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Advancing sustainable supply chains

February 26, 2016

UMTRI-SMART conference highlights New Mobility strategies and technologies 
UMTRI Automotive Futures and U-M SMART (Sustainable Mobility and Accessibility Research and Transformation) teamed up February 17 to host a one-day conference on sustainable supply chains. The event highlighted New Mobility strategies and technologies and how they’re changing goods movement. 
SMART’s managing director Susan Zielinski said the movement of goods affects our daily lives—impacting not only the economy, but also the environment and people’s quality of life—and yet most people don’t think about it much. 
“For most of us, goods movement is under the radar,” said Zielinski. “We only think of it when it’s not working.” 
But lately, she said, plenty of people related to supply-chain and freight-movement industries are thinking a lot about innovative solutions, policies, and business models that will make goods movement more efficient, reduce its environmental and social impacts, and offer many new business opportunities. 
UMTRI’s Bruce Belzowski, managing director of the Automotive Futures group, moderated the conference and introduced speakers representing startup companies and large automotive and IT companies, as well as state and national government representatives and nongovernmental organizations (NGO)s. 
“When we talk about goods movement,” said Belzowski, “it can include anything from manufacturing to services and retail, energy technology and distribution, information technology, infrastructure, and more. It’s about anything that moves regionally, nationally, and globally every day, and sometimes it’s even about trying to move things less. It involves many modes of transportation including ships, air, rail, trucks, even bicycles and now drones.” 
The supply chain network has become increasingly complex, as new technologies emerge and new players enter the game. 
Sophie Punte, executive director of the Smart Freight Centre in Amsterdam, discussed some of the global issues related to sustainable freight movement. She works with industry to remove market barriers, take advantage of existing initiatives, and accelerate the uptake of practical solutions. One of the challenges, she said, is to understand the landscape. With so many green freight initiatives currently in existence, it’s difficult for companies to know which ones to join. 
Reducing market barriers to sustainable freight movement is also a major challenge. Globally, freight transport practices differ from country to country—such as large trucking fleets in developed countries and small, owner-operated vehicles in less developed countries that operate on very different budgets. By working with leadership companies first to address common barriers (such as universal emission standards), Punte hopes the solutions will eventually reach the smaller companies. 
Thomas Kearney, transportation specialist at the Federal Highway Administration, shared maps of freight movement across the country and highlighted some of the inefficiencies, particularly in transferring between modes in hubs such as Chicago. He also talked about the government’s role in public-sector decision-making within the freight industry, which involves building trust and partnering with industry to learn where best to devote public funding. 
Cheryl Bynum, who directs the U.S. EPA’s SmartWay Transport Partnership, showed how with expanded population growth in developing countries, freight will mushroom. Freight is present at every point of the lifecycle for everything we use, she said, but the global impacts are different across the world. EPA needs to identify solutions to such problems as greenhouse gases and particulates and to implement policies and strategies that mitigate pollution. 
She also highlighted disruptive technologies that may change the nature of freight movement, such as mega ships, 3D printing, and IT advancements.  However, she said, everything is connected, which creates opportunities but also poses challenges. 
“It’s important to look at supply chains as a system,” said Bynum. “You can’t just improve one area.” 
Komal Anand Doshi, research specialist at SMART and Mobi Platform lead, highlighted some of the disruptive innovations arriving on the freight scene. She gave an overview of several New Mobility companies that employ new business models and technologies to maximize efficiency and minimize environmental impact. They include Trunkbird, Instacart, DoorDash, Bellhops, Shipster, and more. 
Other speakers at the Sustainable Supply Chain conference included Mary Wroten of Ford Motor Company; Dave Hoover of Meijer Food Stores; Mike Dargis, president of Zip Xpress, Mike Maceroni and Brian Becker of UPS; and Cherry Burke of Dow Chemical Corporation, all of whom highlighted their company sustainability practices and strategies to maximize freight efficiency and reduce environmental impact. 
The sustainable supply chain conference was sponsored by Argonne National Labs, BorgWarner Inc., Bosch Corporation, Denso Corporation, Ford Motor Company, Ford-UAW, ITS America, Oracle Corporation, Valeo Corporation, Zip Xpress, U-M SMART, and UMTRI. It was this year’s New Mobility Session, an annual collaboration between UMTRI Automotive Futures and U-M SMART.
-By Joyce Daniels, UMTRI
--Photo: Francine Romine, UMTRI