Sustainability and Combined Transport


Transport systems are one of the major activities in logistics. The characteristics of logistic services are becoming more dynamic and dependant on multiple supply chain functions to satisfy the customer demand and at the same time achieve satisfactory profits. In this pursuit, sustainability has become an essential requirement for long term profitability according to El-Berishy et. Al., 2013


‘Man is both creature and moulder of his environment, which gives him physical sustenance and affords him the opportunity for intellectual, moral, social and spiritual growth (Declaration of the United Nations Conference, 1972)

Although most sustainable development definitions tend to be based on ecological perspective, the need for stability of companies in the market brought in the economic perspective. The economic perspective meant the goals were profit maximisation and cost minimisation. However, raising people’s awareness about their responsibilities and providing them equal opportunities is as important as the other two perspectives. Hence, the current dynamic environment pushes the logistics players including the companies engaged in transport logistics to balance the economic, environmental, and social aspects as three key pillars. This requires tools, actions, and behavioural changes by the companies.  It is particularly interesting to combined transport market because of its inherent characteristic of mitigating the impact of freight logistics on sustainability according to Tadic et. Al., 2019. It is a climate friendly solution that addresses all three pillars of sustainability. It permits efficient utilisation of different transport modes and enables energy savings. Economically, it improves the quality of services, saves times and reduces costs. Furthermore, it also has capacity to impact people and transform societies. Overall, it can deliver profitability for the companies in the long term. A challenge to these benefits could arise from the need to align the requirements, goals, and needs of different stakeholders involved in a combined transport value chain.

Apart from the challenge from multiple stakeholders, there can also be a range of internal and external barriers to achieve sustainability in transport logistics. While internal barriers could include high investments and lack of human capital, the external barriers include access to technology and governmental regulations. To manage these challenges and successfully implement the sustainability targets, the United Nations had in 2015 adopted a 2030 agenda.


Tadic et. Al., Planning an Intermodal Terminal for the Sustainable Transport Networks, Sustainability 2019, 11, 4102; doi:10.3390/su11154102

El-Berishy et. Al., The Interrelation between Sustainability and Green Logistics, IFAC MCPL 2013, September 11-13, 2013. Fortaleza, Brazil, 10.3182/20130911-3-BR-3021.00067

Sustainable Development Goals

The core of the United Nations 2030 agenda was its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They give equal weight to all three dimensions of sustainability – social, environmental, and economic. The SDGs are indivisible and interdependent: only economic stability creates the opportunity to create sustainable and secure working conditions and, at the same time, to meet our responsibility for the environment and society – thus making our behaviour suitable for future generations. The goals of the 2030 Agenda are further detailed with 169 targets comprising of multiple Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). These indicators can be used as a tool to evaluate and initiate actions towards realising sustainability. Furthermore, the agenda states that these goals can only be achieved through intensive and global cooperation, whereby everyone has an equal responsibility to contribute to the necessary change. So do all the players in combined transport! For this purpose, SGKV has studied and identified the appropriate SDGs for the CT market and grouped them into the three pillars for a basic orientation as shown in image below.


Example KPIs and Best Practices

Key Performance Indicator (KPI) Best Practice

Diesel consumption per TEU
Percentage ratio of diesel used per 20-foot equivalent unit handled in a year or time-period of analysis

Introduction of e-cranes as in the port of Colombo and e-equipment as in the port of Busan.

Waste generated per TEU
Quantity of solid wastes generated directly or indirectly during handling or processing a 20-foot equivalent loading unit

Waste management plans (collection, transportation, processing); recycling, including wastewater, spills, and ballast water as at Moorebank Inland Port.

Total expenditure for social initiatives in the last year
Total amount of costs incurred for social initiatives like supporting regional communities with livelihood, donations, educational initiatives, among others.

Partnerships with local and international NGOs and GOs, e.g., to promote gender equality and support employee volunteer initiatives as executed by the South Asia Gateway Terminals (SAGT).

Compatibility of infrastructure to physically challenged, international and intercultural users
Availability of infrastructure that supports the usage of facilities and services by the physically or visually challenged users, international users speaking different languages and following multicultural practices.

Accessibility of infrastructure and services for the physically disabled and availability of information in different languages.

Investment for research and development
It is the total investments dedicated by the company in its annual budget for research and development of innovative solutions.

Active company suggestion scheme for the systematic collection, analysis and evaluation of ideas and suggestions from employees for further development, as carried out by Eurogate.
Close cooperation with technical universities, institutes as well as industrial partners and federal authorities, joint projects are planned, controlled and further developed in working groups (HHLA).

GRI, UN Global Compact, PwC, Business Reporting on the SDGs: An Analysis of Goals and Targets, Sustainability reports published by the ports and terminals mentioned in Best Practices, and Own elaboration

Sustainability Practices Review Toolkit

The SGKV has also developed a Sustainability Practices Review toolkit to transfer such knowledge about sustainability to the CT market and allow users to easily test score their sustainability. The toolkit is based on the KPI assessment technique. Reporting on the sustainability initiative of CT stakeholders can help promote CT as the freight transport solution of the future. It also helps companies plan strategically in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals discussed here. The focus, approach, and outcomes of such a toolkit are listed below for all interested stakeholders as a reference to emulate and promote sustainable CT within their respective domains.