business transport

Experimenting towards greener deliveries with UPS

Not every company has an incentive to lower their carbon emissions, but delivery companies do. The biggest expense for logistics firms is the fuel needed for their fleet of vehicles. Cutting energy use, distance traveled – and carbon with it – is good business sense.

UPS are an interesting case study. They began a radical project to lower their energy use after the oil price spike in 2008. They began by starting to collect telematics information, detailing what their drivers were doing, and how vehicles were performing. They then developed route optimisation software that drivers could use to plan routes and minimise distance travelled.

Each UPS driver makes around 100 deliveries a day, and there are an almost infinite number of routes that they could take to get round them all. By using GPS tracking and mapping, UPS’s ORION software plans an optimum route. Often the savings looks small on their own, but multiplied across a huge fleet of vehicles, it soon adds up. If each driver covers one less mile a day by running a more efficient route, UPS saves $50 million a year in fuel costs.

One way the software reduced emissions was to plan the route in a loop, cutting out left hand turns wherever possible (right turns in the UK). These are turns against the traffic, which usually means a longer wait for a gap. Every second spent idling is wasted fuel, and once again, the cumulative savings across a whole fleet are considerable.

Yesterday I wrote about DHL and their use of cargo bikes. UPS use them too, along with a wide variety of alternative vehicles. The second big sustainability project at UPS was to begin investing in a ‘rolling laboratory’ of transport options, including electric and hybrid vehicles, along with some more unfamiliar technologies. They pioneered the hydraulic hybrid, a regenerative braking system that stores energy in hydraulics rather than a battery. Other vehicles run on fuel cells, gas or biogas, and there are now over 9,000 vehicles in the rolling lab programme. By trying lots of different technologies, and carefully tracking performance, the company can invest in what works best in different locations.

One of the reasons I’ve chosen to write about big logistics companies this week is that when a large firm places an order for vehicles, they can place a big order. That brings down the cost of the technology. I was reminded of this recently when UPS commissioned new plug-in electric trucks, and they estimated that it was the first time that they would pay the same amount for electric as they would for standard diesel trucks. Whatever your views of multinational corporations, big fleet operators investing in electric vehicles is good news. It moves us closer to the moment of EV parity.

UPS still have a long way to go before they’re a truly sustainable company, but they’re fairly ambitious. And as they trial new technologies across their huge network, they’re providing a useful test-bed for accelerating the shift away from fossil fuels.


  1. Large orders from mega companies like UPS enable manufacturers to develop and build advanced vehicles that they might not otherwise have the confidence to take forward. Then others, who only need a few, can buy. So good for them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: