This article was written by Hana Loftus in February 2007. We're republishing it here as part of our month-long editorial retrospective.
The term 'consolidation centre' may not sound sexy, and little about the contemporary construction industry is. But in London a pilot program has found that managed consolidation of delivery operations can cut construction-related vehicle emissions by 70%, and cut waste by a huge percentage too. Pretty impressive? Even more so when you consider the simplicity of the idea.
A consolidation centre enables the efficient delivery of construction materials from supply chains to actual on-site points of use. Rather than have bulk materials delivered from all over the place -- a process during which around 50% of materials end up landing in the wrong place at the wrong time and then sit around waiting to be used, getting damaged and wasted in the process -- a consolidation centre acts as a receiving house for bulk deliveries for a group of sites, from which they can then be 'picked' into efficient truck-loads and delivered to site on a 'just-in-time' basis, thus reducing vehicle movements, cutting waste, saving time and money. What's more, the distance from the consolidation centre to the sites it serves is small enough to make green fuel sources an option for that last stage of delivery.
A recent pilot in London, serving five major city centre development sites, set itself the ambitious targets of reducing vehicle movements by 40%. Its year-end evaluation revealed that the project had far exceeded its target. It cut vehicle miles by 67%, and achieved massive efficiency savings with 97% of deliveries in the right place at the right time compared to the 50% industry average. This led to a staggering 47% cut in materials-related productivity as workers didn't waste time looking for their stuff, major reduction in packaging waste and damage to materials, and it caused site managers to stop over-ordering materials in order to compensate for wastage. All the deliveries from the centre to sites were made by LPG or biodiesel-powered trucks.
There are still some issues to be ironed out, in particular dealing with the challenge of long-term management beyond the subsidized pilot, which could either be done by the property developers, a separate logistics firm, or the suppliers themselves who saved an average of two hours per delivery. But the project director says that it would only need one more major project to use the centre for it to be sustainable without subsidy.
This idea is actually one that originated in retail logistics as a way to manage just-in-time delivery, but it's become a bread winner for the construction industry given the level of waste and quantity of deliveries it requires. A version of the concept for the retail sector at Heathrow airport has been running for some time and resulted in similarly impressive savings in emissions and waste; this and others are now running unsubsidized. It's a simple, effective, economical, and environmentally responsible model that could easily be picked up and used in other locations and industries.
Consolidation: cutting traffic and waste is part of our month long retrospective leading up to our anniversary on October 1. For the next four weeks, we'll celebrate five years of solutions-based, forward-thinking and innovative journalism by publishing the best of the Worldchanging archives.