Reducing the environmental impact of food products logistics systems

University dissertation from Chalmers University of Technology

Abstract: This thesis addresses how to reduce two types of environmental impact generated in logistics systems: transport’s impact on climate and food waste. In mitigating both these types of environmental impact, actors in food supply chains (FSC)—producers, wholesalers, and retailers—play important roles, for both causes of environmental impacts and improvement actions to moderate them emerge within their logistics systems. Therefore, the purpose of this research is to explore how actors in FSCs can reduce the environmental impact of their logistics systems in terms of both transport’s impact on climate and food waste. The research focuses on two aspects of FSCs that can affect those impacts and hinder the implementation of improvement actions to reduce them: FSC characteristics (e.g., shelf life and temperature regime), which create conditions for food logistics systems, and performance variables (e.g., requirements regarding lead times and flexibility), which can conflict with actors’ capacity to reduce environmental impacts in their logistics systems.

The thesis is a compilation of five studies: (1) a review of how food logistics literature has addressed food products and actors in FSCs in logistics research; (2) a study of primary and industrial producers that identifies FSC characteristics that can be used to describe logistics systems; (3) a study of a wholesaler’s logistics system that proposes a framework for reducing transport’s impact on climate in light of flow characteristics including FSC characteristics; (4) a study of an industrial producer’s logistics system that proposes another framework, namely one for comparing improvement actions that can reduce transport’s impact on climate; and (5) a study of industrial producers, wholesalers, and retailers that identifies improvement actions that can reduce the amount of food waste. Empirical data collection for the thesis was performed with case studies.

The results highlight eight FSC characteristics, regarding both supply chain flow and products, which can be used to describe actors’ food products logistics systems. The results further clarify how those FSC characteristics and logistics performance variables influence the two types of environmental impact. To explain how actors in FSCs can reduce transport’s impact on climate, two frameworks are developed: one for evaluating shipments’ potential to lower transport’s impact on climate, and the other for selecting improvement actions that can efficiently mitigate that impact. By extension, the thesis next identifies, describes, and analyses nine improvement actions to reduce food waste. Lastly, the thesis compares the two types of environmental impact, first in terms of how the FSC characteristics influence them, and second how they can be reduced by different improvement actions.

The thesis contributes to the fields of green logistics and food logistics by explaining how FSC characteristics influence both types of environmental impact, as well as by analysing and comparing improvement actions in food logistics systems. Its contributions to management include frameworks that can help actors in FSCs to identify, evaluate, and create suitable conditions for improvement actions in their logistics systems.

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