Sustainable city logistics in the future not a given

We have our packages, groceries and meals delivered at home en masse. These online orders mean more vans and bicycle couriers. The trucks and vans needed to supply shops, restaurants and offices are added to this. In city centers this increase leads to unsafe situations and air pollution. Ward Rauws, Paul Plazier (Faculty of Spatial Sciences) and Paul Buijs (Faculty of Economics and Business) of the University of Groningen investigated how this situation could be improved. What does it take to get goods in and out of the city in a cleaner and smarter way, now and in the future? They asked transporters, entrepreneurs and policy makers how they envision the future of logistics in the city. This resulted in six future scenarios for the year 2035.

The number of home deliveries worldwide is expected to increase by another 78% by 2030 (World Economic Forum, 2020). More and more stakeholders are therefore seeing the need to make logistics more sustainable. However, this is easier said than done. The many stakeholders (transporters, policy makers, local entrepreneurs, residents) have diverse interests, wishes and requirements. Moreover, technological developments, global crises and changing consumer behaviour create great unpredictability, which can make today’s actions obsolete tomorrow.

Scenarios for possible futures

Nevertheless, policymakers, carriers and recipients make choices every day that determine the sustainability of logistics. The six scenarios produced by this study help to better substantiate these choices.
The researchers asked a broad group of logistics stakeholders about their expectations and wishes for the future. Three themes were central: the cooperation between logistics stakeholders, the degree of technological innovation, and the role of local authorities.

Sustainability difficult to achieve

In none of the scenarios the growth of e-commerce is expected to stagnate or logistics activities are to be banned from the city. Logistics changes, but remains part of the city. This emphasizes the importance of making the sector more sustainable.

However, sustainable city logistics is only achieved in two of the six scenarios. In other scenarios, the transition is not or only partly made due to (a combination of) a lack of clear policy from governments, poor cooperation and the lack of innovations that contribute to sustainability.
Techno-optimists see that technological solutions are within reach, but laws and regulations prevent the exploitation of their potential. Others see innovation as a “joker” that offers a way out of problems that have not yet been solved.

A clear vision and policy from municipalities is an important condition for better cooperation between all parties. It is up to carriers to provide smarter and cleaner transport on the street with innovative solutions. Consumer ordering behavior and pressure from public opinion can also be important incentives for making logistics more sustainable.

According to Paul Buijs, one of the most striking conclusions is that “market parties see a clear role for governments, especially in creating a clear picture of what sustainable city logistics exactly means.”

The scenarios are summarized in text and image in the booklet “What’s in store for last-mile logistics: Futures scenarios for last-mile logistics in mid-size European cities”.


About the continuation of the research, Paul Buijs says: “In this study we did not make any statements about which of the six scenarios is the most likely. Our goal was to outline different visions of the future, so that logistics parties and governments can jointly determine which of those visions they want to pursue. The scenarios then offer insight into the preconditions for arriving at that future image.”

ULaaDS project

This research was carried out within the ULaaDS (Urban Logistics as an on-Demand Service) project and was funded by the Horizon 2020 research and innovation program of the European Union. More information at