Logistics innovate in response to sustainability challenges

Logistics activities are responsible for 8% of global CO2 emissions. With nearly 3,000 packages shipped per second worldwide, identifying and deploying solutions capable of ensuring their distribution and collection while limiting the environmental impact of deliveries is therefore a  challenge.


Smart lockers for optimizing order collection


Automation solutions are powerful tools that have already proven their value in optimizing construction professionals’ mobility, as they are often faced with urgent supply needs on construction sites. By focusing on remote orders and the use of e-commerce, professionals have found a way to meet their flexibility needs. But how can order collection be made easier while guaranteeing immediate availability?

For every problem, there is a solution. To help make professionals’ order collections more flexible, in 2021, Rexel launched – for Paris and its inner suburbs – an innovative local distribution center of around 500 m2, where 22 robots are busy preparing orders. Part of the R+ services that Rexel offers, this robotized order preparation platform processes over 20,000 items, which are then made accessible to customers 24/7 in around 100 smart lockers. In concrete terms, the customer receives a message notifying them about the availability and preparation of their order. The lockers, which are fully secure, open using a unique and secure QR code for each order. In addition, customers can receive deliveries – by bike or from trucks running on natural gas – directly on their site in under two hours in the Paris region; and if the order is placed before noon, the customer can benefit from same-day delivery. An ecologically-friendly solution ensuring speed and efficiency, particularly in the event of an unforeseen supply emergency.

To limit its carbon footprint, Rexel has also provided closer delivery points for its customers with “Rexel Box” lockers, allowing them to order their equipment online or by telephone and choose a delivery point as close as possible to their construction site. These Rexel Boxes can be accessed 24/7 at one of the eight loading docks open to professionals, as well as in partner Indigo parking decks in the Paris region.


Moving towards low-emission deliveries


Cargo bike deliveries

Like many cities, Paris faces a multitude of congestion problems and therefore pollution issues. To make matters worse, deliveries in the City of Light are thought to be responsible for 15% to 20% of urban traffic and 25% of carbon emissions. To support the growth in ultra-fast deliveries, particularly in dense urban areas, the French government is rolling out a national plan to foster bicycle logistics. Three-wheeler cargo bikes with a 1,500-liter container emit 85% less CO2 compared to an internal combustion engine vehicle with a similar capacity. With the help of the delivery platform Stuart, a subsidiary of the French La Poste, the city of Paris tested a mobile warehouse designed to distribute its cargo of packages between different delivery staff equipped with cargo bikes. The trial, which began in April 2021 and ran for a six-month period, eased congestion on roads while also limiting carbon emissions and reducing noise pollution. In addition to this initiative, the capital has also announced changes its own internal operating methods: it plans to prioritize local purchasing in its public procurement, decarbonize its vehicle fleet in favor of electric and hydrogen, and reduce the road flows caused by its construction sites.


Hydrogen truck deliveries

Larger-scale deliveries are also providing options for actors from the world of goods transportation that are looking to decarbonize their logistics services. To this end, the French start-up Hyliko has developed negative-footprint hydrogen trucks. The hydrogen is produced on the station’s site from the high-temperature chemical decomposition of green waste (pyrolysis) sourced from less than 100 kilometers away. As a result, the hydrogen emits no CO2 and its use avoids 1.5 kilograms of CO2 per kilometer covered. Without this conversion into hydrogen, the green waste would have emitted greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. By 2030, the start-up hopes to decarbonize 1.5 million tons of CO2 per year and gain 10% of the European hydrogen truck market, amounting to around 15,000 trucks and 100 distribution stations.


Drone deliveries

Delivery drones, still in an early development stage, could provide a more long-term option compared to traditional modes of transport. For example, the world’s first airport for delivery drones opened in the UK this year. The vertiport, called Air-One, is planning further demonstrations in the UK and elsewhere in the coming months, with a target of 200 sites worldwide. The symbolic inaugural flight lifted a 12 kilogram package from the launch pad, a promising maiden flight that was presented as ushering in a new era of air transport.

This air transport mode, powered by hydrogen fuel cells, unquestionably provides alternatives to traffic and congestion issues in cities caused by ground transportation. It could also accelerate zero-emission travel. Although the use of drones to deliver goods is set to grow worldwide, the legal framework for this type of operation in France still requires clarification to secure its rollout on an industrial scale.