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Business ideas for 2020: Sustainable transport

The transport sector is one of the worst offenders when it comes to CO2 emissions - could 2020 be the year you start a sustainable transport business?

What are you doing to save the planet?

That’s the question more and more customers are asking of the brands they choose to engage with.

You can no longer afford for sustainability to be a background issue. It has to be front and centre. That means being aware of the impact your business has at every stage of the supply chain.

And transportation is one of the weakest links when it comes to carbon emissions. According to figures from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, In 2018, transport accounted for 33% of all CO2 emissions in the UK, with the lion’s share coming from road transport.

But while we can’t bring a global economy that relies on the transportation of goods and people to a halt, we can make it more environmentally friendly.

That’s why we predict that 2020 will see a surge in more sustainable transport options, and here’s why it could be a great business opportunity…

Why sustainable transport is a good business idea

By 2021, Statista estimates 93% of UK internet users are expected to do online shopping – the highest online shopping penetration rate in Europe.

And online sales are booming… From £33bn in 2012, to £76bn in 2019. That’s a lot of orders that need fulfilling, which means a lot of vehicles on the road transporting goods, and a lot of carbon dioxide spewed into the atmosphere.

But if you’re not moved by thoughts of the oceans turning into a sort of lifeless, toxic soup, then how about this: sustainability sells.

Putting aside the fact that we all have a duty to do our bit, a survey of adults in the UK, the US, Australia and China by J. Walter Thompson Intelligence found that 83% would always pick a brand with a better record of sustainability. And 70% would be willing to pay more for environmentally-friendly services.

Many of the world’s biggest brands have responded to changing consumer expectations with a sustainability overhaul. Delivery service UPS launched a fleet of lightweight electric vehicles with zero tailpipe emissions. And Unilever claims its portfolio of 26 sustainable brands – including Dove, Lipton, Knorr and Vaseline – grew 46% faster than the rest of its business last year.

In July, Royal Mail added an additional 190 electric vans to its fleet of 100 in a bid to reduce emissions. And in March, it announced a six-month trial of eight ‘e-trikers’ – basically just delivery tricycles. They look silly, but if they’re doing their bit, who cares?

So, what opportunities could there be in 2020 for aspiring entrepreneurs in the sustainable transport space?

Is it Brexit-proof?

In the case of goods coming from overseas, transport is one sector that could be significantly affected by a bad Brexit, with more stringent customs checks causing delays and, potentially, indecision over a trade deal meaning fewer goods are being transported.

Or if you’re going for the ‘buy local’ angle then you get the bonus of beating Brexit issues and saving the environment.

Read our Brexit survival guide for more information on how Brexit could impact transport.

Sustainable transport business opportunities

Sustainable bike delivery

Delivery services might not be in short supply, but rather than tacking on sustainability after the fact, some bold startups are launching with exclusively green fleets.

For example, Green Courier claims its fleet of low-emission bikes, electric vans, motorcycles and cars is one of the most environmentally-friendly in the UK.

Or there’s London-based Ecofleet, a delivery service that uses a fleet of carbon-neutral electric vehicles deliver consignments from its warehouse to you or your clients. As well as sustainable vehicles, Ecofleet’s optimisation software determines the fastest and most efficient delivery route. And its ethical considerations go beyond the environment. Unlike many delivery services, it doesn’t operate on a gig model – all employees are in secure, full-time employment.

While these last-mile carriers are performing a vital service, it’s long-haul freight that really needs a green revolution, though this might require significantly more capital to enter into as a business idea. There are already a number of solutions, but they’re yet to enter the mass market.

There are also opportunities to develop software that improves the sustainability of transport. According to a recent report from office supplies and workplace solutions firm Lyreco, companies are missing the chance to make a 58% saving in carbon emissions by not consolidating deliveries. What about developing a system that helps companies deal with the logistics of consolidation or other sustainability strategies?

It’s not just about deliveries, we also need to think about transporting ourselves more efficiently. The Green Commute Initiative (GCI) is a social enterprise that encourages commuters to ditch their cars and cycle in instead through its cycle to work scheme. Or there’s Octopus Electric Vehicles, which offers electric vehicles on contract hire and runs a ‘Go Green Car Scheme’.

Or you could cut out the transport bit altogether. If your avocados have had to travel by plane, train and automobile before you inevitably slice your hand open whilst trying to get the stone out, you’ve caused a lot of damage to the ozone layer, and to your hand.

if you’re a small, local business, make more of it! More and more people are recognising that one of the most environmentally-conscious decisions they can make is to buy local products and services, minimising the impact of transportation.

Is it sustainable?

The clue is in the name here. But the key is to develop a transport concept that is genuinely, honestly sustainable – not just to make some token effort.

Consider all the ways your sustainable transport business could affect the environment and then wear those credentials on your sleeve.

Insider opinion

Shannon Diett, VP marketing at DHL Express UK, comments:

“Sustainability is becoming a fundamental element of commercial success and many start-ups are building their businesses around this principle. Equally, consumers are becoming more conscious about their decisions and the impact they’re having.

“As well as making major lifestyle changes, people also want to be able to make simple contributions, whether that’s switching to a green energy provider, making a charitable donation at the point of checkout or opting for an environmentally-friendly delivery option.

“In 2006 we led the way in reducing the impact of logistics by launching our GoGreen Carbon Neutral service, which helps combat climate change by offsetting emissions from the transportation of shipments. Since then, we have seen a growing demand for GoGreen products and services from companies of all sizes. As more businesses recognise the need to reduce their own environmental impact, they can offer customers the option to choose a green delivery solution as a point of competitive advantage.

“A GoGreen shipment is just like any other sent via DHL but includes a corresponding contribution to a climate protection project through the purchase of carbon credits. These go to support projects such as wind farms or biomass power plants.

“Sustainable growth is the aim of any good small business so it’s vital that they have access to services which support them in achieving this goal. DHL Express can provide carbon reporting that allows businesses to analyse their environmental footprint and confidently design a carbon reduction strategy.”

Henry Williams
Henry Williams

Henry has been writing for Startups.co.uk since 2015, covering everything from business finance and web builders to tax and red tape. He’s also contributed to many of our industry-renowned annual indexes, including Startups 100 and Young Guns, and created a number of the site’s popular how to guides. Before joining the team, he reviewed films for a culture website, and still harbours ambitions of being a screenwriter.