The Lean and Green Synchronized [or Cooperative] Inland Freight Initiative in the Netherlands

Context of Transport Climate Action

In a Lean and Green Synchromodal, or Synchronised Inland Freight Initiative, stake holders collaborate by bundling[1] their cargo traffic loads. The Lean and Green platform (coordinated by the public- private partnership Connekt) encourages participants to work together and to reduce their CO2 emissions. When they reach the goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 20 % compared to a baseline measure, they receive a Lean and Green Award.

In the case of inland waterway shipping and rail transport, the Initiative also helps shippers, service providers and freight owners to meet each other and  to find partners in the process of bundling freight. By bundling container traffic, the inland vessels’ load factors are increased and the number of empty sailing kilometers reduced. One example of a successful Lean and Green collaboration in the Netherlands is from the inland waterway container terminal of Veghel, and involves three major food manufacturers in the south of the Netherlands: Mars, Heinz and Bavaria. These 3 companies have successfully combined to use inland waterway shipping instead of road transport for their freight movements.

The use of inland waterway or rail transport instead of road transport not only results in cost savings, but it also reduces the burden on the environment by reducing  CO2 emissions per ton of cargo transported per km. Despite this, most shippers or manufacturers still choose road transport over other inland shipping methods because road transport is considered to be more reliable and faster. To persuade companies to switch to inland waterway shipping or rail transport, the cargo flows need to be large enough to achieve satisfactory load criteria of the inland vessels or containers.

The Lean and Green synchronised freight partnership in Veghel addressed all the perceived draw backs of inland waterway shipping. By bundling the consignments of freight, thus improving business logistics, the reliability and speed of using inland waterway shipping were also increased.

This project entirely corresponds to the European Union’s ideals for enhancing the market share of alternative inland shipping modes of transport  as described in the White Paper on Transport published in 2011. (

[1] Bundling – combining loads from several sources together


The use of inland waterway transport instead of road transport results in cost savings, and  it also reduces the burden on the environment by reducing CO2 emissions per ton/km. However, most end users still choose road transport over alternative inland shipping methods because road transport is considered to be more reliable and faster. To persuade companies to switch to alternative inland shipping modes, the cargo flows using inland vessels and containers have to be be large enough to reach satisfactory economic load criteria.

In the example from Veghel involving the major food producers Heinz, Mars and Bavaria, the inland terminal expanded its terrain and invested in new cranes to facilitate using larger barges for container transfer.

This initiative has now been replicated beyond the original Veghel project and currently over 75 manufacturers are involved in Lean and Green synchro-modal projects. Among other current initiatives are those involving companies such as Friesland Campina (dairy products), Aviko (a potato product producer), D.E. Master Blenders 1753( a coffee producer with the leading brand name Douwe Egberts) and United Biscuits.


The fore mentioned companies met each other through the Lean and Green network. As they were situated geographically near to each other, they started considering how to collaborate on avoiding unnecessary freight journeys and reducing empty kilometres[2]. Supported by the Dutch ‘Bureau VoorlichtingBinnenvaart’ (Bureau for Inland Shipping Information) exploratory calculations were made on actual cost reductions and potential savings offered by a switch to inland waterway transport. Several pilot projects tested the concept and finally the optimal arrangements were found and made.

In 2012 they received the Lean and Green award from Connekt for having reduced their carbon emissions by 20%. Connekt is an independent network of companies and authorities that links up parties to improve sustainable mobility in the Netherlands.

[2] Empty kilometres are those of an empty lorry or truck on a return journey after a consignment delivery


  • Higher load factors for bargeand rail operators
  • Fewer CO2 emissions per container per ton/km
  • Reduced transportation costs for the partners

Potential for scaling up

The application of  Lean and Green Synchronised Inland Freight Initiatives used to focusmainly on regional freight routes  within the Netherlands, but nowadays is inclusive of continental  water and railways. The overall Lean and Green programme embraces several alternative transport modes.

The high potential of the concept of cargo bundling  in persuading freight companies to switch to other modes of transport, such as short sea, rail, or inland water transport (IWT) can be widely applicable to many regions of the world. This explains why the Lean and Green initiative is rapidly gaining attention in Europe. More information is available from:


Selected references

TNO & BCI (2014), De kansen van continentaal synchro modaal vervoer (The opportunities of continental synchromodal transport) (in Dutch)

Movie clips of Lean and Green Synchromodal projects

Mars, Bavaria, Heinz:

FrieslandCampina and Aviko:

Vreugdenhil and Hillfresh:

Samskip, Nutricia and Bavaria:



Netherlands, Belguim, Italy






Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, Freight, Inland shipping, Mitigation, Awareness, Partnerships


Top Sector Logistics, Connekt


Herman Wagter:

-Fred Hooft, Bavaria: “It is so important to combine all the volumes even when you think your volume isn’t of any importance. Many small volumes combined can eventually make up a large volume. There’s a lot more possible than you might think.”

-Jan Goijaarts, Mars: “I think that we three major shippers, have now demonstrated that we have full confidence in this concept and
its viability. We have already paved the way and therefore it will be easier for other shippers to start participating”

-Tom Tillemans, Heinz: “Inland shipping is a great alternative to road transport. We are facing a future shortage of drivers in the Netherlands, as well as the clogged up A15 highway. In addition we have company objectives, and inland waterway shipping is of course a beautiful alternative, replacing asphalt with water. This is both more sustainable in the short and the long term, and we hope many otherparties will follow our lead”