In urban logistics, the ‘last mile’ refers to the final stretch of the transport of goods – for example, the distance a truck or a van completes carrying your last online find from a warehouse, a dock, or another trade logistics infrastructure in or near your city, until your door. As much as everyone loves a bargain (including the online ones), last-mile deliveries have a big environmental impact: e-commerce sales tripled since 2014 – this growing demand being further accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic- and, without intervention, global carbon emissions from delivery traffic will increase by 32%, causing another 6 million tons of CO2 by 2030. Not to mention the degradation of the workers conditions inherent to this unprecedented, and largely unregulated, rise of the delivery culture.
Some cities are already experimenting – or have a consolidated system, like the small Dutch town of Nijmegen since 2008 – with lighter electric vehicles to substitute trucks, which is great. The open collective Cargonomia in Budapest takes it a step further and connects sustainable mobility and freight options with support for the local economy and educational activities. Indeed, they operate as an organic food distribution point, a cargo bike delivery centre – including a cargo bike sharing platform – and an open space for activities related to degrowth and sustainable transition. This holistic approach allows, for example, to minimize the ecological footprint of long-distance food transportation, or for a community bike repair shop advocating for a shift away from car-centric lifestyles. The diverse portfolio of activities under the umbrella of Cargonomia is the result of the cooperation between a cargo bike messenger company, Kantaa; a biodynamic farm, Zsámboki Organic Garden and low-tech design and fabrication cargo bike workshop, Cyclonomia. By bringing together local businesses, residents, and delivery providers, Cargonomia creates a network supporting local resilience and self-reliance. They aim in this way to increase citizens’ access to local, organic food and sustainable mobility, while supporting the creation of local, decent jobs connecting rural and urban areas in partnership with small scale businesses.
The initiative is then more than using carbon-neutral vehicles to delivery goods from point A to point B – which is important, but not enough, given the inherent unsustainability of the global transportation system. In short, kilometres traveled by people and freight need to be reduced. A part of this can be linked to the use of technology, like developing decarbonized logistic options, but it also entails a transformation in production and consumption dynamics towards localisation, as well as behavioural changes – both of which Cargonomia is addressing. If we remain with a solely approach of introducing electric vehicles, we are just mitigating -not solving – the problem, in the best case (in the worst, we are enabling the continuation of unsustainably rising volumes of global freight flows!).