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 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: The study of freight transport has been subject to a long-term paradigm shift since the 1970s as the movement of freight has increasingly been researched as an integral part of logistics systems and supply chains. It has also benefited from the development of logistics and supply chain management as a business activity and academic discipline. This paper outlines the history of this 'logistification' of freight transport research, examining its impact on the modelling of freight flows and its relevance to a series of major transport policy issues, and discusses the methodological implications of this reorientation and diversification of the field.

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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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Abstract: Despite the spread of automation and new supply chain management paradigms, logistics remains dependent on a rather specific set of skills and competences, whether for managerial, administrative or blue collar jobs, such as trucking or warehousing. This implies that the logistical performance of businesses, industries and nation states is strongly influenced by the quantity and quality of the workforce. Insufficient resources of a competent and properly trained workforce in logistics adversely affect the quality of service, reduce productivity in sectors dependent on logistics and ultimately reduce trade competitiveness. While other interventions that affect logistics performance, such as international infrastructures, trade corridors, regulations and services have already been reviewed extensively, this report is the first to cover the contributions of human resources and how to develop skills and improve competences, especially in developing countries. The study proposes a framework for the skills needed according to the logistics activity (e.g. transportation or warehousing) or the type and level of responsibilities. Based on several sources, including recent surveys carried out by the World Bank and the Kuehne Logistics University, the report uncovers where the skills constraints are according to the type of job or countries. Findings include that logistics is an industry struggling to hire skilled workers, although with differences between rich countries (where trucker shortages are more acute) vs. developing economies (were managerial shortages are more widespread). Typically blue-collar logistics jobs have lower status and lower pay than blue-collar jobs in other industries, and are thus less attractive for skilled workers. In developing countries with a potentially available workforce, lack of vocational preparation for careers in logistics means that less skilled workers are not easily re-skilled. Logistics tasks at the upper end of the occupational hierarchy and those with high IT content often require an upskilling of employees to keep pace with new technology. Yet the problem is not confined to recruitment. The surveys points to limited resources, money and staff time allocated to training, especially in developing countries. Realizing the promise of quality jobs from the growth of logistics worldwide requires a coordinated effort by logistics companies, professional associations, training providers and policymakers. Through a combination of facilitation, regulation, advice, financial instruments and land use planning, governments can exert significant influence. © World Bank

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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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Abstract: Interest in product‐level carbon auditing and labelling has been growing in both business and government circles. This paper examines the practical problems and costs associated with highly disaggregated analyses of greenhouse gas emissions from supply chains. It then weighs these problems and costs against the potential benefits of the carbon labelling of products. The conclusion is that product-level carbon auditing of supply chains and the related carbon labelling of products will be fraught with difficulty and very costly. While simplification of the auditing process, the use of data inventories and software support may assist these processes, the practicality of applying them to all consumer products seems very doubtful. The resulting environmental benefits are also highly questionable. The main conclusion, therefore, is that product‐level carbon auditing and labelling is a “wasteful distraction” and that it would be better to devote management time and resources to other decarbonisation initiatives.

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Academic Positions

Since 2012

Professor of Logistics at Kühne Logistics University, Hamburg, Germany


Head of Logistics at Kühne Logistics University, Hamburg, Germany


Dean of Programs at Kühne Logistics University, Hamburg, Germany

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, Lancaster, United Kingdom



PhD 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, United Kingdom

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’.

  • Prof. Dr. Sami Ahmed Al-smadi (Yarmouk University, Jordan)
  • Prof. Dr. Alf Baird (former of Napier University, UK)
  • Dr. Pietro Evangelista (University of Naples Federico II, Italy)
  • Dr Andre Kreie (DAV Business College, Germany)
  • Prof. Dr. Xiaohong Liu (Central University of Finance and Economics, Beijing, China)
  • Prof. Dr. Maja Piecyk (University of Westminster, UK)
  • Dr. Marilyn Stone (Heriot-Watt University, UK) (deceased)
  • Dr Patricia van Loon (RISE Research Institute, Sweden)
  • Dr. Yuan Xing (London South Bank University, UK)