Net zero in 2050: how will transport companies survive?

The logistics sector must be net zero by 2050. But all measures proposed will create an uneven playing field with selective access to logistics capabilities, people, money, data, and energy. So how will transport companies survive?

I was asked to lecture on sustainability for a group of CEOs from European transport companies. I hyperventilated. What am I going to tell these CEOs? Will the planned zero-emission zones in Dutch cities go through in 2025? Will it be hydrogen or battery technology in the e-truck? What are energy prices going to do? Or will biofuels bring the necessary CO2 reduction? Who will pay for vehicle investments, charging infrastructure, and training drivers? And how do we deal with net congestion?

The sustainability train doesn’t stop running

The transportation sector must complete the transport job with 60 percent less CO2 by 2030. And by 2050 itself, it will be completely net zero. Road transport accounts for almost half of the mobility sector’s CO2 emissions. That has to be done with much less. The Dutch government and the European Commission will push the industry with stricter rules and emission targets. The sustainability train doesn’t stop running.

Disrupting the logistics industry

The playing field for transport companies is changing with all the measures proposed by the government. The level playing field based on standard diesel technology is disappearing. Instead, there will be an uneven playing field with selective access for transport companies (small and large) to logistics capabilities, people, money, data, and energy. The proposed measures are going to disrupt the transportation market. Are the CEOs prepared for this?

The more information there is about making the logistics sector more sustainable, the more I feel that there are other (and better) routes for making transport more sustainable and ultimately achieving climate goals than the currently planned government measures.

Sustainability through innovation

In recent years, many reports have been published on decarbonizing the logistics sector should become more sustainable. It concerns the hard side of clean vehicles and vessels, multimodal hubs, warehouses, and charging infrastructure: the ‘stuff.’ But, the soft side of the more intelligent use of supply chain and government data for sustainability is the ‘fluff.’

But what I miss in the conversations is the ‘soul‘ of our profession. How can we, together with all the talent in the logistics sector, come up with inspiring innovations that matter to the companies and consumers we supply to? Sustainability is of no use if the customer is not satisfied.

There is no one-size-fits-all

We need to step back and think, with today’s vast know-how of companies, governments, banks, and research institutions, about what we want to achieve and how. Each segment in logistics requires its own approach with a good balance between stuff, fluff, and soul. Making transport sustainable must therefore be about making it sustainable in the construction chain, food supply, or home deliveries. There is no one-size-fits-all.

What investments and subsidies are effective?

Sustainability intervenes in all strategic processes of transportation companies and their shippers. What investments in money and time make sense (and are feasible), and what subsidies are effective? And how do we ensure a level playing field where transportation companies have a fair chance to compete… and survive?

Collaborating with shippers

The European goals are 60 percent less CO2 by 2030 and net zero by 2050. The question is: what ‘net-zero roadmap’ is needed for the various logistics segments to achieve this? Then we can actively discuss a supply chain approach with the shippers in those sectors. We’re in this together. Let’s go back to the drawing board. Otherwise, without transport, soon all will stand still.

Walther Ploos van Amstel.

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