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Blog February 2024 Updated April 2024

The Digital Future of Sustainable Transportation of Building Materials

Strategies for reducing your carbon footprint to and from construction sites.

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Jan Tønder

Intelligent Optimization Solution Advisor

The environmental impact of construction

The construction sector delivers a significant economic impact across Europe, the UK, and Ireland. Both residential and non-residential building construction collectively constitute approximately 77% of the total construction industry in Europe, generating over 5% of the value added. However, alongside its economic benefits, the industry is a significant source of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, accountable for an estimated 58,840,688 tonnes ofCO2 emissions in Europe alone.¹

Transport in construction, which includes carrying building materials, is responsible for up to 30% of freight movement in cities. Given this significant contribution, it's not surprising that construction operations in urban environments have considerable implications for sustainability. These impacts extend to various facets including traffic congestion, air quality, noise pollution, and accident rates. The processes involved in constructing new buildings, infrastructure, refurbishing existing structures, as well as transporting building materials and managing waste from urban construction sites, all contribute to these impacts. Construction-related waste constitutes a substantial portion, approximately 25–30%, of all waste generated in the EU, representing one of the largest and most voluminous waste streams within the region.¹

As integral components of the construction supply chain, transporters of building materials bear an ethical obligation to prioritise sustainability. As you will see further on, there are also benefits to taking action.

Winning public contracts demands commitment to sustainability

Public tenders play a significant role in promoting sustainability within the construction industry, particularly concerning the transportation of building materials. For example :

By embedding sustainability requirements into public tenders, governments and public entities can drive positive change throughout the construction industry. These measures incentivise contractors and suppliers to adopt sustainable practices in building-materials transportation, leading to reduced environmental impact, improved social outcomes, and enhanced economic sustainability.

Challenges in building-materials transportation

One key strategy for sustainability involves prioritising the sourcing of building materials from nearby sources. By obtaining materials locally, the need for extensive transportation is significantly diminished, and with it, emissions. But local materials are not always available. Long-distance transportation comes into play, which not only increases costs but carbon emissions.

Additionally, it's important to note that the fragmented structure of the construction sector frequently leads to disorganised coordination among stakeholders, which worsens transportation challenges.

Suppliers must verify the availability of materials, ensuring they are ready for delivery. Contractors rely on timely and accurate delivery updates to plan their activities accordingly. Transporters are responsible for coordinating pickup and drop-off schedules effectively. Any inefficiencies in these processes disrupt the smooth flow of building materials to sites, leading to severe consequences.

The project schedule is impacted, prolonging completion dates and causing frustration among stakeholders. Moreover, the absence of necessary materials at the required time can slow the productivity of the workforce, leading to increased labour costs.

From a financial perspective, transportation delays can result in various challenges. Extended equipment rentals become necessary, contributing to increased expenses. Missing contractual deadlines may incur penalties, further impacting the project budget. Then there’s the need to store delayed materials on-site or in additional facilities, which can lead to unexpected storage costs that were not initially accounted for.

Beyond financial implications, transportation issues require more resources, which have a knock-on effect on sustainability. It can also tarnish the company’s reputation. Frequent delays erode trust with clients and make it challenging to secure future projects, thereby jeopardising the company's long-term viability.

Addressing issues requires innovative solutions

Over the past decade, the construction industry has experienced a notable decline in productivity, attributed to its limited adoption of digital technologies. In contrast, manufacturing and production sectors have effectively incorporated computer applications, including the Internet of Things (IoT), leading to substantial economic advancement. However, digitisation is slowly catching on in construction.

Building-materials transportation is especially a burgeoning field ripe with opportunities.

The technology is here, and some of those taking it up are already success stories.

Exactly what is digitalisation?

Digitalisation integrates digital technologies into operations, processes, and systems. It encompasses the use of digital tools like software applications, data analytics, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT) to streamline workflows, improve efficiency, and enable informed decision-making. Digitalisation transforms traditional analog and paper-based processes into digital ones, promoting automation, connectivity, and data-driven insights. This transformative shift empowers companies to adapt to rapidly evolving technological environments, enhance customer experiences, and maintain competitiveness.

Consider how manual processes work. Planning is typically decentralised, carried out either at regional levels or within individual depots. While some companies may utilise systems for planning, these systems typically lack comprehensive end-to-end solutions and do not rely on algorithms. Whether relying entirely on spreadsheets or using systems with limited capabilities, companies often lack a comprehensive overview of their operations, resulting in a lack of meaningful insights into their wider operations.

