Sustainability in Logistics

More efficient, more intelligent, more user-friendly: practical solutions increase sustainability in logistics. Digital technologies play a key role here.

Every year, more than 100 billion parcels are shipped worldwide – with an upward trend. Depending on which study is used, logistics and transport are responsible for more than 5.5, 8 or, including logistics locations, even 11 percent of global CO2 emissions. In Europe, every fifth to second transport trip on the road is said to be empty. Yet, 45 percent of logistics companies do not record their CO2 emissions at all or only incompletely. Figures like these make clear how great the potential of logistics is for sustainability. For many years, the researchers at Fraunhofer IML have been supporting the logistics industry and its companies, as well as municipalities and organizations, with practical solutions and innovations to protect the environment and conserve resources. In recent years, both the view of sustainability and the spectrum of possibilities have changed significantly. “Above all, the use of digital technologies enables companies to operate more sustainably and achieve better results,” says Dr. Michael Schmidt, Chief Scientist at Fraunhofer IML. “Overall, sustainability is a key lever for securing one's competitiveness.”

Reducing costs, protecting the environment

The institute's range of services and technologies is correspondingly broad and addresses all dimensions of sustainability: economical, ecological, and social. In the meantime, it seems almost inconceivable that just a few years ago sustainability was reduced to climate and environmental protection - think, for example, of carbon footprint calculations, multimodal concepts in freight transport or low-noise night logistics.

Today, it is clear to everyone that economical and ecological sustainability cannot be separated from each other: Companies that reduce unproductive planning and organizational efforts open up significant economic potential in terms of cost savings, and in doing so, reduce their environmental impact. The same applies, albeit in reverse order, to the intelligent bundling of transports to avoid empty runs.

“Human Factor” as a success factor

Nowadays, special attention is also paid to social sustainability: With its initiative for a “Social Networked Industry”, Fraunhofer IML was one of the driving forces for a people-oriented design of a modern economy. “Modern technology such as decision support systems, robots and exoskeletons, which support people in physically demanding or stressful work, as well as digital technologies such as virtual or augmented reality, which are used to train employees, ensure that work adapts to people,” says Dr. Veronika Kretschmer, a psychologist and specialist in cognitive ergonomics, explaining her understanding of social sustainability. At the institute, companies have the opportunity to learn about and test numerous technologies and support systems for their employees, particularly in the area of intralogistics, as part of so-called 'quick checks'.

The researchers at Fraunhofer IML take all three dimensions of sustainability into account, when setting up a sustainability management for companies or while conducting relevant audits. In addition, the development of sustainability strategies as well as sustainable business models always includes all dimensions.

AI takes sustainability to the next level

Within the subprojects of the Silicon Economy - one of the largest research projects at the institute - the demand for more sustainability is underlined by a distinctly technology-centered and technology-optimistic approach. In this context, AI-based platform ecosystems serve as tools or instruments for sustainable logistics. “The consistent implementation of the Silicon Economy leads to more sustainability in logistics and supply chain management,” says Christian Prasse, community manager of the Silicon Economy. Part of the project’s focus is on software applications for data collection and process optimization using AI. Exemplary subprojects include a new type of volume measurement of load carriers in transport or the tracking of logistical objects. On the one hand, the combination of state-of-the-art AI algorithms with inexpensive sensors from the IoT sector may significantly improve the robustness of freight transport, and on the other hand, cameras may allow the use of locally executable and therefore particularly energy-efficient algorithms.


Discover Silicon Economy

Discover Blockchain Europe

Our contacts for selected areas of expertise in the field of sustainability

Dipl.-Ing. Olaf Vieweg

Sustainability strategy

Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics

Phone +49 231 9743-412

Send email

Dr. phil., Dipl.-Psych. Veronika Kretschmer

Human-technology interaction in intralogistics

Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics

Phone +49 231 9743 -289

Send email

M.Sc. Lucas Schreiber

Sustainable supply chain design

Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML

Phone +49 231 9743-416

Send email

Dr.-Ing. Kerstin Dobers

Sustainability and Environment

Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML

Phone +49 231 9743-360

Send email

Prof. Dr. Alex Vastag

Sustainability and mobility

Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics

Phone +49 231 9743-382

Send email