Re-examining logistics

With many city centres putting in place clean air zones, logistics companies must take a more critical look at their overall operations and invest in a mix of cleaner vehicles. Patrick Gallagher, CEO of CitySprint Group, explains further

Going green is no longer an option, it is a requirement. The Head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently warned that “air pollution is the new tobacco”, with 90 per cent of the world’s population now living in places where pollution exceeds the WHO guidelines. In the UK specifically, air pollution has been labelled a public health emergency. As such, the government and businesses alike are under increasing pressure to boost their focus on sustainability.
    
Given the nature of our business, the logistics industry has an active role to play in lowering emissions to create an environment fit for the future. As the UK’s largest same day courier company, we began taking steps to operate more sustainably long before the announcement of ULEZ and are committed to having an ultra-low emission fleet in central London by 2020.

A long term view

Looking forward, fleet managers must take a longer-term view of how they operate and invest in a selection of vehicles which use different fuels – from push bikes and cargo bikes to electric and hydrogen vans. In addition to creating a green fleet, businesses must also take a more critical look at their overall operations.
    
But what must they focus on? First and foremost, supply chains must be re-evaluated.
    
For organisations that don’t clean up their acts, ULEZ will be costly. Interestingly though, recent research we carried out, Collaborate UK – which explores the attitudes of SMEs – found that while a third (31 per cent) of London businesses believe ULEZ will have a positive impact for them, 50 per cent haven’t taken any steps to prepare for its implementation.
    
It is crucial that businesses operating within the Ultra Low Emission Zone re-examine their supply chains in order to understand which part, or parts, may be affected by the tighter regulation and to ensure they are compliant. After all, the implications of ULEZ will be different for every business, depending on where suppliers and customers are based. For some, operations may be barely affected – impacting a relatively small number of customers – while other businesses will have bigger questions such as whether to rethink the location of their distribution centres or warehouses.

The vehicles

Another key focus is the fleet itself. From October 2021 a second ULEZ phase will extend to the inner London area bounded by the North and South Circular roads, meaning the zone will cover an area 18 times larger than originally planned. In addition to this, five other cities – Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton – have been mandated to implement Clean Air Zones (CAZ) by 2020 as part of the government’s long-term strategy to improve air quality across the country. It’s clear that the government means business and companies which neglect their fleets risk being hit with hefty fines. As such, they must take action now – moving away from diesel and petrol to add more alternatively-fuelled vehicles to their fleets. Too often in the past sustainability has been viewed as a cost to a business. This simply isn’t the case. Sustainability helps drive efficiency as well as cut cost and improve reputation in the public’s eye. Business owners that don’t take the matter seriously are putting their entire enterprise at risk.
    
The key is to start small. Instead of replacing all vehicles with electric or alternative energy sources at once, fleet operators should look at making incremental changes to the most at-risk areas to make them compliant. I can’t stress enough the importance of businesses not putting limits on the type of sustainable vehicles they’re willing to use. From cargo bikes and electric vehicles to hydrogen vans, there are clear-cut benefits to each.
    
For instance, bicycles are invaluable for quickly and efficiently delivering small items in urban areas, while cargo bikes – which we have invested heavily in over the last year – are a great alternative to small vans in cities. These bikes have a load capacity of up to 50kg, can carry most items that a small van can, and have the added benefit that they can complete jobs 50 per cent faster than a van at peak times in urban areas.
    
Electric vehicles (both bicycles and vans) are another great option as they don’t have to be large, charging is low-cost and tailpipe emissions for the vans are negligible.
    
Finally, although still in their infancy, another increasingly viable option for fleets are hydrogen vehicles – which are zero-emissions and can travel up to twice the distance of electric vans. In fact, we recently incorporated a hydrogen van into our fleet after trialling it with our client Mitie, where it travelled over 5,000 miles, equating to two tonnes of GHG emission savings and 90 trees saved from absorbing pollution.

Barriers

While advances in technology are making environmentally-friendly vehicles a more viable alternative for logistics companies by the day, some key barriers remain. For instance, when it comes to electric vehicles, high purchase price, limited range and inadequate charging facilities – with just 19,000 charging stations spread across the entire UK – are preventing large-scale adoption. The same issues apply to hydrogen vans, with just five stations currently available for refuelling, and no high-street garages properly equipped to repair them. It’s great to see the number of alternatively-fuelled, sustainable vehicles on our roads rising monthly, however in order to truly succeed, we must make sure that the manufacturers of such vehicles work closely with the logistics industry to further improve them; particularly on aspects such as range, which is a key consideration for deliveries.
    
At the end of the day, however, no company can do it alone. The government must play its part if we are to solve the environmental challenges we face.
    
Over the past few years, the Mayor of London has introduced projects to clean up the capital’s bus and taxi fleets, roll out rapid charging infrastructure to support electric vehicles, delivered improvements to some of London’s most polluted schools, planted thousands of new trees and funded a scrappage scheme to help micro-businesses prepare for the implementation of London’s ULEZ in under two months.     
    
While I welcome these actions and wider government announcements like the publication of the Road to Zero strategy in July last year, much more needs to be done to support businesses. Our Collaborate UK research found that 40 per cent of business still don’t think there is enough infrastructure like charging points and cycle parking.
    
For example, the Mayor of London has set targets of 300 charge points by 2020, yet TfL’s own research suggests that London will need 700 rapid charge points by 2020 to meet demand. Whilst investment in infrastructure is crucial, we also need well-intended government policies with a broader scope to build collective responsibility for reducing air pollution, rather than relying on individual businesses to bear the cost.   
     
The bottom line is that a low-carbon economy is good for businesses and the sustainability of the UK. If we are to succeed in this, both businesses and the government alike must embrace a ‘do and learn’ mindset and be willing to invest now for future gain.

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