Cleaner Freight: Boost Sustainability at Every Level of the Supply Chain

Image credit: Ayesha Enterprises

From fields to factories, companies are making considerable strides incorporating sustainable strategies across individual stages in their supply chain.

But a key part of the supply chain that often gets overlooked is how goods are getting from point A to point B. It might seem obvious to focus on warehouses or office spaces, but because freight acts as the connective tissue between each of these stationary points in the supply chain, ‘greening’ your freight moves may just be the biggest sustainability secret hidden in plain sight.

Why? Because of this interconnected nature, freight provides companies with a major opportunity to increase the efficiency of your logistics, all while reducing emissions and improving air quality. Recent EDF research to assess the key sources of emissions in U.S. retail supply chains found that nearly nine percent of emissions are associated with freight transportation.

Despite the significant contribution of freight to environmental bottom line, even leading companies are either not including it in their sustainability programs, or are just scratching the surface of what is possible. A leading reason for inaction is an uncertainty about cost-effective emissions mitigation strategies. This is particularly acute for companies that do not operate private fleets.

The fact is that identifying opportunities to reduce freight emissions is straight forward, particularly freight shippers — who contract with carriers to transport their goods from A to B. EDF distilled down the most effective actions companies are taking to reduce freight emissions into the Five Principles for Greener Freight:

  1. Get the most out of every move. Combine and adapt packaging to maximize cube utilization. A fuller move is a greener move.
  2. Choose the most carbon-efficient transport mode. Favor ocean over air, rail over truck.
  3. Demand cleaner equipment and practices. Work with your carriers to get them to service your routes with cleaner, more fuel-efficient equipment.
  4. Redesign your logistics network. Continually optimize your network to maximize cost savings and minimize greenhouse gas emissions.
  5. Collaborate. Shippers can root out opportunities for savings through discussions with internal departments and with suppliers, customers, vendors — even competitors.

With these five principles as a guide, it’s clear that corporate responsibility success stories on freight abound for companies large and small:

At the same time, companies with their own fleets can be leaders, too:

  • PepsiCo has teamed up with ShellCarbon War Room and the North American Council for Freight Efficiency to put on Run on Less, a first-of-its-kind cross-country roadshow running throughout the month of September to showcase advancements in fuel efficiency. Along with monitoring the cost savings of different freight technologies, they are tracking and reporting in real time the amount of carbon emissions saved throughout the journey.
  • After pledging to double its fleet efficiency by the end of 2015, Walmart has built upon its previous sustainability goals to launch Project Gigaton, which will require commitments from its suppliers and at every level of its supply chains — including transportation.

So, how can your company follow their lead? There are plenty of resources available to help you succeed, including:

  • The U.S. EPA SmartWay program can help you measure and benchmark freight transportation efficiency. It offers a calculation tool for shippers and access to carrier-specific data for different transportation modes.
  • BSR’s Sustainable Fuel Buyers’ Principles provide a manageable framework to help buyers and shippers transition to sustainable, low-carbon fuel. Join companies such as AmazonHPIKEA, PepsiCo, UPS and Walmart to advance more economical and cleaner freight technologies.
  • EDF’s Green Freight Handbook — A comprehensive guideline to begin exploring cleaner freight strategies.
  • You can also tune into our webinar on September 13th to dive deeper into our Five Principles for Greener Freight.

Equipped with these tools and new insights into the possibilities and opportunities to optimize your freight system, you’ll soon be ready to take the wheel and rev up your environmental and financial goals.