Optimization, sustainability and technology


By Patrick Hirsch, Assistant Professor, Deputy Head of the Institute of Production and Logistics, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences.

As previous studies show, in vehicle routing there is usually no congruence between the traditional objective of minimizing cost and the “green” objective of minimizing carbon dioxide equivalent emissions. It is important to discuss this trade-off with decision makers in organizations and find sustainable strategies for vehicle routing in future, including the use of multi and intermodal transport. This is just one example for the importance of interaction between different stakeholders.

Indeed, these discussions may also result in more complicated optimization models, showing that now used standard assumptions are not sufficient. It is also crucial for researchers in the field of optimization to be aware of recent developments in information, communication as well as mechanical engineering technologies. This knowledge is often the basis to improve the processes leading to optimization problems first.

«There are a lot of standardized processes in enterprises that lead to restrictions for the optimization. Improving them first usually contributes to the optimization goal»

As shown in one of our studies about round timber transport1, the use of foldable containers in combination with standard trucks instead of the traditional use of log-trucks can save a lot of operational cost. These savings could never be obtained by just optimizing the use of log-trucks with a variant of the vehicle routing problem. The application of the new concept led also to an interesting state-dependent optimization problem that we could not find in literature up to then.

The same is true for many organizational issues: there are a lot of standardized processes in enterprises that lead to restrictions for the optimization. Improving these processes first, usually contributes to a large extent to the optimization goal. To conclude, efficiency in optimization is very important, but first of all we must think about the practical application that we want to improve, focusing on the effectiveness of our solution approach.


1 Jan Zazgornik; Manfred Gronalt; Patrick Hirsch (2012). A comprehensive approach to planning the deployment of transportation assets in distributing forest products. Int. J. of Revenue Management, 2012 Vol. 6, No.1/2, pp. 45-61.