An essay by Prof. Dr. Christof E. Ehrhart

Christof Ehrhart is Head of Corporate Communications and Responsibility and Executive Vice President at Deutsche Post DHL Group.
Besides his corporate career he has been continuously engaged as a visiting lecturer in the academic discipline of Corporate Communications. His teaching assignments in the last ten years include the Free University Berlin, the University of Zurich and the University of Leipzig. Until 2011 he headed the Board of Trustees of the newly founded private Quadriga University Berlin for postgraduate studies in communications. Ehrhart has published extensively in magazines and scientific books.
Christof Ehrhart’s thoughts on the future of corporate communications and responsibility can be found on his blog at www.futureproofingpr.com

The year 2015 marked an important milestone in the history of climate protection. In September, the United Nations passed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which addresses the world’s most pressing challenges. At the heart of the Agenda are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), several of which aim to protect the environment and our planet. Goal 13, for example, urges us to take action now to combat climate change and its impacts. Only months later in December, at the Paris Climate Conference (COP 21), the member states pledged to limit global warming to below two degrees Celsius in a historic agreement. Many scientist agree that this threshold is vital if we are to limit the dangerous effects of climate change.

Milestones for a green world

The Paris Agreement requires all U.N. member states to work toward this climate protection goal and the 17 SDGs. These international milestones provide a roadmap. Now it’s time for governments, businesses and people around the world to do everything in their power to reach these global goals. Many are looking to logistics and transport to play a key role in achieving climate change goals. After all, transport is currently responsible for 23 percent of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. But what does that mean exactly for the future of logistics? 

The U.N.’s High-Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport has been looking into answers to that question and others. The expert panel, which was established in 2014 by then U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, was made up of logistics experts from the private and public sectors, including Frank Appel, CEO, Deutsche Post DHL Group. The group published its first comprehensive report in 2016. In addition to analyses and estimates, the report includes a number of recommendations for government and explores to what extent transport and logistics can help achieve the SDGs. Many of the goals have a direct impact on the logistics and transport sectors. Regardless of whether you want to reduce the number of illnesses caused by air pollution or combat negative environmental impacts in cities, moving people and goods as environmentally friendly as possible is always a part of the solution. Ultimately, there is only one radical solution: zero emissions. 

The future is zero emissions 

Deutsche Post DHL Group is now embarking on that road. Many heads turned in early March when we announced our new goal of reducing emissions to zero by 2050. At first, zero emissions logistics seems unimaginable. Yet many intelligent ideas and solutions for radically reducing transport-related emissions already exist today – and both industry and academic research and development are in full swing. We are seeing lots of change, especially in heavily polluted inner cities. Increasingly environmentally friendly pickup and delivery services on foot, by bike and with electric vehicles are reducing local air pollutants – including noise pollution. Pilot projects such as Carbon-Free Delivery in Bonn provide a glimpse of what the future holds. Outside the city, hybrid drive systems provide the necessary range – and who knows, someday in the near future maybe drones will make deliveries to remote areas that can only be reached by car today.

There is also an urgent need for low-emissions solutions in long-haul road transport as well as ocean and air transport. While on the street we can turn to hybrid and natural gas drive systems as well as technical modifications such as improved aerodynamics, environmentally friendly ocean and air transport is still a real challenge for today’s technologies. Natural gas is certainly a plausible alternative to the heavy fuel oil or diesel used in ocean shipping. In the air, however, there are currently no practicable, sustainable alternatives to conventional aviation fuels, although industry initiatives such as aireg e.V. are working to make the use of biofuels a realistic alternative in air transport. 

Politicians, academics and business leaders are all equally responsible for paving the way to zero emissions logistics. That won’t happen overnight, but the foundations for logistics that is virtually emissions free in several decades are being laid today in the world’s capitals, universities and corporations.

Published: September 2017

Images: Nina Tiefenbach; DHL