Automotive logistics leaders prioritised action over measurement for carbon emissions at this year’s conference held by the Association of European Vehicle Logistics (ECG). Regulatory support, tech diversity, collaboration and trust were flagged as key actions for long-term success.
The conference, held in Copenhagen this October, included a focused panel discussion from key players in automotive logistics on sustainability, which looked into the challenges and opportunities of several major organisations including Toyota Motor Europe, Mosolf Group, Smart Freight Centre, UECC and the European Commission.
Sat before a record number of attendees, the ECG panel discussion opened with reference to the now-famous quote by UN Secretary General, António Guterres: “The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived.” While the situation may not be quite as dire for automotive logistics, it is undeniably pressing.
In response major carbon-cutting efforts are underway, with various innovative solutions being deployed across the vehicle logistics world, effectively reshaping the way the entire sector operates.
The measurement problem
Speakers agreed that it is time for action rather than further debating ’the measurement problem.’ The complexities inherent in the shifting machinery of vehicle logistics, as well as the diverse approaches to reliably measuring carbon emissions with any accuracy, risks a fatalist approach. But the unifying theme among the experts on the panel was ‘there is no time for that,’ and that action must prevail.
“We are not deciding on one technology. We can go with hydrogen, electric, diesel, or whatever it takes in order to reduce emissions and have results now” – Dr Jörg Mosolf, Mosolf Group
Jean-Christophe Deville, vice-president of supply chain at Toyota Motor Europe, emphasised this position, adding: “Measurements do not have an impact; action does.”
For automotive logistics, action results from the deployment of sophisticated responses and as the logistics landscape changes, so must the solutions. Deville said: “We are going to be at the end of our current solutions soon, which means we are entering new territories. I don’t know how much we will save, or exactly what impact we will have because at Toyota Motor Europe, we focus on action over measurement.”
Dr Jörg Mosolf, CEO of Mosolf Group, agreed, adding: “The time is here for more action and less talk. If we have the right incentives, I think we will do it.”
However, Mosolf qualified his statement by giving weight to the sustainability of the action taken while simultaneously underscoring the need and importance of carbon emissions measurement. “We have to arrive at the facts, so we have to have measurements.” The Mosolf Group has partnered with Spectaire, a leading technology provider, to implement real-time vehicle emissions monitoring during its transport operations.
Alan Lewis, Technical Director, Smart Freight Centre, a global non-profit organisation for climate action in the freight sector, said that the challenge in measuring emissions often arises because of inaccurate and unfruitful comparisons that steer the industry in the wrong direction.
“I see the role of the regulators as putting things on a level playing field to harmonise the industry and show the industry where to focus” – Alan Lewis, Smart Freight Centre
As someone steeped in data and analytics, he drew on the metaphor that issues arise because “apples need to be compared to apples; and not apples to oranges or even apples to tangerines.” That is an important point in effective sustainability data analysis as it highglights the difficulties in reliable measurement and therefore contextualisation of the problem.
Then there is the issue of time. In automotive logistics, time is of the essence. The disconnect between measurement and action is subject to time delays, a fact that many organisations can forget when it comes to formulating carbon solutions.
“I think the issue is about focusing on calculating reports, (which is what we did),” said Lewis. ”Since 2018 we were already looking to shift into action, but it takes time for things to take effect in terms of the industry coming on board.”
Regulation and industry action
Other potential obstructions to achieving sustainability goals can come in the form of divergent objectives, and often manifests in the relationship between regulation and industry. Szymon Oscislowski, deputy head of unit at the European Commission, said: “Most definitely, regulation should support the industry… but it’s important to understand that we don’t have unlimited resources.”
Concerning long-term thinking for collaboration, we have to take risks together – Szymon Oscislowski, European Commission
Oscislowski highlighted that industry players need to be coordinated towards a singular objective. “This is where EU regulation comes in,” he said. “I see the role of the regulators as putting things on a level playing field to harmonise the industry and show the industry where to focus.”
In terms of the relationship between regulation and industry, Daniel Gent, energy and sustainability manager at UECC, said: “We are seeing the biggest change in shipping in my lifetime. But what is driving it? Is it demand? No. Sadly, it’s regulatory enforcement.
”From an OEMs point of view, I understand the question, ‘what is the point of us throwing money away if this change is coming from the shipping companies?’ But you have to identify the opportunities to see where to monetise. I personally applaud what the EU is doing. We have to ask how we commoditise this emissions generation and we do this by quantifying. You need to engage with the regulator.”
For Dr Mosolf, the approach is different, however. He recognises the potential impediments that exist from beauractic processes to effective industry implementation. ”I am an operator. I’m pragmatic. I want results. So we can’t wait for these regulations,” he said.
Tools for sustainability
For some, sustainability in automotive logistics needs to be achieved through specific technologies at the expense of others. If carbon emissions reductions are to be achieved with any significance at all, the reduction objective should be the primary driver in decision-making, and an array of tools should be at the disposal of the players involved. ”It needs to be technologically agnostic,” said Daniel Gent. ”We need a mix of technologies and fuel types, and it has to be science-based.” The problem in the beginning is that it costs money to have a selection of different fuel types, but it takes time to commodify.”
Dr Mosolf agreed, saying: “We are not deciding on one technology. We can go with hydrogen, electric, diesel, or whatever it takes in order to reduce emissions and have results now.”
“However, we have to look at long-term planning,” he continued. ”We are beginning to see a learning curve. My advice is: just start. We will make mistakes, but we cannot be an excellent logistics provider by doing nothing. We have to work.”
Despite these differences in approach, it was clear from the ECG conference that automotive logistics is united in the need to achieve its goal of practical emissions reductions, by any means necessary. For Deville and Toyota Motor Europe, the solution lies in small but ceasless iterations. “Our philosophy is about changing something small every day as opposed to a major jump at the end.”
He added that long-term thinking for collaboration meant taking risks together.
”This means trusting each other and working together in unknown territories. Yes, these are unknown territories, but we have to get there together.”