¦ Efficient logistics can reduce costs and carbon emissions.
¦ Shipping is one of the most carbon-friendly forms of transport.
¦ Companies should reduce the number of empty road journeys.
¦ Simulation technology can improve drivers’ efficiency.
¦ In-cab telematics can monitor fuel use.

The market for softwood and hardwood grew by nearly 13% in the first quarter of 2010, which, although an optimistic sign in the current economic climate, has the knock-on effect of increasing pressure, in terms of expenditure and environment, on an organisation’s supply chain. It is therefore vital that the logistics function – the backbone of the business – is efficient and streamlined.

Cutting carbon and cutting costs can go hand in hand, and both can be addressed through better logistics planning as well as good training of staff, from management to delivery fleet drivers.

Changing the transport used in the supply chain can increase logistics efficiency. Research by Professor David Menachof at the Logistics Institute at Hull University Business School is investigating the effects of near-porting and port centric logistics on businesses.

Logistics strategies

Near-porting is the practice of landing goods at the port nearest to their final destination, while port centric logistics is the location of distribution facilities at the port side, removing the need to transport goods to an inland distribution centre. The level of pollution on road mileage is six times more than miles travelled at sea, which makes shipping one of the most carbon-friendly modes of transport. By switching to sea or by removing transport legs, companies can massively reduce their carbon footprint as well as lower the cost per unit transported.

Some timber companies have already adopted one or both of these transport principles, switching from lorries to ships to import goods. And the results have proved positive; for example, in 2007 Premier Forest Products saved around 119,000kg of carbon emissions and 100 lorry journeys by shipping cargo from Stuttgart to Newport.

Other timber businesses, such as SCA and VCi Industries Ltd, have pledged to cut their total carbon footprint by anything from 5-20% over the next 10 years and many are taking the advice of external agencies, such as the Carbon Trust, to reduce their footprint in the area of transport. Measures such as reducing vehicle fuel consumption, boosting delivery efficiency or replacing the use of fossil fuels with biomass will complement non-logistical green changes such as reducing packaging and promoting recycling and reuse programmes.

Route planning

However, it is inevitable that businesses will have to undertake some road miles to complete their product journey. Taking this into consideration, it is vital that supply chain managers concentrate on the overarching efficiency issues and are able to undertake tasks such as planning better routes for haulage fleets and understanding the impact of the supply chain on the overall profitability of the organisation.

In order to be more efficient, organisations need to reduce the number of vehicles which run empty on journeys. By understanding how to map more expedient routes, supply chain managers can increase vehicle utilisation and make the most of the miles vehicles travelled.

In addition, educating drivers about fuel efficiency can have huge effects. A government-led survey in 2007 showed that training for 6,375 drivers had resulted in industry saving approximately £10.5m in fuel costs over the year – a significant amount in the current climate, and a great shift towards a lower carbon footprint for the logistics industry, as less fuel obviously means fewer emissions.

Simulation technology

By using simulation technology which relates to real life jobs in construction, like that housed within the Logistics Institute, organisations can massively reduce environmental impact and lower costs, as well as improve safety and security by training drivers off-road and out of vehicles.

But it is not enough to train drivers and managers once and hope that these improvements continue. How can organisations ensure that they are getting the best from their team?

In-cab telematics can monitor fuel usage and it is possible to analyse performance by vehicle and even by individual drivers. By introducing this measure, organisations can look at incentivised schemes such as driver league tables or performance-linked pay schemes, to encourage better fuel, and therefore green, efficiencies.

And it’s not just new telematics. Developing technologies like Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC), item attendant data and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) can assist with the process of improving efficiencies.

The logistics function drives an organisation, and efficiencies in the supply chain can lead to massive environmental and monetary savings. Whether it is through improved driver training, more efficient route planning or a more expedient means of delivery, it is important to ensure that the logistics function is as streamlined and efficient as possible.

• For more information regarding training and consultancy at the Logistics Institute at Hull University Business School, visit