Now that the transport strikes seem to have eased off (although there is always the possibility of a repeat at any moment), I’ve taken the time to reflect a little on the subject.
I’m one of those who prefer to let things cool off before saying anything and I am aware that the problems the sector is facing are extremely complex. Besides, being an environmental scientist, not a carrier, I don’t think I hold the absolute truth, but nevertheless, the whole situation has made me think.
On the one hand, there is one idea that, I think, has crossed all of our minds: we need to depend on fossil fuels as little as possible. A change is needed and we need it now. I know that it’s not easy, but we need to stop shooting ourselves in the foot and give renewables the push they need.
We need more intermodal connections. We’ve witnessed the outcry from lorry drivers, but goods transportation is not exclusive to them. We are talking about trains and ships and also small delivery drivers. A bigger and better connection between all these elements is key to this, and in the 21st century I don’t think that the technological development required for this poses a problem.
A modernisation of vehicles is necessary. We need more efficient, less polluting and, if possible, electric vehicles (as a matter of fact, there ARE electric trucks, something I didn’t think was a thing until I started researching for this post).
A few numbers to keep in mind:
- 72% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 were caused by road transportation (Source: Transporeon , Transportation Pulse Report 2021).
- One fifth of road journeys for the transportation of goods are made with empty vehicles. Empty! A whole 20%! And in Spain we practically reach 25%. ·
- the Transportation consumes a third of all final energy in Europe (mostly derived from oil), but it also leads to air pollution problems that can be harmful to health (and not only to the environment), generates noise, and its infrastructures have impacts on the landscape and fragment the territory, thus affecting biodiversity.
In this context, a good electric charging network throughout Europe is essential.
A study last year from 2021 on vehicle charging infrastructures in the EU made it clear that developing this charging network is key to achieving the emission neutrality targets for 2050 but that at the same time we are facing a «chicken and egg» dilemma (which came first?) since there will not be sufficient supply and production of electric vehicles as long as there are no charging points and, at the same time, the investments to create this infrastructure require a certain volume of vehicles to depend on it.
On top of this we must add the unequal distribution of these charging points, since in Spain we barely reach 6000 compared to almost 32000 in our neighbouring France (ranked third in Europe). It’s then practically unthinkable to compare ourselves with the Netherlands, which leads the race with more than 82,000
But coming back to what I was talking about in the data section: empty journeys. This is something that really blows my mind as a businesswoman – what inefficiency! And as an environmentalist, it irks me even more…
And that’s when I realised the potential of the circular economy to be a lever for change in this topic, since one of the most interesting ways to work on it is with the recovery of products put on the market that are no longer wanted by the user, be it to either repair, remanufacture or reuse their components.
Let’s go one step further and redesign the transportation of goods: how about building partnerships (thank God for SDG 17) and car-(and truck)-pooling? Something to this effect was done in 2020 in the USA through a collaborative effort between Coca-Cola and Land O’Lakes: one truck carried the former’s butter on the outbound trip and returned with the latter’s pallets of beverages. The result? 1120 fewer miles traveled and 2500 fewer kg of CO2 emitted. And 0 empty km!
Another twist: let’s take advantage of technology and all the data we have and create spaces (call them websites, apps, whatever) where route information can be exchanged. This way, any carrier can see if there are pick-up options for materials or products either on their way or on their return, so that the route can be optimised as much as possible to reduce the mileage, time, and therefore negative impact. This makes life a lot easier, speaking bluntly.
That being said, this shouldn’t come without the necessary package, help, and support to all sectors. In the case of transportation, the acquisition of sustainable vehicles should be facilitated as much as possible. Each model needs its own vehicle; I am not in a position to pass judgement, but we need more electric vans and trucks which are as efficient as possible, amongst other things.
This is a complex, but crucial sector in daily life. This has been proven when its activities came to a standstill. Let’s rethink, let’s redesign, let’s not keep saying «it’s always been done this way». Let’s analyze the situation through a systemic approach and look for new solutions to these long-standing problems. It’s time for sustainable transformation, and this includes transportation.
How would you go about this issue? Leave a comment below!