Logistics particularly has had a bad press over ‘green’ issues but not only is that now unwarranted it is like blaming the messenger for the ‘sins’ of others. Those ‘sins’ were committed by global corporations outsourcing manufacturing to far flung places to exploit low production costs. Allied to that was the desire to use global JIT (just-in-time) deliveries, which could see components and sub assemblies crossing continents by air many times before final assembly, usually in the Far East for yet more transport to the other side of the world.

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That is not to deny the business case for such a philosophy. It helped raise struggling developing countries to raise millions out of poverty and keep a lid on inflation in the West but from an environmental view it came with a cost – incalculable, insidious, death-dealing. An estimated 500,000 Chinese die every year from air pollution. In northern Europe, air pollution from cargo ships kills around 50,000 a year owing to their fuel’s high sulphur content. The transport aspect of logistics, therefore, is heavily implicated. Air transport, for example, is 30 times dirtier than rail transport in terms of its carbon footprint.

Technical changes and legislation can improve this but the shape of transport modes must improve for  greener credentials. The greatest example of success in this, perhaps, is the advent of pallet exchange networks some 20 years ago which continues to innovate and thrive even in recessionary times because the concept behind it helps reduce their customers’ costs.

The idea behind the networks is simple enough. It involves network members collecting freight from customers and delivering it to a central hub. It is then sorted and loaded onto the vehicle of the network member responsible for the destination postcode. Figures show that the average vehicle fill for pallet networks is 73% compared with just 51% for conventional haulage systems. Adrian Russell, MD of Pall-Ex, claims an average fill of 90%. The Department of Transport estimates that pallet networks help to remove 837 vehicles from the road every day.

The networks, however, do not rest on their laurels, especially in terms of ‘green’ issues. Pall-Ex, for example, has developed its Eco-Drive, which involves taking back waste packaging form deliveries and recycles it for customers. The return journey from the delivery is used to deal with it so no extras emissions are involved. Interest in this development is by no means confined to Britain. Pall-Ex reports that its European partners have all expressed interest in introducing similar schemes.

Truck and trailer developments will also push the networks’ ‘green’ credentials even further. As part of the Government’s 10-year pilot scheme, hauliers are now using trucks 2 mt longer than a standard trailer. Williams Transport, a member of the UPN group pallet exchange network, uses one made by Wilson Trailers and reports 13% more loading space. This means fewer journeys for moving the same amount of goods without any safety compromises. Drivers report better handling than a normal length trailer owing to Wilson’s highest specifications of rear wheel steering system.

Despite recession and outlook uncertainties, the pallet networks thrive on such conditions. UPN’s Andrew Spencer explains that network customers must get their costs under control to be in a relatively strong position. The networks’ approaches helps hauliers in this respect. Even in recession-hit Europe Palletline’s distribution is bucking the trend. Helped by track and trace systems together with processes for instant communications of accurate proof of delivery information. Such IT investment has given European hauliers much more cost-efficient solutions.

If ever an industry deserved a ‘green’ accolade it is the pallet exchange networks.

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