Moving Towards a Decarbonized Future of Last Mile Logistics

By Himanshu Raj, Sustainable Mobility Officer and Tsu-Jui Cheng, Sustainable Mobility Program Manager, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability

Transport talks are often centered on the movement of people and very often neglect the movement of goods, which is equally important for an urban area. How simple is it that a few clicks on the internet and you get your product delivered next day at your door? Well it is not that simple. A complex supply chain network works in the background for the efficient movement of goods. Within the supply chain, the product moves physically from a supplier to a retailer or warehouse, then to the nearest distribution center and finally to you. The last leg of the supply chain is called the “last mile” logistics.

ICLEI’s Sustainable Mobility team organized a session on “Moving towards a decarbonized future of last mile logistics” at Autonomy 2019, discussing the last mile logistics in urban areas and the associated environmental, economic and social impacts. The panel was moderated by Tsu-Jui Cheng, Program Manager of Sustainable Mobility at ICLEI-World Secretariat, joined by Director of Área Metropolitana del Valle de Aburrá (AMVA), Colombia, Eugenio Prieto Soto and an independent mobility expert, also former Deputy Secretary General of ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, Monika Zimmermann. The panelists also shared some solutions being piloted in urban areas though the lack of data as well as stakeholder engagements remains the key barriers.

The panel Moving towards a decarbonized future of last mile logistics at Autonomy 2019

Air quality management

AMVA is struggling with bad air quality with high levels of PM2.5 and PM10 pollutants, and the transport sector is one of the biggest emitters. Due to the topography as a valley, pollutants are trapped in low lying areas which increase the concentration of pollutants in the region.  A study of origin-destination mobility surveys conducted by AMVA in 2015 suggests that more than 50% of the cargo fleet in the area was more than 15 years old, emitting more pollutants than newer fleet meeting higher emission standards. Nearly 80% of PM2.5 and PM10 pollutants were generated by overall vehicles of which 64% were by freight vehicles.

In light of this, AMVA established a Comprehensive Plan for the air quality management (PIGECA[1]) in 2017 and therefore undertaken actions to reduce air pollution by promoting low-emission mobility systems, such as designing and implementing a program for the renewal of cargo fleets, improving fuel quality of standards and increasing mix of bio-fuel, expanding Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines.

Traffic management

In 2005, the city of Medellín introduced Pico y Placa (Odd-Even number plate) to reduce vehicle congestion for both passenger cars and motorcycles, which was also adopted by other municipalities in the valley.

Off-hour deliveries

In addition to air pollution, the region recognizes the recent growth in the freight sector, booming e-commerce sector, and mushrooming food delivery companies. Therefore, AMVA has initiated a study of off-hour deliveries in certain areas and providing more loading/unloading zones. Through the collaboration in the EcoLogistics project with ICLEI, supported by German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) through the International Climate Initiative (IKI), AMVA aims to explore and develop alternative measures and policies to reduce the externalities caused by the urban freight sector.

Sustainable mobility for people and goods 

Zimmermann put her point forward about developing sustainable mobility strategies for future cities for not only passengers but also urban freight as an integral part of the strategies. The vision and goal for the future mobility should follow a global goal to protect the health, climate and urban quality of life, and social participation. She strongly recommended municipalities and local governments to invest in understanding the freight profile, such as freight movement, transboundary flow of freight, major stakeholders involved, and the related environment and social impacts to include the aspect of freight in urban planning. Locations of warehouses, proposed development corridors, inner city regulations, bypass/ring road, curbside management and the like have to be looked with a holistic approach which can in the meantime stimulate innovations to support B2B cooperation and new organizational models for business.

Public transport for urban freight delivery? 

An interesting discussion on the use of public transport for freight deliveries came from the audience, and the panelists suggested exploring it as a probable option.  However, the load requirements, sizes of cars, accessibility for goods inside the infrastructure in the public transport system may require modifications if to be used for freight.

Looking forward

All parties and stakeholders need to engage each other in the most effective way to find solutions for sustainable freight transport.  Having said that, we may want to question the need for growth in the urban freight sector and ask ourselves:  what drives the growth and what is the cost of absorbing the negative impacts? Even more so, do we accept the growth and the externalities associated?

[1] Plan integral de gestión de la calidad del aire (2017-2030)


Interested in reading more about the future urban logistics? Check out these UMDaily articles:

The Profound Disruption of Last Mile Delivery

Big Problems, Micro Solutions: Electric Cargo Bikes to the Rescue

Shared Responsibility, Shared Reward: The Future of Urban Logistics