future view

Working together towards more sustainable and efficient city logistics

12 October 2017 • 7 min reading time

Logistics are vital to ensuring that a city is both dynamic and pleasant to live. Organizing logistics operations more efficiently and more sustainably can significantly reduce the negative aspects of vibrant cities, such as pollution and noise. In collaboration, TNO, CE Delft and Connekt have developed the Outlook City Logistics 2017, to show how changes in city logistics can help achieve the Paris climate goals by 2050.

At the United Nations conference on climate change, held in Paris at the end of 2015, agreements were made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to limit global warming to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius. In terms of logistics – and note that city logistics accounts for about one third of all logistics – this means that the CO2 productivity will have to be increased by a factor of six compared to 1990. In addition, the European Commission has set a target to free city centres from harmful emissions such as particle emissions, NOx and CO2 by 2030. In the Netherlands, Green Deal Zero Emission City Logistics is working towards zero-emission urban environments by 2025. In order to achieve this, many different parties will have to take action.

Developing a future-proof vision

“Top Sector Logistics is fully aware that something needs to be done. In order to achieve the targets in the Paris agreement by 2050, the Netherlands needs to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in transport and mobility by 80-95% compared to 1990. This comes down to transporting each kilogram of freight six times more efficiently. In other words, much more freight transport while achieving lower emission levels. How are we going to accomplish this? As it is, stakeholders tend to point the finger at one another when it comes to looking for solutions and adopting them. This is why we developed the Outlook City Logistics, in order to gain more insight into realistic possibilities and to share the benefits and burdens more equally between the different parties within the city,” explains Herman Wagter of Connekt, the commissioning party and actively involved in the management of the project.

TNO, CE Delft, and Connekt have developed the Outlook City Logistics with the support of Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. CE Delft has extensive knowledge of the emissions that are produced by different modes of transport, and which factors affect these emissions. This expertise has been combined with TNO’s expertise in this area and in the field of logistics innovations market characteristics and developments. Walther Ploos van Amstel, who is researching innovative city logistics at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, was added to the team to look at Outlook City Logistics 2017 from a business perspective.

“The fact that we look at the playing field as a whole and focus on a feasible future is a great advantage”


“The aim is to use the Outlook City Logistics to develop a future-proof vision and strategy in several steps by means of backcasting,” Herman Wagter emphasizes. “With four parties joining forces to innovate together, we hope to promote a shared vision and common way of thinking. We have come up with several possible transition scenarios that we hope the sector can recognize and support. Right now it is important to elaborate which assumptions are used, in order to open up the discussion with, and among, the stakeholders. In this first version we have not yet specified who needs to do what.”

A multidisciplinary collaboration

“We have very much enjoyed working together as a team,” says Eelco den Boer, theme leader on Sustainable Freight Transport at CE Delft. “We met regularly and the end result is truly a joint effort.” Hans Quak, who works on sustainable city logistics at TNO, agrees: “Elaborating what a specific technology can do is one thing, but ultimately you will only get results if it is actually implemented. The fact that we look at the playing field as a whole and focus on a feasible future is a great advantage.”

“Bringing the four of us together was quite an unconventional step,” Herman Wagter reflects. “We had no idea where this would lead, but we did know we would come up with a solution. Our research has led to new insights that will accelerate the innovations we need. Cases like this one, which are complex and based on assumptions about what the future will hold, are becoming increasingly commonplace. Our joint multidisciplinary approach has been successful and this approach will hopefully be adopted more often in the future.”


In an urban environment, you are dealing with a heterogeneous collection of different transport activities. In the Outlook these were divided into different segments, i.e. parcels, waste, construction logistics and temperature-controlled goods. Each segment has its own subsegments, all of which have been analysed. Per segment, the Outlook addresses questions such as: what is the logistics demand, how does the supply chain work, how high are emissions, what effect do external developments (e.g. automation, robotics) have on the logistics and how advanced is the technical development in the field of vehicles and ICT? Not only are there different outcomes for the various transport segments in the city, but there are also differences between cities. In cities that have an old city centre, such as Utrecht, Delft and Amsterdam, the situation is different from more recently constructed cities such as Eindhoven.

City distribution

Current city logistics are far from optimal. “We are going to have to make some huge changes,” Hans Quak observes. “At present, everyone is busy optimizing his own little world. In the Outlook, we look at the city as a whole. We need to come up with a new blueprint for freight distribution in urban areas, aimed at achieving more while limiting physical movement by people and vehicles, thus lowering emission levels. This can be accomplished, for example, by organizing movement of freight differently, adapting regulations, applying new technology, smart procurement and sustainable purchasing.” Delivery vans account for 80% of city logistics. “That was one of the findings that came to light during the project,” Eelco den Boer reveals. “It’s good that we know this now. Based on our results, we can look for solutions to each specific problem.”

Concrete solutions

Switching to electric freight transport is one way to successfully reduce CO2 emissions in the city, but this does not reduce congestion. Cleaner technology is very important, but organizing things differently opens up new opportunities. The use of sensors to track goods and vehicles and applying robotics and automation also offers opportunities to increase flexibility, productivity and efficiency. “One example might be a system where the driver knows when a loading and unloading space is free, so he doesn’t waste time waiting or looking for a different space. And who knows? In some cases, it might be possible to combine passenger transport and logistics,” Walther Ploos van Amstel reflects.

The following example illustrates just how complex urban logistics can be. An upmarket restaurant in a major Dutch city has its own supplier of fresh fish and will only do business with him to ensure that the fish is transported at exactly the right temperature. If this supplier could fit the well-packaged fish with a sensor that could remotely track its temperature at all times, then it wouldn’t make a difference to the restaurant owner who delivers the fish. “It simply shows how many factors play a role and how things can be organized differently in the future. Everyone has different needs and objectives. The first step is to make sure that everyone involved understands the need for change,” says Hans Quak.

“We need to come up with a new blueprint for city logistics, aimed at achieving more while limiting physical movement by people and vehicles, thus lowering emission levels”

New logistics systems

“In terms of delivery vans, the construction sector in particular will represent a major challenge in the future,” notes Walther Ploos van Amstel. “The construction industry is expected to grow tremendously, which means there will be more contractors, transport carriers and suppliers on the road. Things need to change in this sector or our cities will become gridlocked. Where new residential areas are being built, new opportunities arise. It would make sense to design them not only with mobility in mind, but also with a view to the future movement of deliveries. New city logistics systems are becoming increasingly important. There are a host of new players in the field. Take Foodora, for example, the company that delivers meals by bicycle.”

From left to right: Eelco den Boer, Hans Quak, Herman Wagter and Walther Ploos van Amstel. 

Outlook 2018

In the coming months, the Outlook team will conduct interviews and organize stakeholder meetings within the sector to collect feedback on the current Outlook. This will help them create an improved Outlook City Logistics for 2018. “The 2017 Outlook is a good starting point. We’ve received our first feedback already and it’s been positive,” says Hans Quak.

“It's great to see stakeholders starting to think about who should be doing what,” Eelco den Boer adds. “This means that more room is gradually being created for ideas like switching to electric trucks or delivery vans, for example.” The feedback will help the team to further improve the Outlook and make it more concrete. “Also in terms of who should be doing what,” Herman Wagter concludes.


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