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Logistics for a sustainable world

Once seen as a sign of growth, urbanisation is fast turning the 21st-century city into a pressure cooker of needs and wants

After housing and utilities on the shopping list of municipal provision, come transport and mobility, complete with concerns around congestion, pollution, noise and inconvenience.

Moving people and goods around successfully is fundamental to any hopes of doing sustainable business in a liveable and accessible city. As a result, solving the urban transport puzzle is one of the major challenges facing any aspiring high-density, but low-carbon and pollution-free, metropolis.

Tackling road transport is not easy, however. Policies such as the congestion charge in London and Madrid, or even car-free days in Paris, are evidence of historic cities wrestling with a mix of legislative fixes designed to keep the traffic flowing and the air clean.

Business clients are experiencing the push of these rules and regulations as road users. In addition, they are feeling the pull of customer demand driving the retail agenda, says David Saenz, chief operating officer at last-mile logistics specialist Stuart.

“Brands are increasingly hearing from consumers that sustainability in logistics and delivery, how they receive their items, is important to them. It is directly affecting brand loyalty and the likelihood of repeat purchases, which is critical in a competitive retail market,” he says.

Today’s conscious consumer expects speed of delivery, convenience and environmental responsibility. How you address this logistics dilemma, in an urban context and on a technological level, is the big question.

Delivering on climate ambition

Answering the requirements of sustainable city-centre logistics means satisfying a complex equation for boosting delivery precision and customer satisfaction, while critically cutting carbon, as well as cost, distance and time. This calls for climate ambition, says Saenz.

“At Stuart we have declared a demanding goal to be running a 100 per cent green fleet by 2021,” he says. “Already, we are at 60 per cent across three countries. We are passionate about making cities less polluted and congested. It is a driving force for what we do and a matter of internal and external motivation.”

In terms of technology development and operational improvement, there are essentially three dimensions in which Stuart can directly impact environmental issues: routing, capacity and transport type.

When it comes to routing, well-known off-the-shelf solutions already exist. However, smarter delivery is about more than just shorter distances. Factoring in data for specific drivers, operating in a certain city, for a given mix of clients, provides Stuart with optimal custom mapping to refine routes from pick-up to drop-off.

On capacity management, the benefits to sustainability and efficiency are obvious; if every courier can maximise space in their vehicle, parcel volumes go up and the trip count goes down.

The final parameter is the transport type itself. The 60 per cent of the Stuart fleet currently carbon zero comprises bicycles, walkers and electric vehicles, including mopeds. Allocating the transport type to the task, though, is still a crunch area for logistics, with significant sustainability gains to be won and lost.

Raising the bar, Stuart has launched a green-only service offering in the UK market. Also, working for one of the biggest grocery players in France, for instance, the company uses walkers, even deselecting bicycles. This not only cuts carbon emissions, but also eases congestion as carbon-zero vehicles can still contribute to clogging up a city. The means of delivery matters, explains Mr Saenz.

“We need to be smart about despatch, understanding the differences between client operating models and business needs, so we can put the right tools together at the right time to optimise transport type,” he says.

Shared, efficient and reliable

In strategic terms, the sustainability vision at Stuart is for a service that is shared, efficient and reliable.

Shared is key. The traditional business model for last-mile logistics was built on each operator using their own dedicated fleet of vehicles. However, the more providers can get clients to pool their volumes together, the more they can optimise on routing, capacity and transport type.

Efficiency touches everything. A clear priority for a retailer, for instance, might be to improve the quality and scope of their next-day and same-day offer, under pressure from market rivals and customer demand.Stuart info

In this scenario, the challenge for Stuart is to meet client needs while still supporting core sustainability goals. One way is to employ microhubs within cities. In a traditional supply chain model, a retailer would typically ship goods to their own warehouse, then to a third-party carrier distribution centre, where parcels are sorted, before being loaded on to a diesel truck for distribution. This multi-step infrastructure is a real constraint.

The Stuart solution is to have retailers inject directly into the city centre, via a smaller microhub facility. Cutting out the extra leg saves on truck time, which speeds up delivery, allows for greater precision and, most importantly, cuts carbon.

Furthermore, once those parcels have been sorted in the city-centre microhub, additional sustainability and efficiency benefits can be realised by being smart about transport type and capacity management.

The third attribute is reliability. This performance essential is underpinned by the ongoing programme of technological advancements at Stuart. Over time, any service that is unreliable is simply not sustainable.

Tipping point for sustainability

Seeking to solve just one piece of the urban logistics puzzle requires substantial investment in technological innovation on the part of Stuart. It is an ongoing process of continuous refinement in pursuit of operational excellence, responding to evolving city environments, policy shifts and the effects of climate change.

The prize though is big and real. As the sustainable logistics model approaches cost parity with the traditional alternative, the tipping point nears for an explosion in demand.

Saenz concludes: “If you were to ask clients, brands and all end-users whether they would prefer their items delivered in a sustainable way, of course they would. Our aim is to show retailers that sustainable last-mile logistics can be economically viable and show customers they can enjoy great quality, environmentally friendly delivery.

“Our job is to deliver what we know in the end everybody wants: logistics for a sustainable world.”

For more information please visit stuart.com

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