Spring is high season for corporate responsibility reports, with some of the world’s most recognizable brands — including Kellogg’s, Walmart, Anheuser-Busch, Apple, Adidas, General Mills, H&M, Lowes, CVS and Hershey’s — releasing their latest updates. While each company has its own unique sustainability challenges and priorities, every one of them has a global supply chain that requires an extensive logistics network to move goods from manufacturing facilities to end customers.
What reading these reports told me is that greening freight operations is becoming a key priority for these companies, with three trends in particular standing out to me:
1. Tracking logistics emissions is a standard practice. Seven out of the ten recently released reports included data on fuel use or greenhouse gas emissions associated with freight transportation. Several companies were tracking only emissions from outbound freight transportation, presumably because of a lack of visibility into inbound moves. Adidas, one of the three that did not include information on emissions or fuel use from freight movement, did include a detailed breakdown of moves by transport modes and emissions from distribution centers and other facilities.
2. Setting performance goals is a well-accepted practice. Four of the ten companies have performance-based goals to improve environmental impact associated with freight transportation. For example:
- Walmart is seeking to double its fleet efficiency compared to 2005, and is currently 87% of the way to meeting this impressive goal.
- General Mills has a goal to reduce fuel use for its outbound moves by 35% compared to its 2005 consumption. The company has made considerable progress too, reducing fuel use by 22% compared to 2005.
- Anheuser-Busch set a goal in 2014 to reduce greenhouse gases from its global logistics operations by 15% per hectoliter sold. Its goal has a broad scope too, including inbound and outbound transportation as well as warehousing.
3. Seeking to shape external factors is a leadership practice. Much of the impact of moving freight is beyond the operational control of these companies. They have limited influence on the availability of low-impact fuels, the efficiency of freight equipment or the capacity of intermodal systems. In addition to focusing on the factors freight shippers can control, leading companies are trying to shape the overall system to provide more low-impact choices.
Walmart embraced this dynamic by identifying “several key success factors for driving greater efficiency across the industry.” At the top of the list were policy outcomes, including the next generation fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for freight trucks. Walmart noted in its latest sustainability report that policies like this “phase 2 GHG rule can present key opportunities to improve efficiency across the industry in a coordinated, responsible and safe way.”
EDF is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation to set new fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for heavy trucks that cut fuel consumption by 40 percent in 2025 compared to 2010. It's an encouraging sign that Walmart — a large fleet operator itself and a leading freight shipper — acknowledges the significant potential benefits of well-crafted standards.
As these trends demonstrate, there is strong momentum for greening freight operations. The steps these companies are taking are consistent with the EDF Green Freight Journey:
- Tracking performance is a critical first step to improvement.
- Undertaking pilot improvement projects and scaling up the successful ones comes next.
- Setting a long-term improvement goal, like those set by General Mills, Walmart and Anheuser-Busch, is a key next step that ensures a focus on continuous improvement.
Whether your company is just starting on its own Green Freight Journey or already has an established goal, we encourage you to download the EDF Green Freight Handbook, our practical guide to help companies develop strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and overall costs linked to freight transportation.