Moving from zero-emission to zero-impact city logistics

So far, city logistics has played a limited role in improving air quality in cities. The focus on clean vehicles has been positive for air quality. But shouldn’t we discuss economically sound, vital, and healthy city centers and neighborhoods when developing urban freight policies? Today, “zero impact” city logistics should be the focal point.

Air quality in cities is unhealthy. The air in cities contains many different substances, particulate matter, and gases. Among other things, the particles released during combustion in diesel engines threaten our health. That is why our air quality is subject to European standards.

Amsterdam’s coughing corridors
The concentrations of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide regularly exceed those standards. Friends of the Earth have labeled my street in Amsterdam a “coughing corridor.” But the situation in Rotterdam and many other European cities like Paris and London is just as bad. And even where the European standards are met, the air is hardly healthy. Both friends and foes can agree on that.

The role of city logistics in improving air quality
In the Amsterdam metropolitan region, 35% of nitrogen dioxide emissions and 10% of the particulate matter come from road traffic. The transport of goods is responsible for 20 to 25% of that. It’s safe to say that city logistics has already significantly contributed to cleaner air in the cities. The heavier Euro 5 and Euro 6 trucks that are still allowed to enter the low-emission zones of cities are reasonably clean. Now, it’s cleaner carrier freezing and refrigeration that needs attention.

Considering their 80% share in city logistics, it’s high time that delivery vans were made cleaner. Creating more restrictive low-emission zones would undoubtedly speed up making nearly a million delivery vans in the Netherlands cleaner. Several Dutch cities have even opted for zero-emission city logistics in 2025. And the transport industry is supporting it.

In 5 years, air quality might no longer be an issue in city logistics! Shouldn’t we forget that persistent air-quality mantra connected with city logistics? What were the means and the ends of all those city logistics measures once again? Shouldn’t it be about ensuring economically sound, vital, and healthy city centers and neighborhoods? Isn’t accelerating climate change not much more urgent?

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CO2 and noise
In the coming years, the attention given to city logistics must focus on the other aspects of “zero-emission” city logistics: CO2. The transport sector needs to increase its carbon productivity by a factor of 6 to meet the Paris Climate goals. Even with just one-third of the current CO2 emissions in transport, specifically city logistics, much is still to be gained.

Smarter and less: zero impact
After all, city logistics is about much more than just clean, zero-emission transport. The focus should be on smarter but especially also less transport: less – and a more flexible – use of public spaces for loading and unloading, more traffic safety, smaller vehicles, a better traffic flow, less noise, no damage to building and infrastructure, privileges as a reward for effective city logistics, the smart provisioning of (new) residential areas and bottom-line no nuisance. The time has come for “zero emission” city logistics and “zero-impact” city logistics.

Walther Ploos van Amstel, professor of city logistics at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (HvA)

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