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A Look at Milk Runs in Logistics as a Path to Lowering Carbon Emissions

Companies today increasingly focus on reducing their carbon emissions in their supply chains to meet sustainability goals and address environmental concerns. One underutilized way for companies to achieve this is by implementing milk runs as a logistics strategy. Milk runs are a type of consolidation method where a mix of smaller shipments are picked up and/or delivered using one vehicle that makes multiple stops. This approach can provide significant benefits for the shipper, including greener logistics, cost savings, and improved efficiency.

In this article, we explore the concept of milk runs in logistics, examining the benefits they provide, and discussing how they can be implemented to help assist carbon reporting and sustainability goals.

What are Milk Runs in Logistics?

Milk runs in logistics are the strategy of consolidating transportation needs by using one truck instead of multiple. This approach is often used for companies that have recurring orders. Instead of making separate trips from each pickup to each delivery, the milk run combines all deliveries into a single trip, making an efficiently planned route between all stops. Milk runs reduce the number of vehicles needed and at the same time, reduce the amount of carbon emissions produced.

The term milk run originates from the process used through the 1800s until the 1940s when customers relied on milkmen to deliver milk to their homes and collect empty milk bottles. This analogy fits with logistics—milkmen would carry the milk they were delivering from one door to the next, usually in urban areas, rather than making multiple trips back to the rural dairy farm, thus making the process more efficient. Another parallel is the consistency of milk runs. Due to the lack of refrigeration, customers relied on milkmen to make frequent (daily) milk runs if they wanted milk. In the same way, shippers use the strategy of milk runs when they need the same route repeated frequently.

Why are Milk Runs Used in Logistics?

Today, milk runs in logistics are synonymous with frequent, repeated routes. Shippers use milk runs as a strategy when they identify a specific transportation need that has the opportunity to improve overall efficiency and reduce transportation costs. However, it is often a challenging strategy to implement. The milk run must be well planned and well executed to be effective, but it may be the strategy that shippers need to support their other operational goals.

Milk runs can offer the opportunity for shippers to:

  • Free up capital due to leaner inventories and fewer resources wasted.
  • Provide frequent, just-in-time access to the items they need.
  • Lower freight costs by reducing transport times and the number of transshipment processes.
  • Ensure reliability for time-sensitive shipments.
  • Remove logistical challenges by making the same routes reoccur.
  • Use disposal logistics integrated into the same cycle.
  • Improve quality control by providing more frequent access to the items they need in smaller orders rather than large orders where it’s easy to miss mistakes. 
  • Improve sustainability through eco-smart routing.

Another opportunity for milk runs is their ability to support lean manufacturing. Using a just-in-sequence strategy, in addition to just-in-time, manufacturers can achieve better optimization logistically that extends to their facilities. With the help of inventory visibility, they can more easily monitor for any small order adjustments that need to be made with the next milk run.

Examples of Milk Runs

Milk runs may make sense for a variety of uses. For one, with just-in-time manufacturing, raw materials or goods from different suppliers are delivered to the same manufacturing company. Milk runs reduce the need for inventory storage or managing the timing of many shipments aligned to their needs. Auto manufacturers have had success using milk runs in this way, getting different auto parts to arrive at the facility at the same time.

Internally within a warehouse, the same milk run strategy can apply on a smaller scale. For example, different product components can be picked across a wide area using one cart and brought to a single assembly area. This reduces the need for multiple carts to make separate trips by picking smaller quantities of items, helping to improve efficiency.

Bulk liquid tanks are another example of how shippers can use milk runs effectively. Sensitive liquids, such as chemicals or food products, are at risk of damage or spoilage if not transported properly or on time. With one truck picking up these products from different suppliers using bulk liquid tanks, there is no need for each supplier to wait until they have a full load to deliver.

The Benefits of Milk Runs in Logistics

Milk runs provide a range of benefits for companies that implement them in their logistics operations. Here are four significant benefits.

Reliability and Predictability Within the Supply Chain

The fact that milk runs are repeated with regularity benefits the supply chain in more ways than one. They are designed for efficiency, and the process can also be honed to iron out any areas of improvement. There is less risk of delays or mistakes occurring, and the rest of the supply chain can depend on the consistency that milk runs provide.

Improved Inventory Management

Milk runs allow companies to better manage their inventory by helping ensure that stock is always replenished in a timely manner and reducing the risk of stockouts. At the same time, less capital is devoted to inventory, which can improve cash flow and drastically lower costs for storage.

Fewer Wasted Resources

With better consolidation of shipments comes additional opportunities to reduce waste, like packaging, which can be designed around the specific needs of a single milk run.

Improved Quality Control

By handling smaller orders more frequently, it is easier to manage the details of each order, which means fewer problems with quality. This is particularly important for companies that deal with perishable goods or other items that are at risk of costly damages. Milk runs allow for better control of these shipments, which means faster responses if any quality issues occur.

Reduced Carbon Emissions

Milk runs are an opportunity to lower carbon emissions based on decreasing the total distance traveled. One truck can be more efficient than multiple trucks making near-parallel journeys to the same delivery point. This results in decreased carbon emissions, which can help companies reach their sustainability goals.

Considerations for Milk Runs

This strategy is not without a few drawbacks that companies must consider before implementing it. Milk runs require more planning, and there is greater complexity, as multiple pickups and routes must be scheduled to work together. If there are issues like inaccurate forecasting, there is a risk of a bigger impact on the supply chain. Milk runs can take time to perfect, but once the logistics are established, shippers benefit from the efficiency they provide.

How Effective Milk Run Strategies Can Reduce Carbon Emissions

An effective milk run strategy consolidates multiple smaller pickups and/or deliveries into one trip. This reduces the number of vehicles on the road down to one truck to cover the same freight needs, helping to eliminate wasted assets and decrease the total fuel used. The truck is also routed more efficiently, as a well-planned milk run is optimized for the shortest possible distance traveled. Less fuel is consumed to result in a reduction in carbon emissions.

How CO2 Visibility Helps Shippers Calculate and Reduce Milk Run Emissions

Businesses are increasingly looking for how to measure the CO2 efficiency of their distribution strategy and make efficient use of their resources. The goal is to minimize the number of trips taken and provide customers with regular, reliable service as well as better CO2 visibility.

When shippers have access to carbon emissions visibility, they can measure and track the carbon emissions associated with their distribution strategy. They do this by computing full truckload rotation distances, vehicle and loading factors, and fuel consumption, and then associating these emissions with their specific deliveries. This allows companies to identify the source of their emissions and link them back to customer orders. With enough detail to their visibility, they can even drive down to finding CO2 emissions at the item level.

Shippers also need detailed reports, including Scope 3 emissions for each truckload and item-level emissions, to better understand their carbon footprint and make more informed decisions about how to reduce emissions. This leads to actual progress made, rather than greenwashing, and they can market their sustainability efforts and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives to customers.

Power Your Milk Runs Emissions Reporting with Searoutes

Searoutes helps shippers take control of their environmental impacts by reporting on Scope 3 emissions. For milk runs, this is calculated for the full truckload with consideration to the different utilization levels and load factors along the trip. Searoutes can even break this down and calculate emissions to the item level. Shippers get the data they need for more complete optimization and support for their commitment to sustainability through Searoutes’ GLEC-accredited methodology, a highly-accurate CO2 emissions model, and ready-to-report data sets, all made possible by an easy-to-use API.To learn more about Searoutes and how carbon emission visibility can support milk runs along with your other logistics strategies, reach out to us today to schedule a demo.

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