We set bold targets at Unilever, and logistics is no exception. By 2020 we believe we will have cut our logistics carbon emissions by 40% compared to a 2010 baseline. At the end of 2018 we hit 38%. Our ambition is to be carbon neutral before 2030. It’s been a long hard road to get to where we are today. To reach zero emissions the world has a lot further to travel.
In logistics, costs and carbon go hand in hand. In most cases, activities that cut costs also reduce emissions. Our strategy rests on two pillars: reducing the kilometres we need to travel and greening the kilometres we have to travel. It’s seen us developing ways to fill our trucks more efficiently and shrink the distances travelled across our network.
One of the ways to reduce the kilometres we need to travel is by having different pallet heights for transporting our goods, to try to find the best option for loading our trucks most efficiently.
We’ve also worked on optimizing our logistics network by locating factories and warehouses closer to large areas of consumer demand. Direct despatch from factories to customers is another way to shorten the distance our products need to travel.
Greening the kilometres we have to travel is more complex and involves investing in new technologies and alternative fuels. This is what excites and sometimes frustrates me the most.
We have an industry that wants to transition away from diesel, but without readily available zero emission alternatives on the market. We need heavy goods vehicles that can carry large volumes without contributing to air pollution and climate change.
But change is coming. Earlier in the year the European Commission introduced binding carbon dioxide reduction targets for trucks in the EU, including a stimulus for the development of zero- and low-emission trucks.
Poor air quality is an increasing concern in developed as well as developing nations.Google, for example, has just released a new digital tool that will allow a selection of European cities to measure levels of air pollution.
And rising consumer awareness of air pollution and its potential health impacts is driving innovation among vehicle and fuel manufacturers.
The year 2020 could be the breakthrough year for electric passenger cars. Heavy duty vehicles will take longer. There is a lot of excitement about the first generation of hydrogen- and battery-powered electric trucks and there are plenty of signals that the industry is getting ready. But it’s not going to happen overnight.
To move forward and continue reducing emissions today, fleets have to look at transition fuels. These are fuels that are cleaner than diesel but still contribute to climate change and air pollution.
For example, in the Netherlands we have a fleet running on liquified natural gas (LNG) which has lower carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter emissions when compared to diesel. In Sweden, some of our vehicles are run on biofuel made from vegetable fats and oils.
What’s challenging is waiting for industry thinking and infrastructure to catch up with the potential of the new fuels available. With LNG we faced a chicken-and-egg situation where the fuel was viable, but Europe’s roads didn’t offer a sufficiently large network of LNG fuelling stations to ensure that our trucks could complete their journeys.
This led to our setting up a consortium, Connect2LNG, to build five LNG fuelling stations in France and Germany because you can’t have LNG-powered trucks without the infrastructure there to support them.
Our aim was to kickstart greater LNG use across Europe and it is not happening at scale – yet. That is part of working on new things. Every success is built on learning from failures. You just have to stay committed to positive change to navigate through the difficult times.
One of our bigger successes – the one I’m most proud of – is our partnership with the British business, Dearman Engine Company. We worked with them to trial and scale up a new technology to provide clean cooling for our refrigerated trailers through the use of liquid nitrogen, where the only emissions are air or nitrogen.