 1984. This year, more than 1,700 people gathered in Linköping for two days to exchange experiences and listen to new observations regarding transport and transportation research. The conference is divided into 80 different sessions; besides the green logistics, there was also a session on City Logistics, with presentations given by LiU logistics researchers.

Related Article

City logistics combat increased emissions

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Last updated: 2014-06-13