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

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."

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 principal component of reverse logistics. In the past “cost” has been defined in purely monetary terms, whereas "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.

Protecting the environment is especially important in humanitarian logistics, because often a degraded environment (due to conflict, natural disasters or over-use) is one of the reasons a beneficiary community is in need of humanitarian assistance.

Diagram 1: Where-as cost

Green or sustainable logistics is concerned with reducing environmental and other negative impacts associated with the movement and distribution of supplies. Green supply chains seek to reduce negative environmental impact by redesigning sourcing/distribution systems and managing reverse logistics to eliminate inefficiencies.

For example, logistics deals with packaging of materials. Packaging represents one of the greatest challenges to environmentally friendly logistics while at the same time being vital in shipping and storage.

Correct or incorrect packaging has consequences on the transportation, storage and volume of materials in a given space. This can increase the unit cost if the packaging hinders optimization of storage space. Many industries have developed forms of packaging that can perform 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. There should be a responsibility for the supplier and the buyer to recover and recycle or effectively dispose of packaging.

Best practises exist that allow a more sustainable balance between economic, environmental and social objectives.

Environmental Management Systems (EMS)

Logistics and transport activities have been identified as having a major impact on the environment. Consequently, significant legislation at both national and international level has started to be produced. Targets for improving environmental performance have been set by the international community via a range of international agreements and meetings, from the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 to the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals at Rio+20 in 2015 and the climate change related meetings of the Kyoto Protocol, in particular the Paris Accord, also adopted in 2015. International agreements of particular relevance to Logisticians include the Basel-Rotterdam-Stockholm conventions on management of wastes, the Montreal Protocol on protecting the ozone layer (covering substances including air conditioning gases) and the Minamata convention on phasing out mercury.

Environmental impacts are best managed using a systematic approach that helps organizations to understand all their impacts and address them in some sort of priority order. The most common tool is an environmental management system (EMS), and the best known approach to EMS is laid out by the International Organization of Standards (ISO) 14000 series of standards. The ISO 14000 family addresses various aspects of environmental management and have been adopted by more than 300,000 organizations world wide. The very first two standards deal with environmental management systems (EMS).

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

These standards provide a framework for managing environmental issues rather than establishing performance requirements. The process that starts with a senior management commitment and 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:

Minimising Negative Environmental Impacts

Methods of improving the sustainability of logistics work:

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:


Green logistics is no longer an option or a fantasy; it is reality and everyone has a clear and present responsibility to promote it.


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 – . 


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.