As we emerge from the first wave of lockdowns from the coronavirus pandemic, many different interest groups are expressing differing opinions about how we can “build back better”.

While the effects have been devastating in so many ways, the desire for something good to arise from the situation is seemingly widely felt.

New opportunities

With the economy brought almost to a standstill, many are calling for the Government to help businesses and communities make the most of this unique opportunity to reopen in a different way.

Michel Waterschoot, sales manager for routing and scheduling tools company Descartes, wrote in Supply Chain Briefing: “The health crisis that we are currently experiencing, as well as its financial and economic consequences, should not mean we lose sight of the opportunities that can be leveraged today to help businesses continue growing and developing. This situation should be used as an opportunity to identify weaknesses and design innovative solutions, sharing feedback that is relevant for everyone involved so we can better prepare for the future.”

Changing consumer behaviour

Online shopping has increased during lockdown, particularly for grocery suppliers, which have struggled to grow their logistics operations in line with the rapid spike in demand.

Early research suggests that habits formed during lockdown may persist.  A study by Kantar commissioned by Detail Online found that “six out of ten consumers say they will continue to buy as much online as they do today after the pandemic has passed.”

Changes to consumer behaviour which were predicted to occur over several years have been condensed into just a few months thanks to the changing behaviour driven by the pandemic.

The pressure on grocery suppliers to maintain their logistics and home delivery operations at their current scale, and the growing demand for last mile delivery services thanks to the explosion in online shopping, will grow employment opportunities in our sector.

However, these needs must be met in a way that is sustainable for the environment as well as for local communities.

Replanning cities

During lockdown, with an unprecedented drop in the volume of traffic on our motorway networks and city streets, we began to realise what life with clean air feels like.  Cities around the world began replanning their transportation networks with the goal of improving quality of life and air quality for residents and visitors.

Around the UK, London, Manchester and Bristol are among the urban locations that have introduced new cycle schemes and cycleways around the city.  It is hoped that by providing these new vehicle-free routes it will give confidence to would-be cyclists who were previously deterred by high traffic volumes, help to reduce overall traffic volumes, and sustain the improvements to air quality.

While the resultant improvements to local air quality – and the associated health benefits for local residents – must be welcomed, these new traffic schemes will place even greater pressure on already stretched last mile delivery services.

New greener logistics services

Addressing these concerns and forging a new, more sustainable approach will be a key plank of any strategy to “build back better” for the logistics sector.

As a sector, we will need to be open to novel ways to serve our customers: from engaging earlier with local developers to integrate last mile consolidation centres into developments investing in new, greener fleet with sustainable fuels or electric engines or even moving to cycle-powered last-mile delivery.

The opportunity to build back better is probably a once-in-a-generation opportunity, as a sector we need to work together to make sure we deliver on its promise.

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