Written by Erik Neandross, chief executive of Gladstein, Neandross & Associates, a clean transportation and energy consulting firm based in Santa Monica, Calif.

California, known for its aggressive environmental and transportation policies, is about to shake up the freight industry.

In a collaboration of the California Department of Transportation, the California Air Resources Board, the California Energy Commission and the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, the state is about to release its California Sustainable Freight Action Plan. It aims to transform the state’s freight system by 2050, making it more efficient, connected and advanced, while transitioning to zero-emission technologies.

To meet air quality and climate protection goals, the plan will include an implementation strategy for deploying over 100,000 freight vehicles capable of zero-emission or near-zero-emission operation by 2030.

The Sustainable Freight Action Plan is a first-of-its-kind initiative. Nothing so fully comprehensive for goods movement has been tried before. When released, this plan will outline a variety of investment and regulatory paths to accelerate an improved freight system — covering all modes of freight transport from air to water to land.

It pretty much goes without saying that what happens in California doesn’t stay in California.

Bold policies have made California a bellwether. With the largest economy and the largest population of any state in the U.S., California motivates other states, and even countries, to examine whether its rules could work for them. California even frequently influences federal rulemaking.

Related: Air Resources Board Releases Sustainable Freight Plan

Policymakers everywhere will be watching California’s plan to restore healthful air quality for millions of residents. Slashing pollution from the goods movement system is essential to that goal.

At the same time, our nation must aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the state level, especially from heavy-duty vehicles, to combat global climate change. Heavy-duty vehicles are the fastest-growing segment of U.S. transportation for energy use and emissions.

But this all has to be done with one eye on the economy.

Freight transportation is a tremendous economic driver, accounting for a third of California’s economy and jobs. To ensure continued economic competitiveness, the state must invest significantly in freight infrastructure and technology.

The opportunities for the private sector to capitalize on the shifts in the freight system created by the state’s action plan are inevitable. Many businesses have weighed in with inventive solutions to encourage the adoption of advanced technologies that strive to meet the plan’s aggressive goals.

Companies such as BYD, UPS, Siemens and American Power Group have submitted innovative pilot projects. Proposals include suggestions for next-generation air transportation systems (including plane-to-plane connected technology), electric-truck lanes, air traffic control support, vehicle-to-grid projects (where electricity from batteries in electric vehicles flows from the vehicle to the electric grid and back) and first-mile/last-mile solutions. The plan also has garnered attention from big data companies and connected technology providers seeking to improve system efficiency and overall performance.

Four unique fuel-technology combinations currently hold the most promise to successfully transform the heavy-duty vehicle transportation sector to zero and near-zero emissions using low-carbon, non-petroleum fuels. The choices consist of two types of advanced low-natural gas and renewable diesel internal-combustion engines and two types of electric-drive systems powered by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells.

However, with the essential need to transition to zero-emission and/or near-zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles in the near term, we have found only one fuel technology platform is feasible for widespread commercial deployment now. That is near-zero-emission heavy-duty natural gas vehicles fueled by increasing volumes of ultra-low-emission renewable natural gas.

Over the long term, it is likely that all four of these architectures will contribute to meeting air quality and climate change goals, while also enhancing the state’s economic position.

If done correctly, the Sustainable Freight Action Plan will serve as an important pilot and model for others to emulate—changing the very way freight is handled and thought about worldwide.

The draft Sustainable Freight Action Plan is scheduled to be released in early May. The widely anticipated plan is sure to be a key discussion topic at the Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo, North America’s largest clean transportation conference, which will be held in Long Beach, Calif., starting Monday, May 2, and will feature a special presentation by the California departments involved in the plan’s development.

Update: An earlier version of this column said California would release the draft Sustainable Freight Action Plan in late April. State officials now plan to present it in early May.


Editor’s note: Gladstein, Neandross & Associates organizes the Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo.