New Tool Brings Logistics Carbon Emissions into Sharp Focus


By Susana Val

Companies can calculate the overall carbon footprint of a logistics operation using readily available estimation tools. However, to implement meaningful management decisions about cutting CO2 emissions, a more detailed analysis is necessary. The Zaragoza Logistics Center (ZLC), Zaragoza, Spain, in collaboration with multinational business group INCLAM, headquartered in Madrid, Spain, have developed a tool that provides a granular view of logistics carbon footprints that employs user-friendly visualization technology.

The 18-month research project, called LOGIPRO-CONTROL (Optimization of Energy, Environmental and Economic Management of Logistics Processes), was funded by the Region of Aragon in Spain. The work builds on a previous research project called CO2Logistics, and was completed at the end of October 2016.

Freight logistics is a complex business that has numerous moving parts. The main aim of the LOGIPRO-CONTROL project was to create a tool that enables companies to dissect their logistics operations, and evaluate the carbon emissions for each component process. Armed with this information, enterprises can decide how best to reduce CO2 emissions in alignment with their business goals.

The researchers worked with global logistics company DHL Supply Chain to test and validate the software tool. DHL Supply Chain had already completed an in-depth analysis of their logistics carbon footprint, and compared these results with the estimates generated by the new tool. For example, the tool was used to analyse truck loading operations at a DHL Supply Chain customer’s warehouse – focusing on specific activities such as the emissions produced by fork lift truck movements – as well as transportation to a second warehouse and the cargo operations at that facility.

Disaggregating each process in this way gives decision-makers the information they need to develop effective carbon-cutting strategies.

Take, for example, an operation that involves a contracted fleet of trucks as well as a company’s own vehicles. Managers can calculate emissions levels based on parameters such as the fuel consumption of each vehicle used, the cost of fuel, and the electricity consumed in loading and unloading facilities. Different scenarios can be simulated to determine the most cost-effective measures for shrinking the carbon footprint.

Changing load configurations might be one option. In this case, the user simply selects different types of vehicles and carrying capacities, and the relevant emission factors based on standard data embedded in the tool are applied automatically. This was one of the analyses performed with DHL Supply Chain. The analysis confirmed that proportionally, CO2 emissions levels for empty temperature-controlled trucks are significantly higher than for full vehicles.

Analytical results like these are presented as a dashboard, making it much easier for managers to assimilate and interpret the data compared to traditional, chart-based presentations. The calculations can be performed relatively quickly; users merely draw process maps and the tool overlays the displays with the relevant data.
Imagine, for example, a process that involves transporting a perishable cargo to a warehouse, where it is broken down into smaller lots and packed on small trays. The trays are transferred to boxes for final delivery to the customer. The dashboard could show three displays: the energy consumed by the whole process (mainly electricity), the costs associated with the whole supply chain or individual segments, and the emissions levels (per segment or for the complete supply chain). Energy consumption for each specific part of the process can also be represented – the transportation leg from origin to warehouse, for instance – and by comparing the various reports, users can make changes to simulate different outcomes.

Key to reducing the carbon footprint of the logistics industry is developing a standardized accounting method for estimating emissions that can be used across the globe. The market-oriented tool developed by the LOGIPRO-CONTROL project represents an intermediate step in this direction. The software is easy to adopt and implement, and can be adapted to any standard framework for calculating CO2 emissions levels.

INCLAM is currently working to make the tool even more user-friendly in areas such as the visualization of data. This work should be complete in a few months, at which time the tool will be available for commercialization.

For more information on the LOGIPRO-CONTROL carbon emissions evaluation tool, contact Susana Val, Associate Research Professor, ZLC, at: [email protected]