When it comes to sustainability in logistics—particularly in the last mile—it can be difficult to separate the signal from the noise. Sure, there are plenty of opinion pieces and social posts about going green and reducing the carbon footprint that comes along with getting the goods from point A to point B, but what are delivery organizations actually doing?
That’s exactly what DispatchTrack has been working to figure out. We polled more than 140 logistics professionals as to their current and future plans regarding sustainability in order to get concrete, real-world information about green initiatives in the last mile. The result was our Last Mile Sustainability Perspective.
There was a lot to be encouraged by. We found that 77% of companies are prioritizing sustainability, which is an increase of 8% from the 60% said the same back in August. Not only does this represent a big jump within the span of only a few months, it also signals that green logistics is being taken seriously right now by the vast majority of logistics operators.
At the same time, we found that only 39% were actually able to track the progress they were making on reducing CO2 emissions. While it’s still early days for many of these initiatives, the disparity between those who are putting work into this striking. So how do we account for it, and what can last mile operators do to close that gap?
What Do Green Logistics Efforts in the Last Mile Look Like?
When it comes to logistics in general and the last mile in particular, the biggest contributor to carbon emissions tends to be fuel consumption. This means that one of the most important things you can do to decrease emissions is simply find ways to drive fewer miles.
Of course, that’s not the only way to target CO2 reductions. Reductions in your inventory footprint, attempts to decrease waste in various areas, and other areas can also have a big impact.
Here are a few of the top sustainability tactics our survey respondents listed:
- maximizing truckload capacity (61%)
- improving routing efficiencies to limit emissions (54%)
- technology investments (17%)
- offering delivery options to customers that limit emissions (16%)
All of these speak to what we talked about above: limiting miles driven. When you minimize the number of truckloads that aren’t running at full capacity, you also minimize the number of total trips that need to be taken and the miles to and from the warehouse that come with them. When you can boost your efficiency with the right technology, you can potentially decrease your total mileage (and thus your total CO2 emissions) by more than 10%.
Offering greener delivery options to customers enables you to decrease miles even further by reducing the time-pressures that come with most delivery use cases today. If your customer is willing to opt for a later delivery date, that gives you the flexibility to find a delivery slot where you can minimize the carbon impact, e.g. by delivering it in the same truck as another order on the same block.
These were the top tactics that our respondents cited, but they aren’t the only tactics available. Some of the other methods that last mile operators can use to decrease CO2 emissions across their logistics processes include:
- Reducing failed deliveries and the extra miles that come with them (e.g. by improving customer visibility and communications)
- Shrinking your warehouse footprint (since heating and cooling warehouses is another major contributor to CO2 emissions) by improved return handling and visibility.
- Investing in electric or semi-electric vehicles gives you the ability to transition to cleaner forms of energy (though most logistics professionals are wary of the technology at the present)
The list goes on and on—and no doubt there are organizations adopting all of the approaches above and others we haven’t heard of yet. But the important question is: how do you know if your efforts are actually working?
Why Is Measuring CO2 Output Critical?
Like we said, the number of businesses with last mile operations who are prioritizing sustainability is large and growing. Between improving truck capacity utilization, boosting route efficiency, and other tactics, these businesses are taking meaningful efforts to cut out carbon emissions and help mitigate the impact of climate change.
And yet, significantly fewer than half (39%) are able to track and measure their progress.
To be clear, the ability to measure the impact here isn’t just a nice to have. 55% of respondents to our survey acknowledged that sustainability was “somewhat” or “very” important to their customers. In spite of this, only 1 in 5 companies were actually sharing their sustainability initiatives with customers.
To be sure, decarbonization efforts don’t happen overnight, and no one wants to let the perfect be the enemy of the good when it comes to powering green logistics. But as the number of customers who care about this issue—and whose purchasing decisions are driven in part by sustainability considerations—grows, it’ll be important for businesses to be able to point to concrete outcomes and achievements in terms of CO2 output.
By the same token, it’s difficult to reduce what you can’t measure. Sure, the techniques we’ve been talking about can have an impact even if you implement them blind, but at a certain point, measuring your efforts is the only way to keep improving on them and ultimately make a real impact.
How to Track Carbon Emissions Reduction in Logistics
The good news here is that the ability to track your carbon footprint reduction from driving fewer miles doesn’t have to be a huge challenge—provided you have the requisite level of visibility.
Since CO2 emissions in the last mile are essentially a function of miles driven, as long as you can actually measure the number of miles you’re driving you ought to be able to track and measure the impact of your efforts. Of course, different trucks and load types will have different carbon outputs, and your system needs to be able to account for this in a fairly legible way.
Simply put, to get started with actually tracking your progress, your final mile software platform needs to offer you a few things:
- The ability to specify different fuel consumption expectations for different vehicle and load types
- The ability to visualize expected CO2 output as a function of miles and truck/load type at the route planning stage, ideally at both a route level and a stop level
- Total visibility into the last mile as it unfolds, plus a complete audit trail for every delivery showing exactly where the truck went
- An easy way to report on planned vs actual CO2 emissions for different time horizons based on the data and parameters in the three bullet points above.
This might sound like a tall order, but if you’re already optimizing your routes and tracking your deliveries effectively, most of the information you need is right there—it’s just a matter of processing it in the right way. Here, real-time updates to expected CO2 emissions during the route planning can be particularly impactful, giving route planners live feedback as they plan so that they’re able to make adjustments with an eye towards cutting emissions.
Once you can actually measure the impact of your sustainability initiatives, you can iterate on them over time and improve your carbon efficiency going forward. And when customers are deciding who to buy with, you can point to hard data that shows off the real impact of your efforts.