SURF Project


It's no coincidence that the name of the SURF project is inspired by the popular water sport. Much as waves start from low levels and gradually reach their maximum height, small-scale projects like SURF can trigger processes and insights with significant positive impact, as Giacomo Lozzi, Emiliya Kamenova and Sandra Rothbard explain

More than half of the world's population now lives in urban areas, and cities continue to grow. This is how cities have turned into forefront actors to tackle environmental challenges. Although it is affected by a number of green measures, urban freight often stays outside the scope of these activities. City planners and transportation officials tend to overlook the impact of freight: they have little control over urban freight fleets and movements, which is mainly in private hands and spread across a number of operators.

The current freight system intensifies congestion, traffic safety, noise pollution, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. A few forerunner cities around the world have started developing Zero emission zones for freight (ZEZ-F). However, besides setting the targets, they also need to develop a vision and implementation pathway specifically for the freight sector. The main obstacles to implement a sustainable urban freight system are related to the need for increased alignment between different stakeholders in the sector, which cannot come without enough knowledge and expertise.

SURF approach – narrow scale as its strongest feature

The Sustainable URban Freight (SURF) project was created to support this work. Within its short duration - the project runs only between April and December 2021 – and small-scale budget, SURF aims to pave the way for essential changes in the urban freight sector, namely the establishment and implementation of Zero emission zones for freight (ZEZ-F). It follows a bottom-up policymaking approach, focusing on the human and community potential. Thus, one of its main outcomes is the creation of the 'community of practice' – urban freight practitioners gathered to exchange knowledge and ideas in the field.


Read more about the SURF project - Sustainable URban Freight

Knowledge and alignment between different stakeholders are the main conditions for the transition to sustainable urban freight systems. This determines the project SURF structure, divided into two parts:

  • Instant Projects in three European cities: Karditsa (Greece), Aarhus (Denmark) and Ravenna (Italy)
  • Capacity Building through an e-course and the SURF community of practice

Through the Instant projects, SURF triggers change via innovative solutions and measures for the freight sector decarbonisation, with a focus on urban logistics. These solutions are proposed by the cities themselves and SURF’s role is to support them with funding, guidance, and knowledge exchange.

How-to Guide on Zero-Emission Zones for Freight

The SURF project builds upon the joint work of POLIS, the Transport Decarbonisation Alliance (TDA) and C40 cities. In 2020, these organisations worked with their respective members and other stakeholders in defining the How-to Guide on Zero-Emission Zones for Freight, presenting experience and advice on developing a Zero emission zone for freight from public and private sector representatives around the world.

The Capacity Building e-course complements the Instant Projects. It is free and easily accessible to anyone which allows for other practitioners to learn more about ZEZ-Fs and create new relationshops. SURF guides city planners and other freight stakeholders to develop a vision: it supports common targets and timelines of local freight regulation and puts forward a participatory and evidence-based pathway to co-define coordinated and shared strategies. SURF acts with minimum resources, showing that urban freight stakeholders can achieve significant changes without the need for a large buddget or a large number of staff. This ensures not only instant results, but also follow-up actions, take-up, and replication by other cities.

SURF Instant Projects

The three SURF Instant Projects took place from June through October 2021 with final results to be shared during the 2021 POLIS Annual Conference.

Karditsa, Greece - Cargo Bike Sharing

The high expense of cargo cycles is often cost prohibitive for businesses. This Instant Project is creating a plan for a bike sharing system by interviewing businesses, training employees on e-bikes and collecting data on routes and distances traveled.

Ravenna, Italy - Stakeholder Engagement

Bringing together multiple players is critical for any project. Through meetings and surveys, this project is building a Freight Quality Partnership (FQP) with important stakeholders whose participation is crucial for successful ZEZ-F implementation.

View of Ravenna © Vivida Photo, PC/Shutterstock

Aarhus, Denmark - Freight Master Planning

City logistics programmes are often missing from master plans. This Instant Project is developing a site-specific plan for how to handle logistics in Aarhus H, an area which includes ongoing development plans around the city’s central train station. Calculating CO2, conducting interviews and running delivery trials informs a plan for fewer and more consolidated logistics movements.

The Aarhus Pedestrian Zone © MaxPixel

Environmental Defence Fund Europe

SURF is funded by the Environmental Defense Fund Europe, one of the world’s leading nonprofit organizations that is working to turn environmental solutions into action.

Lessons learned

  • Results from pilot projects and studies must be included in larger, long term city freight plans (e.g., Sustainable Urban Logistics Plans), as well as overall mobility plans (e.g., Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan).
  • Pilots with low complexity can still have high impact and visibility.
  • It is important to focus on an area where a project can be most effective and manageable. Choosing a small zone for a pilot, such as a single street, can help cities identify the biggest challenges for businesses. From there, stakeholders and city leaders can agree on an expanded area for where the actual zero emission zone should be located.
  • Projects can provide a natural progression from more strategic transportation plans to operational ones.

As more cities across Europe and the globe pledge to establish zero emission zones, it is critical that city leaders ensure freight is included. SURF is helping cities prepare for ZEZ-Fs by providing tools and knowledge needed for successful implementation.

Sandra Rothbard, SURF Instant Project Manager

Giacomo Lozzi, Emiliya Kamenova and Sandra Rothbard are, respectively, Senior Project Manager - Coordinator Urban Freight at POLIS Network, Project Officer at POLIS Network, and SURF Instant Project Manager at Freight Matters.

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