The most sustainable kilometre is the one we don't have to drive

8 May 2023

“How can we do things a little smarter every day?” With that approach, Remco van der Linden, Operations Director for ForFarmers Netherlands, and his team work continuously to optimise ForFarmers’ supply chain. That includes logistics, where sustainability is growing in importance. “When you think of making transport more sustainable, the first thing that comes to mind is an electric passenger car. For our type of transport, however, the challenge is a bit bigger.”

Remco van der Linden
"It's quite a challenge to optimise the planning", says Remco van der Linden.


“In part, sustainability is in the planning of the supply chain: the most sustainable kilometre is the one we don't have to drive”, begins Remco. “Planning is influenced by many variables, such as the vehicle fleet, ordering behaviour, customer density and cooperation in the chain. So it's quite a challenge to optimise that. Besides planning, we also look at execution; to make the kilometres that do have to be driven as sustainable as possible.”

Bulk of challenges

The latter does bring specific challenges. After all, a bulk truck full of compound feed has other requirements than a streamlined Tesla. A question of weight and space: “If you want to drive electrically, you need batteries. They are heavy, so you can transport less weight. Besides, on our short tractors there is relatively little space for those batteries.” Furthermore, many trucks are equipped with a blower to get the product into the silo at the customer’s premises. All this requires so much energy and space that diesel is often the most logical option at present.

“But alternative fuels are definitely coming”, Remco says confidently. “Electricity, hydrogen; the question is which of the two is the first to ‘mature’, and therefore can actually be applied, because there are a number of things we have to take into account. As much as we would like to, switching completely tomorrow is just not possible.”

Mature alternatives

“Therefore, every time a truck is due for replacement, we check how mature the technology is at that time, and whether we can switch to an alternative drive. This includes looking at hybrid forms of propulsion as well as CNG (pressurised natural gas) and LNG (liquefied natural gas). The new trucks driving for us incorporate the latest technologies, making them more efficient and sustainable in use than their predecessors anyway."

A now serious alternative, according to Remco, are HVO fuels, made from waste vegetable oils and residual waste. These reduce emissions by up to 90%. "If conditions allow, we will do a pilot to see if it works for us in practice."

Small steps, big impact

Making transport more sustainable is unfortunately not a matter of big steps. By taking small steps first and testing a lot, we can eventually take those big steps in sustainability. As an example of first small steps, Remco mentions some local initiatives in recent years: “We bought an LNG truck in Germany two years ago. It runs on liquefied natural gas and emits less CO2. And in the Netherlands we did tests with an electric blower on the trucks. That requires less space for a battery than an all-electric truck and is therefore feasible in terms of space; and you can also save considerably on fuel. But as with any pilot, we run into practical limitations that we can learn from. That's why these initiatives are not yet the norm.”

Behaviour also plays a role

“We also try to make improvements in implementation”, Remco continues. “Increasing sustainability largely depends on our behaviour. We coach drivers to drive more economically, and we share knowledge about sustainable logistics with colleagues in all countries. In every country, logistics managers are very keen on these kinds of developments. Initiatives come from different sides.”


“Bernhard Kleyboldt, Logistics Manager in Germany, for example, is constantly looking at whether he can pick up incoming raw materials with trucks from our own fleet, after feed has been delivered with them. Fewer vehicles are then needed and the trucks that do run thus make fewer empty kilometres. In addition, an initiative was recently launched with lighter trailers, which again saves fuel. An additional advantage is that this allows us to load more feed, which reduces the total kilometres required. Initiatives like this are increasingly being created by sharing knowledge and experience. By taking a critical look at the state of the art with every initiative, we see what the next steps in sustainability are. We keep working on that, kilometre by kilometre.”