October 14, 2008

"Green" lessons from Europe

By DC Velocity Staff

U.S. businesses such as Wal-Mart may be enthusiastic in their support of "green" initiatives, but from a global perspective, they are late to the game. When it comes to environmental initiatives, Europe has a 30-year head start, both in advancing green public policy and raising consumer awareness. So what can we learn from its experience?

In an educational session at the CSCMP conference, Peter G. Klaus, a professor at the Universitaet Erlangen-Nuernberg, offered his assessment of what has worked and what hasn't. What hasn't worked well, he told his audience, is regulatory enforcement—whether it's imposing hefty diesel taxes and highway user fees or prohibiting road transport in certain areas. Europe has had somewhat better results with technological initiatives, including telematics, cleaner-burning engines, and experiments with alternative power. But as Klaus sees it, the real potential lies in steps businesses can take internally, like realigning their DC networks, adopting better green metrics, consolidating loads, and perhaps most important of all, shifting freight from trucks to more fuel-efficient modes like ocean and rail.

Yet another session, "Green City Logistics" presented by Dieter Wild of PTV Planung Transport Verkehr AG and Peter Klaus of Boston University, emphasized how the continent has been greening logistics in urban areas.

Europe has many of the world's most congested cities. Transporting goods both ecologically and economically through the congestion requires careful planning and cooperation between city governments, businesses, and other interests.

Some cities, such as Barcelona, Spain, have initiated programs to move deliveries to nighttime or fringe hours, especially from 11-12:00 pm and 5-6:00 am. One study showed that shifting just ten percent of deliveries to nighttime hours can result in fuel savings of up to six percent, while increasing travel speeds by 20 percent and decreasing CO2 emissions by about 5 percent.

Night delivery allows the use of larger trucks that can hold more products as opposed to delivery vans, which are often utilized to provide better maneuverability through traffic. For example, two 40-ton trucks can replace the carrying capacity of seven vans. In some areas, restricted lanes are also being developed on highways and major streets. These lanes can be used by delivery vehicles to bypass traffic congestion.

Governments are also developing Sustainable Urban Transport Plans (SUTP) that consider how land is used, the needs of freight transport, and private and public concerns. Typically, the plans have two main goals: to conserve energy and to make deliveries more efficient. In London, for example, a freight plan restricts the size of delivery trucks and limits their access during certain times of the day. Similar plans in other urban areas also call for greater use of rail, intermodal, and non-road methods, such as rivers and canals.