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Panel with speakers Allie Kelly (The Ray), Luke Tonachel (Natural Resources Defense Council) and Niklas Reinedahl (Einride)
7 min read

Mesh 2023: Collaboration advances projects and legislation that support the future of freight

7 min read

Mesh 2023: Collaboration advances projects and legislation that support the future of freight

On June 8, Einride Mesh brought together industry and thought leaders to drive the transportation industry forward. During this year’s event, panels and guests steered conversations to discuss policy and the legal framework to support the future of freight as well as the societal impacts of new technologies and their sustainable solutions.

New York was the chosen hub to connect freight mobility’s leading voices during Einride Mesh 2023. Honoring the city’s “gateway to the world” status, international and American executives, advocates and authorities joined forces to share insights and experience with the innovative solutions to the industry’s challenges, particularly the need for intelligent sustainable shipping.

During the program, representatives from businesses shipping with Einride shared how the partnership has transformed their operations. Attendees were also able to meet and engage with some faces designing, developing and deploying technologies for freight mobility.

Another hot topic among attendees and speakers was collaboration, from policymaking to the pivotal role of pilots and projects in advancing innovation in the industry. Get a glimpse of the discussions below with highlights of three panels.

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Push and Pull: Green policy and the role of public-private collaboration

Green policy has been subjected to increasing public and media interest with the launch of the Inflation Reduction Act, other US packages, the EU Green Deal, and local counterparts to favor low-emissions alternatives to transportation and initiatives that help countries fight the climate crisis.

Now, almost one year after United States President Joe Biden signed the IRA bill into law, what can the industry expect? Experts gathered at Einride Mesh believe that green policy was the first step, a tool to facilitate collaboration between actors.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest and implement in a big way, but the government dollars are not going to do it all. We need to bring along the industry as well”, said Luke Tonachel, Senior Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, during the panel “Push and Pull: Green policy and the role of public-private collaboration”.

Einride’s General Manager North America, Niklas Reinedahl, highlighted the societal importance of freight and the responsibility that comes with public investment and taxpayers’ money. “Freight really is the bloodstream that allows our society to live comfortable lives. More than 70% of goods are being moved in trucks today in the US, but it's also a highly fragmented value chain”, he said. “What we shouldn't do is deploy public money to try to mimic the current way of doing freight business because then we're just going to cement the inefficiencies that we see today.”

They were joined by Allie Kelly, Executive Director of Georgia-based non-profit organization The Ray. “It's important to realize that change is hard. These guys and gals have built bridges and roads for almost a century, and we're asking them to make a lot of changes in a really short period of time. We have to de-risk all of this.”

Both Allie and Niklas defended the idea of investing in solutions supported by a strong business case. “Because that is truly sustainable. We throw that word around so much right now… but going green has to be in the money for it to be sustainable”, said Allie. The way to do it, according to them, is through electrification supported by a data-driven approach.

For Luke, it comes down to just three words. “It's speed, scale and scope. The scope has to do with hitting all types of applications, so we're not leaving anything behind. Scale is that we're doing it everywhere. Speed is the urgency. If we don't make these investments in the next ten years, we are not going to hit the kind of 2050 goals that we need to hit.”

“We have to get the infrastructure out there to support the deployment of these electric vehicles”, said NRDC’s Senior Director.

Mesh 2023: Panel "Across the border: It’s time for autonomous vehicles to shine"

Across the border: It’s time for autonomous vehicles to shine

During the green policy chat earlier in the day, The Ray’s Allie Kelly echoed a message that would later take the stage: “​​Procurement stops the public sector from talking to the private sector. We have to be talking with each other; we have to have a permeable membrane. Pilots are a great way for us to have the conversations that start the projects which can grow to be statewide and national.”

The ability to get different actors together toward a common goal has been a key learning from the world-leading MODI project, a European cross-border initiative co-funded by the European Union, to improve the transport and logistics industry through connected and autonomous vehicles.

“The authorities are collaborating with the industry partners, which isn’t that common even in European projects. It’s so necessary for getting to know each other and each other’s perspectives. One of the main lessons that the MODI project can give is to have those kinds of collaborations where the industry and authorities are equally invested. It’s also very important that we start to talk about standardization and legislation. How are we going to make freight transport work in such an unharmonized world? Freight is cross-border”, said Hanne Seter, senior research scientist at SINTEF and one of the leaders in the project.

Michelle Avary, Einride’s VP of Product Strategy & Government Affairs, highlighted the project’s role in sharing knowledge and showing the viability of autonomous trucks without a driver on board in cross-border operations. “When I spend time talking to NHTSA [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration], the DOT [U.S. Department of Transportation] or other regulatory agencies, they do ask these questions. Where are there successes? And this is a great example, to be able to say we’re digging into them – and a lot of the issues are really similar.”

The MODI project will connect major ports and support a green freight corridor from Rotterdam, the Netherlands, to Oslo, Norway, with partners from academia, research institutes, the public and private sectors. Einride is the leading autonomous partner and will demonstrate an autonomous electric vehicle crossing a country border.

“When we look at different states or countries, they all have very similar characteristics: everybody cares about safety. The great thing about automated vehicles is that, like us, they improve. We update the software, we learn, we improve. It’s not a static technology. So being able to show the progressions of safety is really important. And that’s what you really need the public policy to get: focus on performance, the ability to measure and the ability to have data. It’s not guesswork”, said Michelle.

As a social scientist, Hanne’s perspective goes beyond the technological aspects. Her interest is in how new technologies fit into society. “The societal factors are a larger challenge than the technology in itself. It’s about all the different layers in our society, from the economy to the political level and to the human aspect. In the end, it is the human who is the driver of this change, not the technology. Technology is just there. It’s up to us to make it fit within this society that we want to have.”

Mesh 2023: Panel "Improving urban life for a resilient future"

Improving urban life for a resilient future

The societal aspect was front and center during another panel, “Improving urban life for a resilient future”.

“We sometimes think about electrification as having a by-product which is an improvement in our communities and urban life. I’d argue we shouldn’t think about it as a by-product but as a driver. It should be what we are aiming to do not incidentally but intentionally”, said Alexi Maltas, Einride’s Head of Legal in the US, before introducing one of his questions to the panelists Sven Wallisch, Head of Transport Logistics, Region East, at the German supermarket chain REWE, and Trelynd Bradley, Deputy Director for Sustainable Freight and Supply Chain at the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz).

“From a technical point of view, urban delivery traffic is the simplest case of electrification, but economical operation is a key challenge due to the low mileage. From a technical point of view, 100% electrification of the fleet is already possible today”, explained Sven, citing a joint study with ​​the Fraunhofer Institute of Innovation.

With its ambitious zero emissions goals, California projects an immediate reduction of 25% of smog in the state. “In the report we did, we quantify the collective health benefits to Californians for the complete reductions of emissions. We totaled that amount to 2 billion dollars in cost savings”, said Trelynd.

Collaboration is also crucial here. Communities have to be involved in the process for it to achieve the objective of improving quality of life.

“Oftentimes people think that if we include too much stakeholder engagement in projects, it might get held up. But in clean tech, clean energy and sustainable investments, we find the opposite. We find that it works better and that the result is better for the business, for the community and the users of the ecosystem once it’s established”, said Trelynd.

“The time is now. The people, the communities that have lived next to these systems deserve this type of reality for a long time”, he said.

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