Prof. Alan C. McKinnon, PhD

Professor of Logistics

Honorary Senator

Prof. Alan C. McKinnon, PhD

Professor of Logistics

Honorary Senator

From 1979 to 1987, Alan McKinnon lectured and researched in economic geography and transport at the University of Leicester in the UK. Between 1987 and 2012 he was based at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and appointed full professor there in 1995. During his time at Heriot-Watt he established a research center specializing in logistics and a master’s program in logistics and supply chain management. In 2014, he was appointed an Emeritus Professor of Heriot-Watt University. Prof. McKinnon has an MA degree in geography from the University of Aberdeen, an MSc in transportation studies from the University of British Columbia and a PhD from the University of London (UCL).

Prof. McKinnon has been lecturing, researching and advising on logistics since 1979. His PhD, on physical distribution in the food industry, was one of the first doctoral studies conducted in the UK on logistics. He has conducted over fifty studies for numerous public and private sector organizations, published extensively in the logistics and transport literature and generally supported the development of logistics as an academic discipline. He has edited two journals and is currently on the editorial boards of five others. In 1996 he was one of the six founder members of the Logistics Research Network, which has its own journal, organizes an annual conference and awards prizes and research grants. In 2003 he received the highest distinction of the UK Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, the Sir Robert Lawrence award, for his long track record in logistics research and education. In 2015 the European Logistics Association awarded him a Fellowship ‘in recognition of his contribution to developing the body of Logistics knowledge’. Prof. McKinnon has or has had visiting professorships at universities in Australia, Malaysia, China, Italy, Sweden and South Africa and has lectured in over 40 countries.

Prof. McKinnon has held various high-level positions with international organizations. In 2010 he was appointed chairman of the World Economic Forum’s industry council on logistics and supply chain management. In 2016 he became a member of the WEF’s Council on the Future of Mobility. In 2012 he was one of two academics appointed to the High Level Group on Logistics established by the European Commission to advise the EU Transport Commissioner on logistics issues. Between 2014 and 2016 he was Chairman of the Transport Advisory Group for the EU Horizon 2020 research program. In 2016 he was chairman of the planning committee for a major symposium jointly organized by the European Commission and US Department for Transportation on the adaptation of transport systems to climate change. Prof. McKinnon has also undertaken projects for the World Bank, United Nations and OECD.

Prof. McKinnon has undertaken research on a broad spectrum of logistics topics. His early work introduced logistical concepts into the modelling of freight flow, examined the logistical strategies of retailers and explored the logistical penalties of peripherality. In the 1990s he pioneered new approaches to the measurement and benchmarking the efficiency of road freight operations and investigated the relationship between economic growth and freight transport externalities. Other studies have examined the changing land and energy requirements of logistics, the outsourcing of logistical activities, the impact of traffic congestion on logistics performance, the links between logistics and economic development, the logistics of online retailing and the possible supply chain impacts of new technologies such as 3D printing and drones. A long term interest in the environmental impact of logistics has culminated in recent years in research on the opportunities for decarbonizing logistics and need to adapt logistics systems to climate change.

Prof. McKinnon has written several reports for government agencies and industry bodies on the measurement and reduction of carbon emissions from freight transport. He was a lead author of the transport chapter in the 5th Assessment Report of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published in 2014.

Much of Prof. McKinnon’s research has informed public policy at both UK and international levels. In 2011, for example, he was appointed by the European Commission to three expert groups examining EU funding of transport research, the development of transport technology and the promotion of sustainable logistics. He has also advised several parliamentary committees and government departments in the UK and international organizations on issues such as freight transport policy, truck size and weight limits, road charging and supply chain resilience.

Alan McKinnon joined KLU in January 2012 as Dean of Programs and Head of Logistics. His terms of office as Dean and department Head ended, respectively, in April 2014 and January 2016. In 2015 he won the KLU Best Teacher award and continues courses on the fundamentals of logistics and sustainable logistics. He has played a lead role in major KLU research projects for Unilever / Kuehne and Nagel and the World Bank and uses his extensive networking with businesses, international organizations and academia to promote the university’s activities worldwide.

For more details about Alan McKinnon, including downloads of research articles and white papers, you can also visit his personal website at

Up Close & Personal

“For me, climate change is more than just an academic subject, it is something about which I feel very concerned as a citizen. So much off my time is spend looking on what can be done to decarbonize logistics.”
– Prof. Alan McKinnon, Ph.D.

Selected Publications


Abstract: Logistics accounts for around 9-10% of global CO2 emissions and will be one of the hardest economic sectors to decarbonize. This is partly because the demand for freight transport is expected to rise sharply over the next few decades, but also because it relies very heavily on fossil fuel. Decarbonizing Logistics outlines the nature and extent of the challenge we face in trying to achieve deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from logistical activities. It makes a detailed assessment of the available options, including restructuring supply chains, shifting freight to lower carbon transport modes and transforming energy use in the logistics sector. The options are examined from technological and managerial standpoints for all the main freight transport modes. Based on an up-to-date review of almost 600 publications and containing new analytical frameworks and research results, Decarbonizing Logistics is the first to provide a global, multi-disciplinary perspective on the subject. It is written by one of the foremost specialists in the field who has spent many years researching the links between logistics and climate change and been an adviser to governments, international organizations and companies on the topic.

