Driving sustainability: alternative transport in modern logistics

FM Logistic is rethinking logistics with innovative solutions to enhance sustainability and reduce carbon emissions.

On July 3, 2024

At FM Logistic, we believe that switching to alternative energies is insufficient to decarbonise transport. The most impactful action is to reconstruct the supply chain towards more sobriety and efficiency. Penelope Laigo, our Group Sustainability & QHSE Director, demonstrates this approach.

What is the environmental impact of traditional logistics?

Traditional logistics has a significant environmental footprint due to its large fleets of trucks, cargo ships and airplanes, numerous and large warehouses, packaging operations, and the associated waste. In addition to the CO2 spewed by trucks, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter from ships and airplanes make the transportation sector a major source of local  pollution. This raises serious health issues, with air pollution from fossil fuel killing 5 million people worldwide every year. 

Where do the logistics and transport industry stand in terms of sustainability?

The sector needs to improve its sustainability efforts, considering transport accounts for nearly a quarter of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions in the EU. Transport is also the only sector whose GHG emissions are increasing globally, particularly in Europe. This situation can be explained by two main factors: an inertia within the industry as it continues to seek for optimal renewable technologies; and the fact that it has to deal with major issues such as low margins and a shortage of truck drivers in Europe. However, as transport flows continue to grow rapidly, an urgent and drastic action plan to switch to alternative transport is needed to achieve the agreed climate targets by 2030

For many companies, renewable fuels and electric vehicles are the most promising ways to emit less GHG: what is your view on this?

Switching to alternative energies is one approach to reduce CO2 emissions. However, defining the best low-emission alternative requires to consider factors such as distance, road type, weight, and specificities of the load. E-mobility, green hydrogen, biofuels … there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to replace fossil fuel. Electric batteries are likely to cover most of the needs for urban and short distances. For mid-sized distances, we recommend hydrogen, which offers longer autonomy, but this further depends on the availability of refuelling infrastructures, carrier maturity and the regularity of the flow. For long distances (> 600 km), multimodal options should be the top priority. Multimodality emits four times less CO2 than the fuel version, but also allows less road saturation, less driver shortage, and fewer accidents. Having said this, we believe switching to advanced vehicle technology and alternative fuels is insufficient to achieve the EU targets.

In this context, what is FM Logistic strategy to reduce its transport GHG emissions? 

Consume less before consuming better energy: this is our motto to decarbonise logistics and adopt alternative transport. In an era of ever-faster delivery fuelled by the rise of e-commerce, we defend a slow logistics model in favour of sobriety and efficiency through pooling, which aims to mutualise several customers’ flows from a single departure point. We are convinced that slowing flows can bring many environmental benefits. Today, in the EU, around 40 % of the trucks’ capacity are empty! With more time, we would be able to pool the deliveries from various customers and hence, increase the filling rate of trucks and reduce empty journeys. By extending delivery times to 48 hours, we could move from 100 % truck transport mode to multimodal solutions, combining trucks, rail or river transport. Slow logistics also means reducing the speed of trucks on the motorway (from 90 to 80 km/hour), which would reduce pollutant emissions. 

What are the main challenges of decarbonising logistics? 

The energy transition requires large investments in many areas: transport, but also warehouses, production, packaging, etc. Hence, it can be challenging to find a suitable business model, identify investment priorities, and secure the necessary budget on a sector-wide scale. There are also political issues. At FM Logistic for example, all our fleets run on biodiesel, which the French government subsidises. In addition, exogenous factors such as inflationary pressures and geopolitical crises can alter decision-making. 

What do you recommend to successfully implement a more sustainable supply chain?

We can’t embark on such a significant supply chain transformation alone. We must get into a state of mind of co-construction and collaboration with our clients and suppliers. This is precisely what we are doing at FM Logistic. For example, we have developed an “Environmental Scorecard” to help our clients assess their carbon footprint and identify improvement levers. We also foster pooling solutions of transport to the same destination, and we have created the first agri-food pool in Europe among other initiatives. 

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