Hauling freight plays an important role in the supply chain, but traditionally, it is not an environmentally friendly industry. However, that’s beginning to shift as trucking, rail and other freight carriers investigate ways to become more sustainable.

Shifting attitudes to greener companies

We’re seeing the largest multi-national companies becoming more progressive in terms of their internal reduction efforts, explains Eric Beckwitt, CEO of Freightera. And now these same companies want to green their supply chains, as well. These large companies are buying electric vehicles and pushing carriers to go to zero-emissions machines. 

This is easier said than done, however. The majority of companies don’t have the financial resources of the large multi-national companies. The push to become greener is something that they can’t afford to do right now.

“Freight is so expensive for them,” says Beckwitt. “The cost of the freight determines if they are a profitable or non-profitable company, so they have to focus like a hawk on the cost.”

If companies can get lower emissions in the context of low cost and service quality, they’d gladly take it. But you also can’t force it on them just by telling them it is the right thing to do. 

“It’s just a matter of how quickly we move and shift the demand to the lower emissions model and stimulate the purchase and adoption of those technologies."

A political disconnect

Regulations and government planning for lower emissions and other environmental standards have actually created a roadblock for many companies to become more sustainable in their freight hauling supply chain. Beckwitt points out the political disconnect between proposals like the United Nations’ framework for reductions and the practicalities of the day-to-day industry with fleets and investments in current technologies.

Take, for example, freight hauling through shipping. The average lifespan of a ship is 30 years. New technologies are being developed and added to new ships that will lower emissions and use renewable energy sources, but it is going to take time to rebuild these fleets. 

Fixing things from a greenhouse gas perspective

There are plans of action that are proving to be effective, specifically from a greenhouse gas perspective. First, there is an Environmental Protection Agency program called SmartWay, coordinated by the U.S. and Canada, which is a reduction system based on tracking. Customers sign up voluntary for a tracking system, and over time, they can track the different variables of vehicle usage, such as idling, engine efficiencies, anti-pollution devices and aerodynamic streaming devices — all of which have a significant impact on fuel consumption. Monitoring these areas can help reduce fuel emissions in the long run.  

Secondly, utilizing rail freight can decommission 60 percent of long-haul, and this can cut down on carbon dioxide and other pollutants. 

“We’re working to expand the number of companies automatically connected with rail all over the globe,” Beckwitt says. "Every time there is a train in an industrial center you should take the freight and place it on the train. We’re also promoting the electrification of rail, zero-emission rail and sustainable power for rail because that’s the future.” 

Other options to decrease greenhouse gases include methods for zero emissions last mile delivery and technologies for hydro-electric ships, hybrid wind electric ships and solar power. 

Better mapping and coordination of vehicles will also lower emissions and lower costs. Using big data and software will help businesses better track the position of each vehicle in the fleet. This will also help protect the security of each vehicle and its freight.

“It’s all coming,” he adds. “It’s just a matter of how quickly we move and shift the demand to the lower emissions model and stimulate the purchase and adoption of those technologies. We’re right in the middle of that process.”