Kristi Unt, Member of the Board of Omniva, talks about the potential for saving the environment in the logistics and postal sector and the reduction of the ecological footprint through technology.
Transport accounts for around 80% of the environmental footprint of the logistics sector. As our job is to move packages from one place to another, vehicle and fuel costs play a major role in how we can save the environment.
Therefore, electric vans have the greatest potential for environmental savings in the entire logistics sector. Omniva is also moving towards an increasingly green vehicle fleet. As soon as this year, Omniva will start using ten electric vans to transport parcels and mail on a daily basis. Next year, we plan to use electric vans on a much larger scale. The more favourable the conditions for operating electric vehicles, such as the density and capacity of the charging network and the capacity and range of the batteries, the more we can use them.
Electric vans are especially well suited for mail couriers who complete the same route every day. Unlike parcel couriers, whose routes are different for each day, the use and loading of the van can be planned with mail couriers.
The biggest leap in the deployment of electric vans is likely to come when the infrastructure provides the opportunity for it. Today, there is a lack of a dense loading network which would help to plan the loading of vans in the middle of the route, for example. There could also be fast chargers next to parcel machines. As for more than 90% of Estonians, the Omniva parcel machine is less than a ten-minute drive away, such a charging network would enable the introduction of electric vehicles faster throughout Estonia. At the same time, such a charging network would also allow couriers to charge the van while the parcel machine is being filled with parcels.
Electric bicycles also play a role in electromobility. Our experience shows that in some areas, it is much more efficient to use bicycles for delivering mail and parcels.
A pilot project carried out in collaboration with the electric cargo bike developer VokBikes found that electric cargo bikes help to transport mail 40% more efficiently in a densely populated area than on foot and 20% more efficiently than by car. The innovative vehicles also received very positive feedback from employees as they offer a much more comfortable solution than walking but are much more manoeuvrable than a car in tight conditions.
In addition, the ecological footprint of cargo bikes is significantly smaller than that of commercial vehicles, which is why Omniva plans to use them more widely in the near future.
Green energy throughout the logistics chain
In addition to the vehicle fleet, the rest of the logistics chain can also be built on green energy. For example, in the Estonian context, it is important to think about where the electricity comes from for charging electric vehicles, keeping parcel machines working, and sorting shipments.
There are a number of technologies that help to operate in a more environmentally friendly manner. Some of them have already been implemented or are being tested.
The roof of the Omniva logistics centre located in Rae rural municipality near Tallinn is covered by 1,667 monocrystalline solar panels. It is one of the largest solar panel parks installed on the roof of a building for the company’s own use. The 500 kW park is enough to support 114 medium-sized households. This means that much of the electricity we use in the logistics centre to sort parcels and letters comes from renewable energy sources and is produced locally. In addition to environmental protection, the use of renewable energy is economically sustainable.
With the same solar energy, we can also charge electric vans, which means that at least some of the shipments reach the customer with 100% renewable energy. The aim is for the share of these shipments to increase in the future.
Renewable energy can also be used in parcel machines. As with smartphones, the screens of parcel machines use the most energy. To increase energy efficiency in its network, Omniva has tested parcel machines without a screen that work with a solar panel system
As parcel machines are installed in smaller settlements and communities, and the screen is one of the most expensive parts of the machine, it is likely that parcel machines without a screen will become more and more popular in the future. By eliminating the screen, we save on energy and hardware costs. This helps us expand the parcel machine network even faster. In the case of a parcel machine without a screen, the customer can control the parcel machine using their personal smartphone. Thanks to this, it is enough to use renewable energy for the parcel machines.
Smart logistics – consolidation and planning
As transport accounts for about 80% of the environmental footprint of logistics companies, the smart organisation and planning of transport enables us to protect the environment.
The key word here is consolidation, i.e. collecting the parcels, sorting them in one place, and then redistributing them. Although it may seem weird that a parcel sent from Põlva to Võru is sent through Tallinn, this is the only way we can offer next-day delivery with such huge parcel volumes. To make sure we can deliver the parcels on time, our employees often work at night. Consolidation ensures a smaller environmental footprint per parcel.
We plan to implement the principle of consolidation in our parcel machine network soon. Often, several parcels of a customer could be placed in one locker. This would significantly increase the space in parcel machines and would mean that the customer only has to come to the machine once instead of several times. However, this requires ever smarter use of data and continuous development of systems, as well as asking for customer consent.
We are working to ensure that in the future, customers can determine whether they want to receive the shipment immediately or can wait a few days until all of their shipments have arrived.
Ideally, the customer would see when and where their package arrives, as well as its environmental cost. They would also see how much they would help the environment if several shipments were delivered together.
The responsibility of customers when ordering and sending parcels
Lastly, each customer can help protect the environment. First, they have to think about their consumer behaviour: what, from where, and how much they order. However, logistics and postal companies should not point the finger at people. Instead, we must deliver shipments the way customers order them and do so as conveniently as possible, quickly, and in an environmentally friendly way. In order to make people aware of the environmental footprint of parcel delivery, we are moving towards showing our customers the environmental footprint of their shipments in the future.
Another great way to make logistics more environmentally friendly is through packaging. Shipments require safe and thorough packaging (because the environmental damage is even greater if something happens to the shipment) but today, more and more environmentally friendly alternatives to film and foam plastic are emerging.
Thanks to environmentally friendly packaging, every customer who uses our services can also contribute to Vora helping the environment. We recommend reusing packaging and various packaging materials, such as bubble wrap or packing peanuts. Choosing the right size for the parcel also helps to save the environment.
To improve the packaging culture, we are mapping and testing various environmentally friendly packaging materials, such as recycled cardboard, paper, and paperboard, or unused wool.
Packaging circulation is also an important keyword for sustainable packaging. We have mapped various companies that offer packaging circulation. The root problem with packaging circulation is convenience and practicality – how to organise the logistics of packaging circulation so that it would be convenient for customers to use? We are working to find out how and where it would be possible to return the packaging and how it would reach the parcel sender again conveniently but economically.
Green technologies have brought very positive and major changes to the logistics and postal sectors, as well as to the rest of the world. This is just the beginning. Everything that is new to us now will be part of the new normal in five years. We have to prepare for it today.