With its release of “Delivering Tomorrow: Logistics 2050,” Deutsche Post DHL is taking a far-reaching look into the future of trade, business and society. The central finding of this study is a comprehensive collection of five credible visions of the future. All scenarios share a common element: the broadly transformed role of logistics. Overall demand for logistics services does indeed climb in most of the five alternative scenarios. But the particular requirements placed on logistics providers and the special challenges they face vary widely from scenario to scenario.

Scenario 1: Untamed Economy, Impending Collapse

The world is characterized by unchecked materialism and mass consumption. This non-sustainable way of life is fed by the relentless exploitation of resources, a development that stokes climate change and causes natural disasters to mount. In a world characterized by tumultuous growth, demand for logistics and transport services climbs sharply. A global transportation supergrid ensures a rapid exchange of goods between centers of consumption. But as climate change advances, supply chains are increasingly disrupted, a development causing additional challenges for logistics companies.

Scenario 2: Megaefficiency in Megacities

“Megacities” have emerged as the world’s power centers. They are both the main drivers and beneficiaries of a paradigm shift toward “green” growth. To overcome the challenges of expanding urban structures, such as congestion and emissions, megacities have become champions of collaboration. Robotics has revolutionized the world of production and services. Consumers have changed their habits: Products are now usually rented, instead of purchased. Highly efficient traffic concepts have relieved congestion. A global supergrid with mega transporters, including trucks, ships and aircraft, as well as space transporters, has opened important trade connections between the megacities of the world. The logistics industry has been entrusted to run city logistics, utilities, and system services for airports, hospitals and shopping malls.

Scenario 3: Customized Lifestyles

This scenario describes a world where individualization and personalized consumption are pervasive. Consumers are empowered to create, design and make their own products. Newly developed 3D printers play a major role here. This leads to a rise in regional trade streams, with only raw materials and data still flowing globally. Customization and regional production are complemented by decentralized energy systems and infrastructure. The implications for logistics include a vastly reduced need for long-distance transportation of finished and semi-finished goods due to the localization of value chains. Logistics providers organize the entire physical value chain. They also handle the encrypted data streams required for the transmission of construction and design blueprints for 3D printers. The decentralized organization of production turns strong regional logistics capabilities and a high-quality last-mile network into important success factors.

Scenario 4: Paralyzing Protectionism

This scenario describes a world where, triggered by economic hardship, excessive nationalism and protectionist barriers, globalization has been reversed. Technological development is lagging. High energy prices and dramatic scarcity of supply lead to international conflicts over resource deposits. Implications for the logistics industry include challenges posed by the decline in world trade and the resulting regionalization of supply chains. Governments view logistics as a strategic industry. As relations between some blocs and countries are extremely strained, logistics providers in bloc-free countries act as intermediaries in international trade brokerage.

Scenario 5: Global Resilience, Local Adaptation

This scenario describes a world initially characterized by a high level of consumption thanks to cheap, automated production. However, due to accelerated climate change, frequent catastrophes disrupt supply chains and lean production structures, resulting in repeated supply failures. The new economic paradigm is distinguished by a shift away from efficiency maximization to vulnerability mitigation and resilience. This radical move toward redundant systems of production and a change from global to regionalized supply chains allow the global economy to better weather troubling times. The resilient world in 2050, with regionalized trade, relies on a logistics sector that ensures supply security as a top priority, with backup infrastructure to guarantee reliable transport in unstable and hazardous times. Instead of complex just-in-time delivery processes, huge warehouse structures located close to the manufacturer are seen as indispensable buffers.