E4S Annual Summit 2021 – On the road to sustainable mobility and logistics


The first discussion of the E4S Annual Summit 2021 focused on a topic of crucial importance: sustainable mobility and logistics, as transport accounts for around one-fifth of global CO2 emissions. The four panelists agreed that the road to sustainability is paved by systemic social and economic considerations, beyond mere technological feasibility.

History has taught us that mobility is pivotal to how the economy and society develop. The revolutions brought about by railways, in the first industrial revolution, or roads and airlines in the second, show us that trade and value chains are structured through what was and is currently allowed by transportation systems.

In the panel dedicated to mobility and logistics in the era of sustainability, Roberto Cirillo, CEO of Swiss Post, meets Julia Binder, Professor at IMD and part of the E4S platform ‘Grand challenges and the role of firms’, Dominic Rohner, Professor at UNIL-HEC and co-leader of the E4S platform ‘Evidence-based environmental policies’, and Olivier Gallay, Professor at HEC/UNIL, and coordinator of the E4S platform on the future of mobility. 

As Switzerland’s largest logistics company, with almost 60.000 employees, and as a public service company owned by the Confederation, Swiss Post “has a sense of scale of the responsibility in ensuring the sustainability of its services”, Mr Cirillo says. “We can be part of the problem or part of the solution: We have a very important role to play in making logistics and mobility sustainable”.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, some countries have managed to reduce massively fine particle pollution without suffering huge economic losses, due notably to the reduction in mobility. This is a conclusion of an E4S study, highlighted by Professor Rohner. However, one of the existing tendencies that COVID-19 has further accentuated is the move from physical shopping towards online shopping. For Roberto Cirillo, asserting whether the growth of online delivery is overall good or bad news for the environment is a transition question. “Instead of transporting consumers to goods, we will transport goods to consumers: the net effect may well be zero. Therefore, we need an overarching approach and to think of a systemic way of making logistics more sustainable.”

Prof. Gallay’s concern about online shopping is the filling rate of vehicles. If delivery vehicles are filled to their capacity to reach the different customer locations, then online delivery becomes more efficient and less impactful for the environment than consumers traveling to the city in their private vehicles. “The key question is hence to decide on which logistics vehicle to use at the right time and at the right place.”

Roberto Cirillo is convinced that achieving sustainable mobility and logistics is not impeded by technological barriers, but rather by mindset and coordination problems. “The difficulty now is the ideological debate, when solutions should be factual”.

While green technology is at the center stage in political discussions, Julia Binder worries about leaving part of the population behind. Are these trends socially inclusive? Dominic Rohner assures that yes, if innovative technologies and green taxes are designed well and compensate the losers – typically poorer households – through transfers.

The audience was eager to know the main driver of the sustainability strategy of Swiss Post. “Electrification. It is the most readily available given the timeframe of our commitment to achieve net zero. We are also looking at alternative sources of power, like hydrogen, and we have a dedicated division for circular economy logistic services. We also work on increasing our buildings’ energy efficiency, but it is not the core focus of our strategy” says Mr. Cirillo. And concludes “If you stop before you get started, for sure you will not get there”.

Finally, in the closing date of the COP26 in Glasgow, Roberto Cirillo takes stock:  “It took the economy 150 years to build the current infrastructure. It will take a lot of political will and pressure for that 150-year cumulative stock of assets to be recycled into more sustainable ones”.

Authors: Jean-Philippe Bonardi & Paula Cacault


Watch the full discussion: