Editor’s note: Written by Jeff Lerner, vice president of marketing at Flock Freight. This is one in a series of periodic guest columns by industry thought leaders.
Anyone involved in freight and logistics or concerned about climate change needs to know the following statistics.
The U.S. is consistently one of the top greenhouse gas (GHG) producers in the world. The transportation of people and goods is the leading source of our country’s total greenhouse gas emissions — about 28%. Commercial and freight truck movement accounts for close to 25% of transportation GHG emissions in the U.S., according to federal data.
Moreover, the transportation sector produced a bigger increase in GHG emissions between 1998 and 2018 than any other industry in the nation.
Carbon emissions from the freight industry have an increasingly detrimental impact on the environment, and it’s on us to create the solutions.
The good news is that the industry is starting to tackle its emissions problem with across-the-board energy efficiency innovation. Its solutions include alternative energy vehicles, logistics optimizations, and carbon offset programs.
To lower freight shipping’s carbon footprint, the transport industry is looking carefully at the elephants on the road: semi-trucks. Truck manufacturers have identified two clean alternatives with electric powertrains — battery-powered electric vehicles (BEVs) and hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) — and are now racing to begin production. Compared to the older, less energy-efficient diesel trucks used today, these zero-emission semi-trucks will undoubtedly pave the way for a new generation of green fleets.
While emission-free, most BEV prototypes aren’t yet viable options to replace long-haul trucks due to below-standard range and long charge times. Nonetheless, Volvo’s VNR Electric truck will go into production in 2021 for North America, and Tesla’s Semi appears to be rounding the corner on production as well, although it is about two years behind schedule.
Arguably the better solution, FCEVs match the weight and range capabilities of today’s heavy-duty, long-haul trucks so as to eventually replace them. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles emit only water vapor and warm air, instead of harmful tailpipe CO2 emissions, and eliminate the need for fossil fuels. Hyundai and Nikola have both announced plans to begin production on hydrogen-powered semi-trucks as soon as 2023. Legacy truck builders Daimler and Volvo have established a joint venture to produce fuel cell systems for heavy-duty trucks.
Though the transition from using natural gas to renewable energy sources for the creation of hydrogen fuel is crucial for industrywide emission reductions, we’ll have to be patient before we start to see these results in action.
Knowing that the widespread use of zero-emission vehicles is still a few years down the road, freight-shipping companies must help lower the industry’s carbon footprint today by reducing emissions and, when possible, offsetting the rest.
More and more, we’re seeing the freight-shipping industry develop technology-enabled solutions to streamline day-to-day operations and slash energy use from the inside out. Not only do these solutions signal a much-needed shift towards more sustainable freight practices, but they also reduce the amount of emissions to offset by producing less carbon upfront. With these efforts combined, the hope stands that we can one day combat global warming through a crucial freight-shipping milestone: industrywide carbon neutrality.
We’ve already seen how technology-enabled innovations can improve freight shipping’s efficiency. By algorithmically pooling shipments into shared truckloads (which eliminates empty truck space and skips energy-intensive freight consolidation terminals) or using technology to reduce deadhead miles and fuel consumption, companies can watch freight shipping’s carbon emissions drop by up to 40 percent and 45 percent, respectively.
Additionally, companies can mitigate the remaining environmental impact of freight shipping by investing in carbon offset programs.
Carbon offset programs zero out harmful emissions by funding projects that promote carbon reduction, aid carbon sequestration, increase oxygen production, and more. Carbonfund.org is one organization that allows companies to purchase carbon credits and fund projects that fight climate change, such as truck stop electrification with IdleAir technology and reforestation.
Companies can offer carbon neutral shipping (via carbon offset programs) in one of two ways: by passing the price of carbon credits on to the customer, or by footing the bill of carbon credits to guarantee a net-zero-emission experience at no extra cost to shippers.
For instance, UPS offers customers carbon neutral shipping for an incremental fee. That fee pays for carbon offsets which UPS uses to erase the climate impact of the shipments’ emissions. In the world of truckload freight shipping, Convoy gives shippers the option to purchase carbon offset credits to meet their emissions reduction targets.
On the other hand, companies can guarantee carbon neutral services for every customer by automatically offsetting the environmental impact of each shipment. Flexport, a digital freight forwarding company and customs brokerage, offers carbon neutral Less-than-Container-Load (LCL) service in the hopes that their leadership will inspire shippers to voluntarily purchase offsets for all their shipments. In over-the-road shipping, Flock Freight, my company and a shared truckload provider, automatically purchases carbon credits (at no cost to the shipper) to erase the environmental impact of every FlockDirect shipment.
Ultimately, freight-shipping companies should choose the more sustainable path forward by guaranteeing carbon neutral shipping for every customer.
The responsibility of lowering carbon emissions in the freight industry is on all of us — and it will take all of us to reach industrywide carbon neutrality. The auto industry must continue to make sustainable developments to usher in a new era of zero-emission semi-trucks. Logistics providers must look to reduce emissions by optimizing the way freight moves. Consumers must hold companies — and themselves — accountable for the environmental impact of their actions.
It’s time to solve the freight industry’s carbon emissions problem. Are you ready to lead the way to sustainability?
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