Mastering challenges in sustainable logistics

16 April 2019 • 4 min reading time

The Paris climate targets entail major challenges for the logistics sector. TNO’s experts have now published a paper setting out those challenges and proposing some potential solutions. Road-mapping, for example, bridges the divide between long-term visions and shorter-term plans. Carbon footprinting is an instrument for monitoring the effects of specific measures.

Download the paper on sustainable logistics


“Over the next few years, we need to substantially reduce the freight transport industry’s CO2 emissions if we are to hit the climate targets”, says TNO’s Jordy Spreen. “This means we must cut out almost all CO2 by 2050. For us, the challenges involved are much greater than those facing the passenger transport sector. It is easier to electrify a car than a truck. Not only are trucks much heavier, they also have to travel greater distances and transport more weight. It will be a long time before sustainable replacements for diesel become affordable and widely available. Technical measures involving energy-efficient vehicles powered by renewable energy will help to cut CO2 emissions, as will the net result of improvements in logistics efficiency.” 

"Durable modes of transport isn't enough; logistic measures have to be taken to reach our climate goals."

System approach

In the paper, TNO experts explore the levels of coherence and complexity involved in sustainable logistics. The main author, Richard Smokers, explains that “We explain how road-mapping, monitoring and carbon footprinting can help us achieve the climate targets, with a focus on heavy freight transport. Road-mapping is a method used to translate long-term goals into an agenda for the interval between the present day and that long-term future.”

The Paris climate targets apply to many forms of road transport, not just the logistics sector. “That’s why we are exploring the challenges involved in relation to one another”, Mr Spreen explains. “You can’t switch completely to electric delivery vans without upgrading the infrastructure or without knowing whether businesspeople can actually afford the cost of these changes. Happily, that systems approach is one of TNO’s strengths. Our multidisciplinary knowledge base enables us to model and analyse the entire system. In this way, we are helping the sector to develop the roadmaps needed to meet the climate targets.”

"Hubs are also an important element if you want to make inner city freight transport 100% electric."

LogistiCS hubs

The researchers incorporate the level of detail needed to properly assess the applicability and effectiveness of any given measure. Jordy Spreen explains that “We can then aggregate the results at any desired level. TNO is also unique in that the vast majority of the data it uses is derived from emissions measurements made in everyday practice. This ensures that our results are both objective and reliable.”

Logistics efficiency measures like modal shift and reducing the number of vehicle kilometres are helping to cut CO2 emissions. Indeed, logistics measures are also needed to make practical use of sustainable technology. Richard Smokers gives an example “Various city authorities are exploring the option of introducing logistics hubs into the outskirts of their city. This would bring together the goods flows from different suppliers. That enables you to cut down on vehicle kilometres. Hubs are also an important element if you want to make inner city freight transport 100% electric, by means of zero emission zones. TNO’s models enable us to develop effective designs for logistics measures like this.”

"We are focusing specifically on the costs of various packages of measures. This will help to keep the system affordable for companies, while enabling us to advise the government where – or when – needed."

Carbon accounting

How do you know if it works? “Simply put, you just do the CO2 arithmetic”, says co-author Igor Davydenko. “As far as we are concerned, hubs and other such measures should always include a monitoring programme. This will enable the operator to collect data on aspects such as “How much electricity are the vans using?”, “How much diesel are the trucks using?” and “What is their transport performance”? Based on that information, we calculate the CO2 emissions involved. We can then allocate these emissions to the relevant transport activity. That is why the concept of ‘carbon footprinting’ is always closely associated with ‘carbon accounting’.”

The paper goes on to show how TNO participates in European projects, often in conjunction with universities and other knowledge institutions. According to Mr Davydenko “The avenues explored by these projects often involve the decarbonization of freight transport and the development of better, more coordinated methods of calculating carbon footprints. Ideally, you would like companies in every country to operate in the same way. In line with this, we are focusing specifically on the costs of various packages of measures. This will help to keep the system affordable for companies, while enabling us to advise the government where – or when – needed.”

2050 is closer than it might seem

One memorable quote from the paper is ‘Long-term targets are actually not so far away’. “Paris is about 2050, so nobody seems to be in much of a hurry”, Dr Smokers warns. “But make no mistake, 2050 will be here before you know it. Consider the issue of replacing fleets of vehicles that have an average service life of ten years. If you want your fleet to be emission-free by 2050, then you have to take the first steps by around 2035. That gives us just 15 to 20 years to bring the requisite technologies to maturity. In the case of inland shipping, replacement cycles are much longer, so you have to start even earlier. The implementation of new logistics systems and of the associated infrastructure will also take a lot of time.”

Richard Smokers notes that “Before we can really start to scale up, much remains to be explored, developed and tested. The aspirations for zero emission zones by 2025 will serve as a tool for triggering the much-needed technological surge. I would, therefore, cordially invite companies and government bodies that are keen to find out more about sustainable logistics to download the paper or to contact us directly.”

All about sustainable logistics

Read more

Cooperation brings smart waste treatment one step closer

16 Apr '19 - 3 min
The city district of Amsterdam Zuidoost has taken its first step towards fully CO2 neutral waste transport. Under the supervision of TNO and the Amsterdam University... Read more


Stay up to date with our latest news, activities and vacancies collects and processes data in accordance with the applicable privacy regulations for an optimal user experience and marketing practices.
This data can easily be removed from your temporary profile page at any time.
You can also view our privacy statement or cookie statement.