Collaborating for Sustainable Urban Logistics Solutions

Cities today are more congested than ever, and growing more crowded every day. The United Nations reports that more than half of the world’s population currently lives in urban areas, with more than two-thirds expected to call cities home by 2050.

Many city centers are already experiencing the challenges of this population shift, including increased gridlock and noise pollution, and reduced air quality. Urban planners agree that a key to creating more livable and walkable cities lies in reducing reliance on personal vehicles.

I would add another component: reliable and convenient e-commerce delivery, which is critical to making alternative personal transportation – such as bikes, mass transit, or walking – a viable choice. Though delivery vehicles are typically seen as contributing to traffic, the reality in an e-commerce-driven urban marketplace is different. Effective supply chains actually consolidate deliveries and serve as “shared mobility” for packages, reducing the number of trips needed, as well as the environmental impact for each package.

Developing Collaborative Solutions

With many large cities in Europe and around the world limiting access to central commercial and residential zones – allowing only zero-emission or compact size vehicles, or restricting vehicle use altogether —developing and deploying new and innovative techniques is essential.

But no one organization can do it alone. Nor should they, according to recent research from UPS and GreenBiz about the challenges associated with logistics in dense urban environments.  When asked which stakeholders should be engaged to address congestion and mobility-related issues, 72 percent of respondents said that businesses should work closely with city officials to identify and address urban environmental challenges. In essence, everyone should have a seat at the table.

Sustainable Logistics in Action

As a global logistics provider, UPS is already on the ground collaborating with customers, governments and stakeholders to pioneer innovative urban delivery methods.

Since 2012, we’ve worked with the city of Hamburg to develop and deploy new delivery techniques that help reduce traffic and pollution in the city center.

In partnership with the city and local retailer association, we replaced some of our delivery vehicles with a smaller, city-friendly fleet of Cargo Cruisers, our electrically-assisted tricycles. In the morning, we place a storage container of consolidated packages in the center of the city, then UPS drivers use alternative methods to make deliveries – including Cargo Cruisers, walkers and conventional tricycles. Drivers also make fewer trips to and from UPS facilities, which has significantly reduced our vehicle presence on the city streets. All parties benefit from the solution — less noise, congestion, and pollution for Hamburg, and fewer risks, such as delivery delays, for UPS.

After the success of the project in Hamburg, we’re now scaling this model to other cities in Europe, including Munich and Dublin, where we collaborated with local art schools and invited students to design the container.

One-Size Doesn’t Fit All

While the Cargo Cruiser solution is innovative, traditional delivery vehicles still remain a vital component of the urban logistics landscape. Imagine transporting your grandmother’s antique desk or delivering a new refrigerator via eBike: in certain situations, only a delivery truck will do.

And in very dense urban environments, such as London, New York, and parts of China, we’re testing solutions that generate similar benefits without relying on the storage container stationed in the city center, where access to space is limited. In London, for instance, we’re converting some delivery trucks from diesel to electric power, which eliminates tailpipe emissions. We’ve also embarked on a smart grid project for central London, leveraging the existing grid to power an electric fleet without new infrastructure upgrades. Looking ahead, we are participating in a consortium with the U.K. government to test electric trailers towed behind eBikes or used by UPS drivers on foot, increasing the package capacity of these vehicles.

Collaborating on a Path Forward

Reducing urban congestion, noise, and pollution is as much about partnership as it is about innovation. Sharing best practices and harmonizing regulations among cities is critical to drive innovative solutions. Well-managed city logistics can help improve the overall urban environment, with reduced congestion and better air quality, enhanced safety and greater mobility and access, resulting in a better quality of life. If Hamburg is any indication, I think we’re on the path to a brighter – and greener – future.

Please join me at SB’17 Copenhagen and learn more about how these collaborations are enabling the Good Life!

Penny Naas
VP and Managing Director of Public Affairs and Sustainability
October 5, 2017

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