Cleaner air wanted: Reducing transportation’s environmental impacts
By Ken Sherman, President, IntelliTrans
In honor of Earth Day, here is a primer on how the organizations involved in production, distribution, and transportation of goods can make a difference and help reduce trucking’s carbon footprint.
Already the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), the trucking industry is also the fastest-growing contributor to GHGs worldwide. And while there have been improvements made to vehicle and route efficiency, the volume of travel, road miles clocked and level of GHG emissions are all still rising.
At a macro level, globalization trends and the pandemic-driven e-commerce boom have created higher demand for ground transportation. This, in turn, has put more trucks on the road. Today, transport accounts for around one-fifth of global CO₂ emissions. Trucking’s contribution to international trade’s CO2 emissions is expected to grow to 56% by 2050—an increase from 53% in 2010. Today, the US transportation system moves a daily average of over 51 million tons of freight or about 57 tons of freight per capita. Transportation is the single largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the US.
As freight activity increases, growth in air emissions from freight will exceed growth in emissions from all other transportation activities, including passenger transportation. According to the EPA, the organizations involved in production, distribution, and transportation of goods can help reverse this trend. Experts from the EPA projects that by 2050, global freight transport emissions will surpass those from passenger vehicles.
Retailers are the biggest contributors to emissions in the logistics industry, ranking at over 50% of the industry. E-Commerce can help reduce carbon emissions by improving last mile logistics, such as shipping products from warehouses, storefronts, or distribution centers closer to the end customer. According to the 2021 Bringg Barometer, retailers can cut emissions by 34% when shipping from the store. Many retailers and carriers are focusing on a Net-Zero emissions program to promote environmental sustainability.
“The business community can reduce the risks we will face from air pollution and health effects caused by freight transportation,” the EPA states. “By measuring, benchmarking, and assessing freight transportation activities and strategically making better choices that reduce emissions, companies can make a significant impact on the contribution of freight to cleaner air.”
57% of Consumers are Watching
According to a National Retail Federation survey of nearly 19,000 consumers in 29 countries, 57% of consumers are willing to change their purchasing behavior to help reduce negative environmental impact. With more than half of end users thinking this way—and with transportation having a profound negative environmental impact—companies that focus a portion of their ESG (environmental, social, governance) efforts on transportation may reap significant rewards from these efforts.
“The trucking industry has long struggled with carbon emissions and pollution. Trucks that burn fossil fuels, like diesel, naturally produce a large amount of greenhouse gas,” Emily Newton writes in How Can We Make Trucking More Sustainable? “This takes a huge toll on the environment. Trucking companies would be wise to adopt sustainable practices as more consumers and corporations look to green practices.”
Electric vehicles (EVs) and alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) will help reduce trucking’s carbon footprint, but other significant innovations come from the IT world. “New monitoring and driver management software provides businesses with data management and gathering tools that were never available before,” Newton writes. “Telematics and GPS technology can help companies monitor their fleets and driver behavior, allowing them to identify unsustainable driving habits and route choices.”
5 Steps to More Eco-Friendly Logistics
The good news is that simple changes to business processes that help maximize the number of full truckloads may have a significant impact on trucking emissions. “Employing these tactics paves the way for a more sustainable trucking industry,” Newton adds.
For supply chain leaders that want to run more sustainable logistics operations both in and out of their facility’s four walls, Blue & Green Tomorrow offers these five steps to developing a more eco-friendly logistics operation:
• Use GPS vehicle tracking systems. If you own your own fleet, install vehicle GPS systems in your delivery vehicles. “Not only can you get to and from your destination on the fastest possible routes while decreasing operating costs,” the publication says, “but you can also reduce fuel [waste].”
• Reassess your use of diesel vehicles. Diesel delivery vehicles are a viable option for many businesses due to their affordability, but they can exhaust more carbon dioxide than their petrol counterparts, which means they may be a less desirable option for the environment.
• Switch up your packaging. Plastic packaging is cost-effective and versatile, but it’s also one of the least eco-friendly. Blue & Green Tomorrow encourages companies to explore alternatives like plant-based, cardboard, and recycled materials. “These materials can be used in-house and for delivery to customers,” it adds, “who will likely appreciate your new, more sustainable approach.”
• Review your energy usage. If usage is high, solar power and LED bulbs can be excellent ways to decrease your energy usage and save money. You can also install skylights in production or warehouse areas (where appropriate) to let in as much natural light as possible.
• Use technology instead of paper. Each year, about one billion trees also go to landfills nationwide as paper. “We can do better and going paperless is an excellent place to begin,” the publication states. “Look at available technologies and software that can help you on your way to removing paper and manual processes from your business.”
Other ways to become greener in your logistics operations include:
• Use route optimization solutions to create more efficient routes for less fuel usage.
• Consolidate deliveries. Instead of shipping three packages to the same address, consolidate the shipments so that they are shipping out on the same truck.
• Determine how quickly your customer really needs their order. If they can wait days instead of hours, you may be able to find more efficient means of transporting their goods.
• Focus on the three “R’s” of reduce, reuse, and recycle when it comes to shipping operations. Reduce the amount of packaging for orders, reuse packaging, and recycle packaging waste.
• Eliminate the need for rush shipments which often go by a higher carbon footprint mode of transport, as well as unnecessarily breaking into production schedules to insert an order because you don’t know that you have inventory already available.
• Utilize lowest cost mode of transport, which correlates with the cost (per unit of weight or volume) of a shipment with the carbon footprint to deliver. In utilizing lowest cost carriers in rail, often the lower price is due to shorter routes and fewer interchanges, because of this distance traveled and switches made increase the carbon footprint within rail. In truck, often the lowest cost carrier is the one whose network best aligns with resulting in fewer deadhead miles to get to a pickup location (or the one after your shipment is delivered), again decreasing your carbon footprint.
• Increase load factor and operational fluidity, which each result in a lower carbon footprint.
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