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Freight Forwarding: Sustainable practices in cross-border logistics

by Editorial Office

As the volume of global trade increases, so does the environmental impact associated with the transportation of goods over long distances. Sustainable practices in cross-border logistics are therefore becoming increasingly important in Freight Forwarding: they are not only crucial for reducing CO2 emissions, but also for ensuring a sustainable global supply chain in the long term. In our blog article, we present various ways in which companies can act more sustainably in the international movement of goods.

Legal regulations bring sustainability to the fore

Many companies have already put the reduction of their CO2 emissions and the implementation of ESG criteria at the top of their agenda. In times of stricter legal regulations such as the German Supply Chain Act or CSRD, it is important to develop effective strategies to optimize not only the costs associated with logistics, but also the ecological balance sheet. The implementation of sustainable practices is becoming increasingly important in cross-border logistics. Yet, what are the approaches that help to reduce the environmental impact during the transportation of goods?

Alternative fuels and drive technologies for lower CO2 emissions

The use of alternative fuels and drive technologies plays a key role in the Freight Forwarding sector in order to accelerate the transition to more fuel-efficient logistics. LNG (liquefied natural gas), for example, is seen as a more environmentally friendly option due to its lower CO2 emissions compared to conventional diesel. LNG offers a valuable alternative for maritime transportation and heavy trucks in particular, significantly reducing both nitrogen oxide and particulate emissions.

Hydrogen fuel cells are a further promising technology. In heavy-duty transportation and shipping, they offer potentially lower-emission propulsion solutions by converting hydrogen into electricity, with water being the only by-product. Specific technologies such as dual-fuel engines, which combine LNG and diesel, or pure hydrogen fuel cell systems are therefore important factors for achieving emission targets. In the lighter commercial vehicle sector, battery electric vehicles (BEV) are also gaining in importance – advances in battery technology are continuously improving the range and charging infrastructure.

Optimization of route planning through AI

Optimizing route planning is another key approach in cross-border logistics that aims at reducing the environmental impact and wants to simultaneously increase efficiency in operational processes. Powerful Advanced Analytics platforms that use algorithms for Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence help companies to calculate the ideal route for the transportation of goods. Various dynamic factors such as traffic flow, weather conditions and infrastructural restrictions are taken into account in real time. These systems not only enable a more precise prediction of arrival times, but also optimize fuel consumption and reduce unnecessary detours or empty runs.

By integrating telematics systems, vehicle data such as speed, driving behavior and fuel consumption can be analyzed and coordinated in order to identify further savings opportunities and adapt driving style. Digital platforms can be used to bundle shipments from different customers, thus maximizing the utilization of the means of transport and reducing the number of journeys. Such optimized routes help to lower both operating costs and CO2 emissions by reducing the number of kilometers traveled and energy consumption per vehicle.

In addition, companies can use programs to calculate and offset their CO2 emissions during transport in order to achieve a net zero effect. Further information can be found here: Reducing CO2 emissions – the 3-phase model for more sustainability.

Improving container utilization through intelligent loading systems

In the field of Freight Forwarding, the management of container utilization also offers a great deal of scope for acting more sustainably. Advanced loading algorithms and freight consolidation systems ensure optimized container utilization: Specialized software solutions use dimensioning algorithms to optimally arrange cargo within the containers and at the same time comply with important safety regulations. Technologies such as IoT or RFID are used to monitor the cargo inside the containers and provide real-time data on cargo integrity and safety. Cooperative logistics strategies such as the co-loading of different shipments in one container also help to reduce the environmental impact per transported unit.

Such approaches to freight consolidation reduce both empty runs and transport frequencies – companies do not only reduce their carbon footprint, but also their operating costs. Precise planning tools and cooperation thus support a more sustainable use of logistics resources and promote ecological yet efficient transport processes in cross-border logistics.

Promotion of intermodal transport solutions

Rail, road, air and/or sea transport – intermodal transport solutions integrate and combine different modes of transportation in order to make optimum use of the respective advantages. The use of rail transport instead of truck transport over longer distances, for example, leads to a considerable reduction in CO2 emissions, as trains are much more efficient and lower in emissions than trucks for the same amount of cargo. Air freight, on the other hand, is unsurpassed in terms of speed, while transportation by cargo ship offers a cost-effective alternative, especially for international supply chains. With intermodal transport management, this diversity is used for individual solutions that are tailored to the specific requirements of the respective goods and their cross-border routes.

The planning, combination and interaction of the various transport modes is supported by special software that uses real-time data to improve traffic flows and handling processes. APS systems (Advanced Planning and Scheduling) make it possible to calculate the optimal transportation, taking into account costs, time and environmental impact. External factors such as traffic disruptions or weather conditions are also taken into account. By carrying out adaptive and dynamic route planning, logistics managers can react flexibly to unforeseen events and reduce environmental impact.

Strategic return logistics to support the circular economy

The promotion of return logistics – also known as reverse logistics – is playing an increasingly important role in the sustainable supply chain. The process not only involves returning products and materials for reuse, repair or recycling, but also improves the handling of returns in order to conserve resources and reduce waste. By systematically integrating return logistics into their operational processes, companies are helping to establish a circular economy. Intelligent technologies such as ERP systems not only control the physical transportation, but also the information and financial flows. To do this, they must be able to collect and analyze data on the condition and location of the returned goods in order to support decisions on further use – whether recycling, refurbishing or direct reintroduction into the product cycle. The logistical challenge is to design these processes as cost-efficient as possible without increasing the environmental impact.

At a strategic level, reverse logistics requires close cooperation between all parties involved in the supply chain. Manufacturers must work hand in hand with logistics service providers and retailers in order to create transparency and seamlessly organize the return and further processing of products. Collaborative platforms help to exchange data and information in real time and make it available to all supply chain players regardless of time and location.

Conclusion: The future of supply chains – sustainable strategies in Freight Forwarding

Sustainable practices in cross-border logistics are not only a response to regulatory requirements and society’s growing environmental awareness, but also a decisive factor for the long-term profitability and competitiveness of companies. The technology-based approaches enable the implementation of efficient, cost-saving and environmentally friendly solutions that not only ensure compliance with environmental regulations, but also promote the optimization of the entire supply chain and strengthen the reputation of companies as environmentally conscious players.

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