Blog posts

Innovation through Collaboration

Innovation through collaboration within last-mile deliveries

iSmile has a wide range of corporate partners with whom we work with to collect data and establish best practices for sustainable last mile deliveries. To keep our partners up to date on the progress of iSmile and to give them an opportunity to network among each other, we have held workshops (online for now). In the workshop organized on the 25th of January 2022, we had good representation of partners involved from all four Nordic countries that iSmile currently operates in. unfortunately we have not yet managed to lock in a partner from Iceland, so represented were Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden.  

iSmile wants to stay open to our partners about what we do and how their involvement is valuable to the project and the industry in general. This workshop also began with a recap of the main goals of iSmile: emphasize the role of new innovations and technologies in reducing negative effects of e-commerce.

Doctoral candidate at Hanken, Helleke Heikkinen, kicked off the workshop with a recap of data regarding sustainability practices in deliveries gathered from retailers in Finland.  Retailers primarily work with logistics service providers, and customers want choices in their delivery mode. Working with several LSPs allows customers to prioritise either price, speed of delivery, or sustainability.

Sustainability issues are present in the business models and plans of the retailers, for example in the form of carbon compensation. However, due to recent increases in e-commerce demand, as people were wary of going to actual stores, sustainability factors had to be put on the back burner

As an innovation project, iSmile strives to explore novel ways of making deliveries in urban areas. Cargo bikes and other light vehicles are increasingly gaining ground as sustainable options for traditional van and truck deliveries. Courier turned researcher Howard Weir presented his insights and experiences working for DB Schenker in Oslo. The zero-emission deliveries have been piloted in Oslo since 2019, starting with a container microhub and three cargo bikes in the city and evolving into a city hub and a fleet that includes electric vans in addition to the bikes.

Fully laden cargo delivery bikes with the DB Schenker Logo in a snowy industrial park.

While cargo bikes are an efficient way to deliver goods around densely populated urban areas, infrastructure is still geared toward vans and other motor vehicles. Due to this, route planning and cooperation between different transport modes is a necessity to successfully use cargo bikes. The bikes are still relatively rare, while integral in for example Schenker’s operations, so factors like maintenance and charging are still an issue. Bikes obviously also have capacity constraints. However, larger bikes lose the advantages that bikes have, as they are no longer as agile or easy to manoeuvre in tight urban spaces.

PostNord Logistics has also made leaps in using more sustainable fuel, thereby reducing CO2 emissions by 67% since 2009. Lars Povl Jensen from PostNord gave the workshop participants an introduction into the delivery strategies of the cross-docking central terminal in Zealand. The last-mile deliveries are handled by external carriers, with whom PostNord collaborates closely to uphold top-notch delivery standards. Through collaboration with iSmile, PostNord hopes to improve these relationships further, and develop tools for greener practices. Route planning is an integral part of reducing emissions, as unnecessary driving naturally increases them. Available infrastructure and expectations from authorities are also factors PostNord hopes to address in collaboration with iSmile.

Greening last-mile deliveries presents many opportunities, but there are of course practical issues that must be tackled. Different types of deliveries also present different challenges. For example, PostNord Logistics mostly deals in large deliveries, for which using cargo bikes is not a viable option. A factor that came up in all three presentations and the subsequent discussion was the role of the city/municipality in what kind of solutions are options and how the public sector might be able to incentivize private actors to consider environmental issues in addition to the bottom line. For light vehicles to live up to their potential, there must be transport hubs located in city centres and other inhabited areas. This requires space, which is already scarce in densely populated cities. Terminals are therefore situated outside of cities, for example near airports, which then inhibits the effective use of light electric vehicles and cargo bikes due to the distance. City infrastructure and regulations are also a concern for last-mile deliveries, as parking and driving heavy vehicles in busy urban areas can be challenging. Parking tickets have been issued for trucks making a stop in front of a delivery address, and cargo bikes face challenges manoeuvring in traffic. To increase the use of electric vehicles, such as scooters and even vans, charging stations need to become more prevalent in city areas. All in all, the workshop raised very interesting and important points to further explore within iSmile. Events like this emphasize the importance of collaboration between practice and research. Also hearing from all participants of the supply chain, from the terminal workers to couriers to customers to city organizations is relevant and helps achieve solutions that benefit everyone.

i-SMILE Project