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Sustainable Solutions Through Urban Logistics

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Today, more than half of all people globally live in cities. Rapid urbanization, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to surging e-commerce as consumers rely heavily on online shopping. As such, urban logistics is more important than ever to keep pace with rising consumer demands.

UPS International Sustainability Director Peter Harris recently spoke with FreightWaves about UPS’s efficiency, innovation and leadership in the urban logistics space and how the company is meeting consumer demand for e-commerce sustainably.

Watch the interview, or check out edited excerpts from the conversation below.

Linda Baker, Senior Reporter, FreightWaves, and Peter Harris, International Sustainability Director, UPS, discuss the evolving role of urban logistics.

FreightWaves: Can you tell us a little bit about your role and history at UPS?

Harris: I’m a 31-year veteran at UPS and started at the company in the engineering function. My role has evolved through the years, and I now oversee international sustainability for UPS, essentially managing sustainability efforts outside of the U.S. I am responsible for evaluating which issues are important to our stakeholders and how we — as a company — should respond to those.

FreightWaves: What exactly is urban logistics, and why is it so important?

Harris: Urban logistics is the business of collecting and delivering in an urban environment — everything we need to make our lives successful, prosperous and happy wherever we are. Whether for a personal reason or for a business, urban logistics is the business of moving items around the city and delivering them to customers.

FreightWaves: Every company has different sustainability challenges. What are the main challenges for UPS? Do the challenges change with urban logistics?

Harris: Two major issues related to sustainability that impact UPS across the company, including urban logistics, are congestion and emissions. As a part of our sustainability strategy, we are doing everything we can to reduce our impact on both of those issues worldwide.

Solutions for these issues can vary around the world — even city to city, and our goal is to implement strategies that tailor solutions as best we can to make as much of a positive impact as we can.

FreightWaves: Can you share a bit more about those solutions across markets?

Harris: The starting point for us is efficiency — which processes can we improve or change to move more goods with less fuel? And going beyond that, we look at emerging technologies and ways we can introduce new approaches and partners to become more sustainable.

Partners are critical from both an efficiency and new technology perspective; the partnerships we have implemented across markets have been crucial to our success.

While the above solutions are important across markets, specific approaches and implementation vary greatly across markets. Given this variety, we’re in the process of creating a toolkit of solutions and innovations that can apply around the world. As we encounter various obstacles, it can be used to select the best solutions for certain countries, regions and even cities.

FreightWaves: What is an example of a solution you’ve seen work well?

Harris: Our cycle delivery solutions have been particularly successful, especially in Europe. This is likely to do with the structure and layout of European cities — smaller roads, more walking areas, etc.

They have worked well across cities including Munich, Dublin and others. We’re also expanding the cycle delivery solutions beyond Europe and are excited about those opportunities as well.

One of the innovations that excites me most in this regard is the UPS engineered e-quad: a cycle with four wheels! Working again with a partner we were able to engineer the quads to be more rugged and productive than our previous bikes but also more city friendly through being narrower and more stable.

FreightWaves: You mention partnerships. What types of stakeholders does UPS typically engage?

Harris: Partnerships with companies are important but partnerships with cities are key as well. The solutions we are talking about — less congestion, faster delivery, etc. — are things everyone wants.

Really, it’s a win-win for us, the city and citizens. We’ve partnered with cities on a variety of things, including operational support, funding and parking or curbside privileges. All of this work is making a big impact on success for everyone.  

FreightWaves: Given the worldwide reach of UPS, how do you and your team continue to prioritize innovation within sustainability?

Harris: Sustainability and innovation are interwoven throughout teams at UPS. This integrated approach allows team members — no matter where they are — to think about their work through a sustainability framework or find new ways to be innovative that can cause a domino effect throughout the company. 

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