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close this bookEco-restructuring: Implications for Sustainable Development (UNU, 1998, 417 p.)
close this folderPart II: Restructuring sectors and the sectoral balance of the economy
close this folder11. The restructuring of transport, logistics, trade, and industrial space use
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe significance of freight transport
View the documentPast growth and patterns of freight transport development
View the documentSpatial and transport outcomes
View the documentFuture developments affecting freight volumes and patterns
View the documentThe scope for reducing freight volumes
View the documentTaking up the potential
View the documentConclusion
View the documentNotes
View the documentReferences

The scope for reducing freight volumes

There are many different feasible mechanisms by which to reduce the environmental impact of freight transport. The focus here is on the potential to reduce emissions by reducing the transport intensity of products (mostly through changes in the spatial division of labour) and by increasing the efficiency of use of existing modes - both within the context of existing infrastructural constraints.

Reducing the transport intensity of products

The scope for reducing the transport intensity of final products lies in several possible adjustments. One is to reduce the number of transport-intensive components that products embody. Another is to reduce the average length of individual transport movements. This can be done by obtaining raw materials and components locally, serving local markets, reversing current trends in logistics, and revising networking arrangements in respect to contractors and subcontractors in the value-adding chain. Finally, there is also scope to reduce the number of times that the same materials are transported during the process of adding value.

Reductions in the number of transport-intensive components and ingredients can be achieved by substitution. This is particularly im portent in the food industry because of the high quantities of food products now involved in long-distance transport and the high level of substitutability among foods and ingredients. This would imply greater reliance on local/regional produce and on produce in season.

Some physical goods movement can be substituted altogether by using the possibilities provided by flexible technologies and informatics. The possibility exists for information about the design of components embodied within complex products that are manufactured at a distance from the market to be provided with the product or transmitted electronically as need arises. In the event, say, of the product breaking down, a local parts manufacturer is thus able to obtain component design details and make a replacement part rather than having to order and ship this in from a distance.

Similarly, telecommunications can substitute for information-rich but formerly transport-intensive products and services. Just as fax and electronic mail can substitute for conventional mail, similar substitutions can be made in respect to whole industrial sectors. In the newspaper publications industry, for example, a combination of telecommunications and flexible printing plant could do away completely with the need to transport newsprint physically over long distances. It also provides a potentially improved customer service in the form of a greater choice of simultaneously published editions.

The long-distance shipping of goods between world regions could increasingly be replaced by capital flows by encouraging direct foreign investment as an alternative to trade. The attractiveness of direct foreign investment increases with the level of competition in non-standardized products and with the rapidity of market change. Moves toward the strengthening of regional trading blocs (such as the KU) could help in this direction.

Changing the spatial structure of inter-firm supply networks (the number and relative location of contractors and subcontractors) is important because these needlessly increase the transport intensity of final products. Strutynski (1995) argues that such traffic-generating arrangements are currently promoted by EU programmes aimed at integrating European economies, technology transfer, and increasing international marketing opportunities. Only international projects are promoted. Thus he says that: "It is easier to establish co-operation between enterprises in Northern Hesse and the North of Spain than between two neighboring enterprises, for example in Baunatal and Kassel" (Strutynski 1995, p. 39).

Strutynski argues that there is scope for lean production to con tribute to reductions in inter-firm freight transport if reductions in the number of direct suppliers are accompanied by reductions also in average transport distances between them. This depends upon regional concentration of production and supply relations. In a theoretical example based upon German conditions, he contrasts the transport implications of two different inter-firm supply structures. Both are geared toward producing an identical final product. The first represents a traditional relationship between final assembler and several suppliers in which all suppliers deliver directly to the assembler. The second represents a relationship based upon cooperation among suppliers organized into regional value-adding networks. The effect is that more value is added within the region before any components are transported long-haul. Only a small number of high value-density components are finally transported to the assembler. In his example, Strutynski (1995) demonstrates a theoretical 70 per cent reduction potential in total supply distance.

Increasing the efficiency of use of existing modes

Average loading ratios for trucks in Europe are typically 75-85 per cent (ECMT 1995). Empty truck movements account for approximately 1.5 per cent of all domestic freight traffic within countries of the KU. Prior to deregulation and the creation of the Single Market in 1992, one-third of trucks making international journeys on EU roads had empty back-hauls. Of trucks crossing the Dutch-German border, 30 per cent were empty (Gabel 1994). Although all these data are for the immediate pre-1992 situation, moves to phase out permits and restrictions on cabotage post-1992 were not anticipated to improve loading ratios. Surveys of hauliers undertaken before 1992 show the main causes of low loading factors to be related not to restrictions but rather to problems in arranging suitable backloads for example, a lack of information on backload opportunities and problems of backload incompatibility (CEC 1989). Broadly similar loading ratios are likely to apply currently.

The problem of low loading factors is linked to operators' incentives. Some operators prefer to operate large vehicles because this maximizes flexibility and reduces average costs. As size restrictions have been relaxed, the average truck size of some operators' fleets has increased.5 Once equipped with large vehicles, hauliers use these even with small loads (Zuckerman 1991).6 The difference between actual and theoretically feasible loading factors implies scope for efficiency gains equivalent to 25 per cent of total kilometrage. While this may not be realizable owing to practical problems of specialization and backloading, these constraints are themselves related to the overall paradigm of which scale economies, long-haul transport, and specialization of transport are part. Packaging is also part of this paradigm and part of the problem. Goods for final sale are transported together with often bulky packaging. This reduces weight-to-volume ratios and increases truck-kilometres. The scope for efficiency gains is therefore a function not only of truck loading ratios but also of weight-volume ratios.