What is Freight?
Freight is the movement and storage of products and materials — both on a local and global scale.
The freight system relies on carriers to move products on trains, trucks, ships and planes. Ports, highways, and rail-yards are critical pieces of infrastructure for moving these goods. Many goods are moved through distribution centers along their journey. Manufacturers, retailers, and suppliers are the key drivers in the freight system. The decisions they make will determine the ultimate environmental impact of freight movement.
Freight’s Environmental Impact
The movement of goods accounts for nine percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions – nearly 500 million metric tons annually in direct emissions. Emissions from producing the fuel consumed by this sector contributes another 100 million tons of climate pollution each year. Globally, freight moves directly account for around 6 percent of emissions or nearly two trillion tons of climate pollution a year.
Trucks are the largest source of freight emissions globally, accounting for 57 percent of these emissions. In the U.S., 70 percent of freight tonnage is hauled by heavy-duty, Class 8 trucks.
Emissions from transportation vehicles and logistics operations contribute significantly to unhealthy air quality. Diesel particulate matter (DPM), a major air pollutant of concern, contributes to asthma and respiratory illness. Nitrogen oxides (NOx), another air pollutant resulting from freight, forms ozone. The health impacts linked to NOx and DPM emissions are staggering: increased rates of respiratory illness and asthma, cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, strokes, emergency room visits, and premature death. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently found that “exposure to diesel exhaust particulates is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”
Green Freight Solutions
Whether it’s a trailer, a container or a boxcar, better capacity utilization reduces the number of required freight runs. Yet, today 15 to 25 percent of U.S. trucks on the road are empty. For non-empty miles, trailers are 36 percent underutilized. Capturing just half of this under-utilized capacity would cut freight truck emissions by 100 million tons per year and reduce expenditures on diesel fuel by more than $30 billion a year.
Some freight transportation modes are more efficient and less carbon polluting than others. Switching your transport mode can have significant environmental benefits: If just 10 percent of truck shipments shifted to intermodal, one billion gallons of fuel per year could be saved in the U.S, reducing carbon pollution by more than 11 million metric tons every year.
By employing best practices, such as choosing the most efficiency mode and maximizing load utilization, companies can reduce the climate impact of their supply chains. When these actions are combined with strong fuel efficiency and emission standards for freight trucks, we can achieve significant greenhouse gas reductions in the freight sector.