Like all other business sectors, logistics has to contribute its share to the sustainable transformation of our economies, as well as in reducing absolute greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and enhance resource efficiency to, thus, meet climate neutrality goals. The project GILA “German, Italian & Latin American consortium for resource efficient logistics hubs & transport” was designed to contribute to global efforts in reducing the environmental impact (especially carbon impact) of logistics with the focus laid on logistics hubs, such as warehouses, consolidation/fulfilment centres, distribution centres, cross-docking sites as well terminals at maritime or inland ports, freight and intermodal terminals or cargo terminals at airports. At the start of the GILA project, a gap existed on data on GHG emissions from the buildings and terminals in which goods are stored, handled and transhipped as well as a gap of know-how on clear measures on how to reach more sustainable logistics hubs.
Therefore, two main areas of research have been addressed for the overall objective of enhanced sustainability:
(1) concepts for sustainable logistics sites covering both existing and new hubs as well as
(2) establishment of a methodological framework for describing detailed the environmental performance of logistics sites.
As a start and for further detailing the GILA’s scope, a picture of sustainable logistics sites has been defined, covering the full sites’ life cycle (layout, construction, operation, end of life), equipment and processes (e.g., building shell, technical building equipment, yard, material handling) and addressing sustainability areas such as GHG emissions, energy use, circular economy, resilience to external effects as well raised awareness, transparency in performance and digitalisation. A parallel trend study on logistics hubs (covering technology, social, business, policy, legal, and certification trends as well as trends regarding natural resources, planetary boundaries) focussed the research further on technology trends and the combination of sustainability with digitalization and organizational changes. It was of great value bringing together the different project partners with their individual perspective (developer, owner, tenant, research) and regional background (Europe, Latin America).
Concepts for sustainable logistics sites covering both existing and new hubs
Basing on this initial step, different pathways for sustainable logistics sites have been followed in parallel. Firstly, digitalization of logistics sites in the context of sustainability has been analysed and discusses in more detail. This was jointly realised with the platform “warehouse logistics” [https://www.warehouse-logistics.com], a platform developed and operated by the Fraunhofer IML with around 60 representatives of the logistics IT sector. According to this, IT systems offer high potential for data-based evaluation of sustainability measures, and existing functionalities of e.g., warehouse management systems can be used in a target-oriented approach. But stakeholders still face challenges when establishing a sufficient database and interfaces and the need for raising awareness for the importance of transparency was another key outcome.
Secondly, concepts in the field of yard logistics have been discussed. Evaluating the potential for sustainable action in the area of yard logistics identified ongoing trends in the technical, social, and business domain, affecting development towards greener yard logistics. Here, main potentials are found in increased use of automation and digitalization allowing reduction of land use and GHG emissions as well as more efficient and flexible operation of logistics sites. Yard logistics thereby acts as connector between transportation networks and on-site processes.
Thirdly, a set of measures to enhance the sustainability performance of logistics hubs has been derived and transferred to a roadmap of action towards sustainable logistics hubs. This includes a list of seven subject areas and related potential measures:
(1) Green building & yard,
(4) Material handling & automation,
(5) Operational practices,
(6) Materials management and
(7) Monitoring, reporting & business models.
Some of the measures have been included in GILA’s market surveys to better understand the status quo of implementation and possible prioritisation of future implementation as well as to link implemented measures to the individual GHG performance. Furthermore, two master models for sustainable prototypes of real estates were developed using a (1) net zero approach and (2) resource positive approach. Here the link between the different life cycle stages can be drawn, since the applied BIM6D models focus on all sustainable parameters already during the design process and outline selected impact such as energy performance, or carbon footprint. The two prototypes are described regarding the relevant sustainability areas and key criteria and actions.
Establishment of a methodological framework for describing environmental performance of logistics sites
Transparency on the sustainability performance may be achieved by establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) and aligned methodologies for calculating the KPIs. Therefore, a classification scheme for logistics sites has been elaborated combining requests of GILA’s sustainability picture as well as discussions with industry (especially owners and operators of hubs) and standardisation activities such as the ISO 14083. The consortium strongly supported the development of the ISO 14083 at German (DIN) and international (ISO) level and GILA’s elaborated average emission intensity values have been referenced in the ISO Annex as default values. The classification scheme combines different perspectives such as life cycle phase, environmental topics, processes during operation, general site category, freight type, temperature condition as well as level of granularity and base units i.e., possible denominators.
With the focus on the operational phase, energy efficiency and GHG emissions, three global market surveys have been established in consecutive years. In total 843 logistics hubs located in 51 countries worldwide participated in the surveys providing operational and logistics data for calculating carbon footprints and KPIs of individual hubs as well as additional information for further analyses and possible benchmarking. The market studies underlined the still existing challenge of operators of sufficient data for measuring the environmental performance, highlighted the main contributors on the hubs’ carbon footprint and resulted in initial sets of GHG emission intensity values measured in kg GHG emissions per tonne throughput (outbound) or square meter logistics area (indoors).
In the context of the ISO 14083 development as well as the market studies close cooperation and alignment with other stakeholders were key. Example research stakeholders involved are our international GILA partners i.e., Politecnico di Milano (IT) and Universidad de los Andes(COL), as well as Kühne Logistik University (DE) or ifeu Institut für Energie- und Umweltforschung (DE). In addition, we had numerous discussions and exchange with industry partners i.e., possible users of the KPIs and methodology. Feedback was gathered through the surveys as well as by presenting the results in webinars, the last organised by the European Technology Platform “Alliance for Logistics Innovation through Collaboration in Europe” (ETP ALICE).
In addition to measuring the current environmental performance of logistics hubs during operation, further research of GILA focussed the need for renovating the existing building stock to achieve a climate-neutral building sector. Basing on an extensive assessment (if available, using existing building information model (BIM)) of more than 250 warehouses regarding their technical condition, sustainable footprint, expected lifecycle, and any improvement measures, the concepts of Capex (Capital Expenditure) and Carbex (Carbon Expenditure) of such buildings have been applied. Relevant benchmarks regarding the maintenance condition or energy status of the building, its age, size and the asset class have been elaborated and transferred to a “sustainable asset tool”. On the basis of a few key values of the individual logistics site, the tool allows to quickly estimate the respective stranding point of a property as well as the possible measures, including cost estimates, to bring the building into a state that complies with EU requirements.
The international consortium
Fraunhofer IML is responsible for the project lead and the scientific implementation of the project. One content focus lies on the methodological approach for developing environmental KPIs for logistics sites, another on the sustainable design of material handling and yard logistics as well as the implementation of circular economy concepts. Arcadis Germany GmbH as developer of logistics sites brings in the expertise regarding concepts for sustainability and energy efficiency of logistics real estates and infrastructure. One main focus in GILA is the modelling of prototype. P3 Logistic Parks contributes its know-how regarding sustainable industrial properties and market development. The Italian partner Politecnico di Milano provides expertise on green logistics concepts, GreenRouter is mainly responsible for the calculation of GHG emissions of logistics sites. The Italian industry partners Fercam, Flexilog, Conad and Prysmian group contribute their expertise and experience of their own logistics sites. Finally, Universidad de los Andes brings in its Latin American perspective and experience on environmental performance of terminals. In addition, a parallel discussion and validation is planned with external stakeholders.
The project GILA - German, Italian & Latin American consortium for resource efficient logistics hubs & transport is sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (FKZ 03INT712BA). The project period was from July 2020 till July 2023.