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Open reference in new window "Decarbonizing logistics: Distributing goods in a low-carbon world"

DOI: 10.1080/01441647.2015.1137992 

Abstract: Abstract The paper challenges the conventional view that the movement of goods through supply chains must continue to accelerate. The compression of freight transit times has been one of the most enduring logistics trends but may not be compatible with governmental climate change policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 60–80% by 2050. Opportunities for cutting CO2 emissions by ‘despeeding’ are explored within a freight decarbonisation framework and split into three categories: direct, indirect and consequential. Discussion of the direct carbon savings focuses on the trucking and deep-sea container sectors, where there is clear evidence that slower operation cuts cost, energy and emissions and can be accommodated within current supply chain requirements. Indirect emission reductions could accrue from more localised sourcing and a relaxation of just-in-time (JIT) replenishment. Acceleration of logistical activities other than transport could offset increases in freight transit times, allowing the overall carbon intensity of supply chains to reduce with minimal loss of performance. Consequential deceleration results from other decarbonisation initiatives such as freight modal split and a shift to lower carbon fuels. Having reviewed evidence drawn from a broad range of sources, the paper concludes that freight deceleration is a promising decarbonisation option, but raises a number of important issues that will require new empirical research.

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Open reference in new window "Freight Transport Deceleration: Its Possible Contribution to the Decarbonisation of Logistics"

DOI: 10.1016/j.ijpe.2009.08.027 

Abstract: This paper reports on research undertaken to determine the baseline trends in logistics and supply chain management and associated environmental effects up to 2020. Factors affecting freight transport demand, truck fuel consumption and related CO2 emissions are classified into six categories in relation to different levels of logistical decision-making. The projections are based on the results of seven focus group discussions and a large-scale Delphi survey. Three scenarios are constructed to assess CO2 emission levels from road freight transport in 2020. The likely changes in the key logistics variables are discussed and the complexity of the problem is highlighted.

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Open reference in new window "Forecasting the carbon footprint of road freight transport in 2020"

DOI: 10.1080/01441640600825952 

Abstract: Between 1997 and 2004, gross domestic product increased in real terms in the UK by one‐fifth, while the volume of road freight movement remained stable. This suggests that the long‐awaited decoupling of economic and freight transport growth has begun, possibly leading to a new era of sustainable logistics. This paper reviews previous research on the decoupling issue and recent trends in gross domestic product/freight tonne‐km elasticities in Europe and the USA. It then examines 12 possible causes of the observed decoupling in the UK using published statistics from a wide range of British and European sources. This analysis indicates that around two‐thirds of the decoupling is due to three factors whose impact can be quantified: the increased penetration of the British road haulage market by foreign operators, a decline in road transport’s share of the freight market, and real increases in road freight rates. Several other factors, most notably the relative growth of the service sector, the diminishing rate of centralization, and the off‐shoring of manufacturing, appear to be having a significant effect, though this finding cannot be measured on the basis of available statistics. The paper concludes that, while the decoupling is in the right direction from a public policy standpoint, the net environmental benefits are likely to be quite modest.

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Open reference in new window "Decoupling of road freight transport and economic growth trends in the UK: An exploratory analysis"

DOI: 10.1016/j.tranpol.2005.09.002 

Abstract: The British government was planning to introduce a system of road-user charging for lorries in 2008. In July 2005, it decided to abandon these plans and incorporate the development of a charging scheme for trucks into a future road pricing system for all categories of traffic. This paper examines the objectives of the proposed lorry road-user charging scheme in the UK and argues that the government's plans for LRUC would have been inappropriate. An alternative method of road-user charging for lorries is proposed which would meet the main objectives of LRUC at much lower cost, disruption and risk and act as an interim measure until it is possible, technically and politically, to introduce general road pricing in the UK.

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Open reference in new window "Government plans for lorry road-user charging in the UK: a critique and an alternative"

Academic Positions

Since 2012

Professor of Logistics at Kühne Logistics University, Hamburg


Head of Logistics at Kühne Logistics University, Hamburg


Dean of Programs at Kühne Logistics University, Hamburg

1987 - 2011

Lecturer, Senior Lecturer (1991), Reader (1994) and Professor (1995) of Logistics
Associate Head of School of Management (1998-9)
Director of Research in the School of Management and Languages (2005-6)

1979 - 1987

Lecturer in Geography, University of Leicester



Ph.D. University College London: thesis title ‘Spatial Structure of Physical Distribution in British Food Industry’


MA  Center for Transportation Studies, University of British Columbia, Canada


MA Department of Geography, University of Aberdeen, UK

2015 - Fellowship of the European Logistics Association

In May 2015 Professor McKinnon was made a fellow of the European Logistics Association, only the fifth person to receive this honour since the Association was founded in 1984. ELA is a ‘federation of 30 national organisations, covering almost every country in Central and Western Europe’.  The award of the fellowship was in recognition ‘his contribution in developing the body of logistics knowledge’.

2003 - The Sir Robert Lawrence Award

Alan McKinnon received the Sir Robert Lawrence Award, the highest distinction of the UK Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport for making a ‘major contribution to transport and logistics over a sustained period’.

2002 - The Herbert Crow Award 

Alan McKinnon received the Herbert Crow Award from the Worshipful Company of Carmen in the City of London that ‘recognises an individual who has significantly furthered transport knowledge and development through study, publication, analysis, research, training or systems’.