Ecological logistics or green logistics: what are we talking about?
The logistics sector is directly concerned by the desire of economic players and customers to limit the environmental impact of transport, goods storage, order preparation and delivery. The Supply Chain is therefore committed to a green, ecological and sustainable approach, an approach which, beyond being in the air of time, has become a necessity and a reality.
What are the different logistics practices to achieve this and what are the solutions to be implemented by companies? What is the impact of these actions on product and raw material flow management costs? Should the most advanced and virtuous companies communicate on this subject, at the risk of being accused of greenwashing?
There are many questions to be answered, and the answers are challenges to be taken up by a sector whose essential role is, as we shall see, very often misunderstood and underestimated by the consumer.
The objectives and challenges of green logistics
Green logistics refers to all solutions and policies aimed at reducing the environmental impact of the supply chain. What may seem simple and obvious on paper is much less so in the reality of the daily life of logistics companies, given the very broad spectrum of their field of activity: supply of resources, storage of goods, preparation of orders, transport and delivery of packages to customers.
The main objectives of green logistics do not run counter to economic profitability, quite the contrary. Indeed, the various measures that can be put in place are part of a logic aimed at reducing operating costs, maintaining or improving service quality and achieving a more environmentally friendly balance for the planet.
On this point, logistics companies that have made significant efforts note that these efforts have resulted in a reduction in their consumption of energy and resources and in less waste production, particularly in the packaging sector.
The challenges of green logistics, not all of which are directly oriented towards the environment, are the following:
- Measuring and reducing thecarbon footprint: choice and organisation of the vehicle fleet, management of warehouse consumption, environmentally friendly packaging and recycling of end-of-life products;
- the integration of the environment in relations with partner companies;
- improving the company'sbrand image.
The communication of logistics companies committed to an ecological policy often comes up against the paradox of new consumption patterns. Indeed, consumers are generally very aware of the ethical and ecological origin of the product they buy, but still want their parcel to be sent quickly, without worrying about the real impact of its total life cycle.
The role of the supply chain is therefore not well known to the general public, despite its practical importance and its impact on the flow of goods. Logistics companies that are committed to the environment must therefore communicate this and make it known. According to numerous studies, improving the brand image can boost sales by up to 20%, find new partners and new customers.
Areas for improvement and implementation of sustainable solutions
How can we act concretely and through which solutions? Here are the different lines of thought and action, sector by sector.
It is possible to select suppliers who have integrated ecological criteria into the manufacturing processes of their products: less polluting raw materials and the design of plastic-free and easy-to-recycle packaging.
It may also be wise to favour suppliers located close to the warehouse, so as to limit the overall carbon footprint.
Environmental management of the warehouse
A logistics warehouse is a major source of resource consumption and waste production. To limit the impact of a warehouse's operation, it is possible to take action as soon as it is built (HQE, Leed or Breeam certifications) when such a project is planned or economically feasible.
It is also essential to implement an active policy to reduce energy and water consumption among the employees working in the warehouse. The same applies to the production of waste, which must be sorted and limited, with measures to avoid waste and unnecessary use of consumables.
The management of stocks and the organisation of the flow of goods within the warehouse can also be improved, with the aim of reducing the risk of damage to or expiry of stored products.
The choice of environmentally friendly and product-appropriate packaging
The packaging of products and parcels is often criticized for its lack of rigour and sometimes common sense. Indeed, it is common to see packaging that is much larger than the volume required to send a product. A recent Canadian study has shown that the transport of poorly packaged parcels generates 122 million tonnes of CO2 emissions worldwide each year.
To combat this feeling of carrying a vacuum, it is therefore advisable to increase the number of packaging formats available and to give preference to reusable packaging or packaging made of recyclable materials.
Transport and delivery options
Unsurprisingly, the pollution caused by the transport of goods and the delivery of parcels is the most important issue in green logistics, as it is also the most visible and concrete for customers.
At a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult for large French cities to breathe properly and when traffic is synonymous with stress and delays, green logistics has real power to act and communicate. Indeed, consumers can no longer ignore the considerable impact of delivery vehicles on pollution, but also on the congestion of cities.
Transport is therefore the subject of several areas of improvement, which are as follows:
- optimise the management of the vehicle fleet: better planning of delivery routes and vehicle filling;
- reduce the level of dependence on fossil fuels by investing in cleaner vehicles;
- training drivers ineco-driving, which can result in a 10% reduction in fuel consumption per trip;
- use of platforms and last-mile delivery solutions: parcels are dropped off near city centres and are transported to customers by electric or hybrid vehicles or cargo bikes;
- promote intermodal or multimodal transport for long distances.
For many players in the logistics sector, transport, because of its major impact on greenhouse gas emissions and its visibility to the consumer, is the point on which it is essential to concentrate investments. Moreover, it seems obvious that the efforts made today are also an anticipation of the problems of the years to come.
Indeed, is it better to act upstream or to be put under economic pressure when the restrictions and pollution standards to be respected become mandatory?
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