Green logistics is quickly gaining resonance throughout logistics and supply chain management. Donors and host nations are becoming more and more aware of ‘green’ issues, and international legislation is being introduced and applied world-wide to all aspects of business including humanitarian supply chains.

Aim of this topic

This topic aims to introduce logisticians to green logistics and encourage them to think in ‘green’ terms, to highlight the challenges and to indicate some advantages of thinking ‘green’ in organisations. It is not intended to answer all the questions or solve all the problems that surround green logistics in the humanitarian space, but to set precedence.

What is Green Logistics ?

Green logistics, in the context of humanitarian logistics encourages all stakeholders to consider the impact of their actions on the environment. The main objective of Green logistics is to coordinate the activities within a supply chain in such a way that beneficiary needs are met at "least cost" to the environment. It is a principle component of reverse logistics. In the past “cost” has been defined in purely monetary terms, where-as "cost" can now also be understood as the external costs of logistics associated with: climate change, air pollution, dumping waste (including packaging waste), soil degradation, noise, vibration and accidents, as illustrated below:

Diagram 1: Where-as cost

Green or sustainable logistics is concerned with reducing environmental and other negative impacts associated with the movement of supplies. Sustainability seeks to ensure that decisions made today do not have an adverse impact on future generations. Green supply chains seek to reduce negative impact by redesigning sourcing, distribution systems and managing reverse logistics so as to eliminate any inefficiency, unnecessary freight movements and dumping of packaging.

A good example of one Logistics aspect that poses great risk to the environment is packaging.

Packaging represents one of the greatest challenges to environmental friendly logistics while at the same time being vital in shipping and storage.

Correct or incorrect packaging has consequences for how much of a product can be stored, how it is stored and or transported in a given space. This can increase to the unit cost if the packaging hinders optimization of storage space. Many industries have developed forms of packaging that do all that is required of them in transit but do not justify the expense of returning them to the point of origin. This packaging is only used once and then discarded. This principle goes all the way down to the level of individual tins or cartons of food.

It is this type of packaging that presents the greatest challenge to logisticians as, increasingly, there is a responsibility for the supplier and the buyer to recover and recycle or effectively dispose of packaging.

Logistics and Environmental Best Practice

This topic will provide some basic guidelines to help reduce costs arising from negative economic impact on the environmental and achieve a more sustainable balance between economic, environmental and social objectives.

Environmental issues are often complex and they have the ability to generate intense donor and public interest. For these reasons, this topic should be only seen as an introduction to the subject.

Environmental Management Systems (EMS)

Logistics and transport activities have been identified as having a major impact on the environment in which we all live. For example, excess carbon emission has changed the environmental landscape, by destroying the ecosystem. Indigenous forests have thinned out and changed rain patterns thus impacting farming and food production. Consequently logistics and transport have attracted significant legislation at both national and international level. Targets for improving environmental performance have been set by the international community via the Rio, Kyoto and the Copenhagen summit meetings.

The ISO 14000 series of standards provides a formal system for the management of environmental matters. The ISO 14000 family addresses various aspects of environmental management. The very first two standards deal with environmental management systems (EMS).

The other standards and guidelines in the family address specific environmental aspects, including:


This standard provides a framework for managing environmental issues rather than establishing performance requirements. It is seen as a process that starts with the creation of an environmental policy and leads on to:


Once an EMS is set up, it is then formally monitored through an auditing process, which will identify corrective action that will need to be carried out. Top management are required to engage in this process and to review the performance of the system formally on a regular basis. This review may lead to the policy or objectives being changed or updated in the light of audit reports or changes in circumstances. This process should encourage a commitment to continuous improvement in environmental management as well as ensuring that the organisation is not exposed by failing to meet its legal and moral obligations.

Performance Measurement

Organisations with environmental management systems will attempt to monitor their performance, and simple measures might include:

Possible Areas for Improvement

Areas where improvement can often be made are:

For vehicles, consider the following:

Environmental Checklist

In a series of questions, this check-list highlights questions asked of the commercial sector. The questions will help focus attention on the key areas for consideration in the humanitarian sector:


GR is no longer an option or a fantasy; it is reality and everyone has a clear and present responsibility to promote it. This topic will help focus attention on GR and provide a starting point for a sustainable GR policy within your logistics function.a


This document is inspired by the collaborative works of the Universities of Cardiff, Heriot Watt, Lancaster, Southampton, Leeds and Westminster. These universities are undertaking research into the sustainability of logistics systems and supply chains – . The diagram above has been adapted from their work on sustainable logistics to the humanitarian space.


Forest Certification Resource Center: for businesses and consumers seeking accurate, objective information about forest certification

Legambiente: (League for the Environment) is the most widespread environmental organization in Italy

Sustainable Event Management: A Practical Guide: a practical, step-by-step guide leading readers through the key aspects of how to understand and manage the impacts of events of any type and scale.

Earthscan: The world’s leading publisher on climate change, sustainable development and environmental technology.

Fleet Forum: the first independent knowledge centre, focused on issues surrounding humanitarian fleets within the aid and development community.