Digging into Logistics Sustainability

In our article on Solving the Sustainability of the Supply Chain is Systematically Strenuous and Surprisingly Serpentine, we noted that while there are easy two-word answers for reconfiguring the global supply chain for greater supply chain assurance and more sustainability at the 30,000 foot level, when you dig into the details, it’s not so easy as you have dozens of facets to get right to truly optimize sustainability across:

  • Support
  • Sales
  • Logistics
  • Procurement
  • Manufacturing
  • Materials

Logistics sustainability is much more involved than just “green transportation” and using “zero emission*1 electric vehicles, because there’s a lot more to logistics than the plane, train, boat, or truck. There’s also the:

  • Packaging – is the packaging reusable, reclaimable, recyclable, or compostable; minimal?
  • Warehousing – are the warehouse operations sustainable?
  • Routing – is the routing designed to minimize unnecessary distance, handling, and environmental impact?

Let’s dive into each of these:

Packaging involves ensuring that the following are sustainable:

  • Materials as the only trace of us millions of years in the future — after the “right to be stupid” crowd manages to vote in the greedy, power-hungry, self-nominated populist con-artist candidate in enough first world countries*2 — will likely be microplastics*3 and plastic molecules which, even after millions of years, will never fully dissolve (and which are already so omnipresent that microplastics are even in all of our bodies now)
  • Manufacturing as the packaging needs to be manufactured just like the product
  • Logistics as the packaging has to be shipped to the product manufacturer
  • Packaging as the packaging needs to be packaged to be shipped to the product manufacturer

Warehousing involves ensuring that the following are sustainable:

  • Heating & Cooling since most warehouses are built super cheap (thin metal structures) and, thus, require ridiculous amount of carbon-based energy production*4 to heat or cool
  • Operations since warehouses use forklifts and robotic automation — which are not necessarily green, energy efficient, and/or well designed
  • Workforce since there needs to be a sufficient workforce and there needs to be training in place to make sure they workforce is suitably skilled for the job

Routing involves ensuring that the following are sustainable:

  • Transportation Modes as most international shipments are multi-modal (and involve at least two different means of transportation, and usually three)
  • Cross-Docking as shipments will need to be unloaded from ships and trains at ports and yards and loaded onto trucks and unloaded from big trucks onto smaller trucks at local depots
  • Leg-Routings as ships can’t disrupt whale schools, dolphin pods, or fish colonies (which might also be needed for food); planes shouldn’t fly low through wildlife/bird reserves; trains shouldn’t pollute the forests they run through; etc.

In other words, there’s a lot more to logistics sustainability than green transportation, which isn’t exactly green to begin with!

*“Green” vehicles aren’t anywhere close to zero emission when you consider all of the emissions created in the production of those electric vehicles and those battery packs! For example, as quoted on the MIT Climate Portal, building the 82 kWh lithium-ion battery found in a Tesla Model 3 creates between 2.5 and 16 metric tons of CO2 (exactly how much depends greatly on what energy source is used to do the heating). This intensive battery manufacturing means that building a new EV can produce around 80% more emissions than building a comparable gas-powered car. And then you have to consider all of the emissions produced by your energy provider to produce the electricity that recharges your battery pack every few hundred kilometers (or 0.6214 miles for you Americans). If your local power plant is still burning dirty coal, then you could be responsible for the creation of 950 grams of CO2 per kWH. So if you’re driving a new AWD Performance Tesla, you’re producing 77.9 kg of CO2 for every 567 km you drive. In comparison, if you’re driving a Toyota Yaris that gives you an average of 36 mpg, or 58 kpg, you’re burning 9.78 gallons and producing roughly 86.9 kg of CO2 for the same 567 km. In other words, you’re only about 10% more green on a per-tank basis driving that Tesla 3 if your local power provider burns dirty coal!

In other words, “green” transportation isn’t necessarily green if you don’t consider the energy product or the up-front production. If the battery production emits 16,000 kgs of CO2, all other vehicle production related emissions are equal, and you are using electricity produced from dirty coal to charge the battery, you don’t see the first drop of CO2 savings until you drive almost 1,780 tanks or 1,000,000 kms! And then you only see a 10% if, and only if, as stated above, the production of the remainder of the vehicle has about the same CO2 production as an average vehicle for its size.  (Which means, at the end of those warrantied 192,000 kms, that green Tesla won’t even be Carbon Neutral!  It won’t even be one fifth of the way!)

*2 greedy, power-hungry con-artists who will repeal all environmental laws, take away all our basic human rights, and even start wars that could not only end all wars but end us (assuming the AI they are using to replace us doesn’t end us first)

*3 after the last last satellite has plummeted back to earth (and burned up), the last skyscraper has crumbled, and the last pyramid has turned to dust, traces of certain microplastic molecules that do not occur naturally in nature will still be found in the soils and at the bottom of the ocean where there are no lifeforms to break them down

*4 even renewable energy such as solar, wind, and hydro has a carbon footprint as the panels need to be manufactured, the turbines need to be manufactured, and the dams need to be built and all that involves carbon production with today’s technology