Working digitally transforms companies

The digital future holds immense promise for revolutionising the transportation of building materials in ways that enhance sustainability. With advancements in technology, such as digital supply chain management systems and real-time tracking capabilities, construction companies can optimise their logistic processes to minimise environmental impact.

Digital platforms can facilitate the sourcing of building materials from local suppliers, thereby reducing the need for long-distance transportation. These platforms can provide comprehensive databases of nearby suppliers, along with information on their available materials and transportation methods. By streamlining the procurement process, companies can minimise transportation distances and associated emissions.

The integration of digital technologies presents opportunities to refine delivery scheduling through predictive analytics and advanced route optimisation algorithms. Through the analysis of variables such as traffic patterns, weather conditions, and delivery deadlines, organisations can strategically plan delivery routes to minimise fuel consumption and carbon emissions. Complementing these efforts, real-time tracking systems provide visibility into material movements, enabling prompt adjustments to optimise efficiency and reduce environmental impact.

Embracing digital tools fosters increased collaboration and coordination among stakeholders involved in the transportation process. Leveraging cloud-based platforms and communication tools, suppliers, transporters, and construction firms can seamlessly exchange data, cooperate on logistics planning, and synchronise deliveries more effectively. This not only enhances operational efficiency but also cultivates a shared commitment to sustainability throughout the supply chain, ultimately driving the adoption of more eco-conscious transportation practices.

Examples of digital tools for transporting building materials

Strategies for becoming more sustainable must include technologies. For building-material transporters, the outcome of digitalisation is powerful:

Reduce:

Improve:

Examples of how specific digital tools work:

Fleet planner software integrated with mobile driver apps and route optimisation

Maximising efficiency in every aspect of transportation operations is essential. With the ability to optimise the drivers’ routes, the journey becomes more efficient with fewer miles and hours driven. If you use third-party hauliers, a fleet planner designed specifically for your materials can enable direct communication with drivers and optimise even their return trips with recycled materials.

A mobile driver app can record every event and track progress on a smartphone or tablet. It can hold electronic records, such as documentation, photos, and signatures. This saves them up to 65% time compared to handling paper in registrations and follow-ups, while at the same time providing proof-of-delivery.

A fleet planner enables just-in-time deliveries and increases capacity while lowering costs. This reduces the number of trips needed to transport materials to the construction site, minimising fuel consumption, carbon emissions, and traffic congestion. It also plans deliveries so that trucks minimise idling time, further reducing fuel usage and emissions.

When last-minute orders come through or other unexpected events, the planner’s algorithms read the data and go to work, optimising the schedule in real time, which reduces empty miles.

Telematics

These devices collect and transmit vehicle data like location, speed, and fuel use, aiding fleet managers in enhancing sustainability. They offer insights into driver behaviour such as harsh braking or acceleration, so that fleet managers can take corrective action.

Telematics systems enhance fuel efficiency by minimising idling, support resource conservation and efficient fleet operations.

Fleet Maintenance

Fleet maintenance software enables real-time management of assets, streamlining operations. With proactive maintenance, fleet management optimises fuel efficiency and minimises emissions. Keeping vehicles in good working condition for extended periods helps prevent breakdowns, a critical consideration when transporting time-sensitive materials.

Breakdowns pose sustainability challenges by generating additional carbon emissions. This may involve prolonged idling or necessitate alternative vehicles to collect and deliver the materials. Another problem is the loss of time-sensitive materials, either due to the inability to salvage or contamination during the breakdown process. Such losses contribute to resource and material waste, exacerbating the environmental impact further.

Source

¹Sustainable Construction Logistics in Urban Areas: A Framework for Assessing the Suitability of the Implementation of Construction Consolidation Centres, V. Muerza and C. Guerlain, MPDI, 30 June 2021

Get the Whitepaper

Our Whitepaper provides insights to help you better understand the current challenges and trends for Building Materials transport and the benefits of a sustainable approach. Follow the link below to download our Whitepaper, Sustainability in Transport:

Navigating Emerging Trends in Sustainability and their Economic and Environmental Benefits.

Sustainability in Transport

Navigating Emerging Trends and Economic and Environmental Benefits of a Sustainable Approach

Download Whitepaper

Resources

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ESG Europe Summit

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