Technology and the Green Future of Logistics

The future of the Logistics sector seems to rely heavily on two components – technology and the environment. The 2016 Paris Agreement within the United Nations Framework Agreement on climate change, paved the way for individual countries to set their own policies and emissions targets. With climate change dominating headlines and political agendas alike, we are seeing the industry turn to increasingly innovative solutions to meet global emissions targets that not only aim to reduce carbon footprints, but also increase efficiency within the sector.

Driverless Technology

Driverless trucks

With driverless technology becoming more of a “Buzz Topic”, it is important we look at its further implementation in day to day life and how we will be affected, both positively and negatively.

Trucks such as the Tesla Semi, Tesla’s driverless truck, will start to become more common place in the coming years, bringing huge benefits to the industry. For a start there will be less road accidents, a decrease in congestion and traffic jams, cost savings for hauliers and a reduction in lead time due to fatigue amongst drivers no longer being an issue.

It is not just the trucks that are becoming driverless. warehouses are also experiencing change with driverless forklifts, automated racking and retrieval systems, which all help streamline processes. With these advancements naturally comes issues, the loss of jobs and concerns over security being the most spoken about.

Related: Truck Platooning Trials: The Future of Transportation?

Cargo Ships

Driverless technology is also being explored in the shipping industry, with the Yara Birkeland, the world’s first autonomous ship due to be launched in 2020. Though it still requires a crew on board to man the ship as a safety backup, the overall benefit is expected to massively reduce the number of accidents at sea.

The other area of investment in shipping is alternative greener fuels, to reduce emissions. Liquified natural gas, solar power, batteries and even hydrogen are all being explored around the world as alternatives to ships powered by the traditional bunker fuel (Inews, Jan 2018).

Though sceptics believe setting speed limits to slow ships down would be just as effective, in an age where everyone wants everything yesterday, the feasibility of this may not be commercially acceptable.

ULEZ / CAZ Zones

Ultra Low Emission Zones and Clean Air Zones have been put in place in order to help achieve emissions targets set by the UK Government, the target of bringing all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. One of the most ambitious targets set in the world.

Net zero means any emissions would be balanced by schemes to offset an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, such as planting trees or using technology, such as carbon capture and storage.

The ULEZ zones are being implemented to prevent people from driving heavily polluting vehicles in the city, non-compliant vehicles are petrol vehicles over 14 years old and diesel vehicles over 4 years old. Research suggests that 60% of vehicles driving through are already compliant.

Places told by UK Government to implement CAZ’s (Clean Air Zones)

  • Birmingham
  • Leeds
  • Southampton
  • Nottingham
  • Derby

Other places looking at implementing CAZ’s include; Bath, Sheffield, Greater Manchester, Oxford, Glasgow, York, Bristol, Cambridge, Newcastle, Gateshead & North Tyneside, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Dundee & Aberdeen.

The following places have until 31st October to submit their plans; Balsover, Bradford, Portsmouth, Broxbourne, Newcastle-Under-Lyme, Stoke-On-Trent, Leicester and Liverpool.

The UK Government says it is spending £3.5bn on tackling roadside NO2 concentrations, including £220m for a clean air fund to support individuals and businesses affected by the councils plans to improve air quality.

Defra has set up the joint air quality unit to work with Councils on developing their plans to provide a much more “quick and easy way” of making the payments requested by ULEZ & CAZ areas. ( 2019)

What’s next?

All new cars in the UK will be “effectively zero emissions” by 2040, under further plans to tackle pollution. The Government is now under pressure to bring forward this deadline and ban all sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2032. After a report by a parliamentary committee described the plans as “vague and ambitious”.

What are the concerns over CAZ’s and ULEZ’s?

Environmental campaigners, haulage firms and a number of taxi firms have expressed concerns about CAZ’s will work.  ClientEarth’s lawyer Katie Nelder stated that “Most of it’s actions have been designed to dump the problem on hard pressed local authorities”

The Freight Transport Association has suggested that there should be increased funding available for haulage firms to convert many of their lorries to meet the emission standards. ( 2019)

Can we be optimistic? 

As seen in Sweden, there is potential upside for haulage firms, as suggested by Anders Roth,
“Then they realised it wasn’t that bad and the big hauliers who invested in new vehicles realised they could make more money from having a good environmental profile, and they wanted the zone made bigger.” ( 2019)

What is their Importance?

The introduction of ULEZ Zones will help to reduce NOx and PM emissions, which in turn improves air quality. These positive effects will be particularly beneficial to the younger, older and those who have respiratory problems, as well as residents of high pollution areas. The majority of traffic entering the ULEZ will be outside the zone, so the benefits of cleaner, greener vehicles in the form of reduced emissions will be experienced across the country.

IMO 2020

The IMO 2020 Low Sulphur regulations come into effect on 1st January 2020. Designed to reduce sulphur emissions by over 80% (from current limit of 3.5 wt% to 0.5 wt%), the regulation will see the greatest reduction in transportation fuel sulphur content at any one time (Wood Mackenzie)

As the maritime shipping industry adapts to the regulations, the cost of sea freight is likely to increase. Carriers have a number of options in which to meet the regulation standards:

  1. Use a mixture of bunker fuel and fuel which has a sulphur limit lower than the 0.5wt% required, in order to keep the overall sulphur emissions within the acceptable limits of the regulation
  2. Use ships that run on alternatives to bunker fuel, such as liquified natural gas or biofuels.
  3. Installing exhaust gas cleaning systems, also known as scrubbers, designed to remove sulphur oxides from the ship’s engines, thus enabling them to continue to use the traditional bunker fuels (org)

Although the overall benefit of IMO 2020 is undisputable, whichever solution carriers opt for the concerns of the cost of implementation and the impact on consumers is yet unknown. The cost and availability of ultra low sulphur fuel, the time taken to retrofit vessels with scrubbers, or the feasibility of alternative fuels will all affect both price and availability of vessels.

With the race to meet global emission targets well under way, the use of innovative new technology seems to be playing a vital role in the progress. The war against climate change may be just beginning, but the combined efforts of participating countries investing in ground-breaking research and what may be seen as drastic policy measures may be just what is needed to save our planet. The impact of these measures on the logistics sector may be more greater than for others, however, as was seen in Sweden, may actually be a blessing in disguise to those who are willing to embrace them.

KMB Shipping are an award-winning freight forwarder, with over 30 years’ experience in providing total transportation solutions. For more information, please call 0121 557 3352 or email