Four Factors Driving Focus on Freight

As a new member of EDF’s team focusing on reducing emissions from freight transportation, one of the ways that I have been learning about the transportation and supply chain industry has been by attending conferences. Over the past couple months I have attended four events including: Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) Sustainability Conference, Council for Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) Annual Global Conference, National Association of Energy Managers (NAEM) EHS Management Forum and a workshop on the future of U.S. trucking policy at Resources for the Future.

Even though the focus of the conferences ranged from retail to trucking, these events made it clear to me that sustainability is getting increasing attention in the freight transportation and supply chain discussion. This is good news. Freight transportation – which makes up eight percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions – is an area of tremendous opportunity for reducing carbon emissions.

So why is freight sustainability getting attention? I have a few ideas.

  • From a climate change perspective, emissions from freight are significant. Freight emissions will make up the largest part of growth in transportation CO2 emissions over the coming years.
  • From an environmental health perspective, freight transportation has significant air quality impacts. Trucks, trains and ships are among the leading emitters of pollutants such as particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and other toxics that are extremely dangerous to human health.
  • From a corporate sustainability perspective, companies are thinking more and more about their supply chain. One reason is that the supply chain is now very visible. Companies are under pressure from multiple stakeholders for increased transparency. Another reason is that when it comes to corporate responsibility, companies are thinking beyond recycling and energy efficiency to meet their corporate sustainability goals. As supply chains account for the largest segment of many corporate footprints, it is a priority area for improvement.
  • Most importantly, it’s not just about mitigating negative impacts. Freight transportation presents an area of opportunity. There are freight strategies that can help companies meet their sustainability goals. This is because cost savings and carbon reductions are very much aligned in goods movement – operational changes that reduce carbon emissions also reduce costs. So it’s easy to make the business case.

Companies are adopting many of these carbon-reducing and cost-saving strategies. And even better – they are talking about it. At this fall’s conferences, I noticed several trends in what people are talking about when it comes to increasing sustainability of transportation.

  • Increasing use of intermodal transport
  • Minimizing empty miles
  • Reducing packaging
  • Collaborating with other companies

And there are many more. I’ll delve into examples of some of these strategies in future posts.

Freight sustainability is getting increasing attention for good reason – it’s a huge area of opportunity for both cost savings and carbon emissions savings. But what’s next?

Companies need to start by thinking about freight transportation as not just a cost center, but a key part of their sustainability strategy. While the best freight efficiency strategies for each company may be unique, there are clear financial and environmental wins for shippers when it comes to goods movement – don’t miss the boat.