Tuesday 19th Feb 2019 - Logistics Manager Magazine

Short term gain versus long term pain – the sustainability debate

As I travel around Europe meeting and working with a very broad range of logistics professionals, I sense a growing uneasiness. In the short term we are beset by constant and accelerating change, much of which leads to improvements in performance of some kind – more responsive services or better service for example – all of apparent benefit locally. But, all things come with a price to pay, and thoughtful professionals are beginning to be concerned that the implications of some changes come at a high price when viewed from a global perspective.

I do not deny that this is a difficult subject! It is very challenging to achieve such a global perspective, let alone consider how a balanced approach to achieve better sustainability might be realised. Such global change is beyond our immediate reach as logistics professionals alone for it must engage the world at large if it is to be successful. Unfortunately, hard facts can be hard to establish at this level, and constructive debate can be hampered by partisan views, held in good faith, but often more useful to draw attention to the issues at stake rather than offer solutions. But the difficulties must not deter us from trying.

We are surrounded by strong indicators that some practice that is very effective now will not besustainable in the longer term. In relative terms,  transport remains very cheap, whilst global economics are such that international manufacturing processes have thrived leading to the extensive logistic globalisation that we now take for granted. Yet this has an undeniable environmental cost, for example, traffic congestion and pollution, which will in time come to frustrate any benefits we think we have achieved. The tricky question remains when that point might come about.

If history is anything to go by, we will find the answer to that question too late. Two things are certain – that we cannot put the clock back, and that time is needed to re-balance expectations and practice. I hear persuasive arguments, but too many fail in the face of the reality of mass expectations and the practical economic implications of the changes that might be necessary. I believe that we need a much livelier debate now to see what can be done.

Graham A Ewer, ELA President