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Green logistics – transforming the postal service

Green logistics means providing logistical services sustainably to save resources and protect the environment. More specifically, it means reducing fuel consumption, cutting harmful emissions, using renewable resources in packaging and containers, and developing special workplace environments. And, of course, it means offsetting carbon emissions.

The logistics sector is one of the biggest producers of CO2 emissions because moving parcels and containers around consumes large amounts of energy. For many years, the transport sector viewed this as an irreconcilable problem, and it did little to actively protect the environment. As Martin Schmied from the German Öko-Institut (Institute for Applied Ecology) in Berlin argues, ‘the thinking changed only when people realised that saving energy also meant saving money. The big players in the sector are now taking action.’ In Germany, these ‘big players’ are DHL, DB Schenker, and Lufthansa (Cargo). For the past four years, the Öko-Institut has been tracking DB Schenker’s carbon footprint and it is working with all three companies on climate protection projects. Even the electrical appliance manufacturer Miele has called on the Öko-Institut to investigate ways in which it can reduce damage to the climate when shipping goods.

All private DHL parcels now CO2-neutral

Deutsche Post DHL has taken on a pioneering role in green logistics. In 2007, it became the first transport company in the world to set a measurable target for cutting harmful carbon dioxide emissions. By 2020, it aims to reduce by 30 % the CO2 emissions produced by every letter and parcel it handles, every tonne of freight it moves, and every square metre of warehouse space it uses.

At the same time, the company also launched a range of green logistics solutions for its business and private customers. These range from individual CO2 reports to carbon-neutral postal services based on what it calls ‘GOGREEN’ products. DHL now sends all private parcels and small packages in Germany carbon-neutrally at no extra cost. For letters, it produces special pre-stamped envelopes and cards that guarantee climate-friendly transport. The amount of carbon dioxide produced by transport and handling is calculated and offset by investments in climate protection projects. These include a biomass power plant in India and efficient wood-burning stoves in Lesotho.

A number of prominent businesses are already making use of DHL’s green logistics solutions. For example, DHL has tailored an environmentally friendly container transport concept for domestic appliance manufactures Bosch and Siemens. Over 13,000 containers a year now go by rail rather than by road, reducing carbon emissions by up to 60 %. Hewlett-Packard is another business to use GOGREEN, this time in Australia, where it has moved its container terminal and increased the loading capacity of road transport to reduce CO2 emissions by 40 %.

Offsetting through new investment

Offsetting CO2 emissions by investing in climate protection projects is, however, controversial. Many commentators compare the trade in emissions unfavourably to a modern-day ‘sale of indulgences’. Dr Florian Skiba of the Hamburg-based greenhouse gas offset organisation Arktik GmbH begs to differ: ‘Offsetting is a way of compensating in real terms for our actions. In the case of greenhouse gas emissions, everybody benefits from that compensation,’ he argues.

His company has pioneered the use of a fuel-card that car drivers can use to calculate and offset their CO2 emissions when they fill up with petrol. It can be used for both private and business-use vehicles. Driving in a climate-neutral way, as defined by Germany’s technical standards body TÜV, costs EUR 15.00 per tonne of CO2 used. Arktik is investing in what it calls ‘gold standards’ – climate protection projects certified and audited by the WWF and the United Nations. It is immaterial whether we want to make road or air travel carbon-neutral travel because we have a guilty conscience, because we are concerned about our image, or because we genuinely want to protect the planet. By taking action, we are protecting the environment, and the environment asks no questions.


What do you think? Is it even possible for logistics to be carbon-free? Can you fly with a clear conscience if you offset your carbon emissions? Or is offsetting just a way of denying the consequences of your actions? Write in the comments.

December 2011

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