Carbon Offsets for Freight Transport Decarbonization

15 January 2020 - By Suzanne Greene, SFC Technical Advisor A freight carbon offset presents an opportunity for transport operators and their customers to invest carbon offset capital within the freight transport sector itself, accelerating the transition to a more sustainable global transport network.


Global companies are at a climate crossroads. They need trucks, planes, and ships to move their goods across the world, yet options for low or no carbon transport within the global freight network cannot reduce emissions to zero today. This dynamic creates a tension for many global companies that wish to reduce the climate impact of their supply chain transportation today, leading many to look towards carbon offsets as a ready solution to fill the reduction gap.

Carbon offsets like tree plantings or renewable energy adoption are meaningful and worthwhile projects. But unless renewable energy adoption happens in the freight sector itself, the reality is that they will not serve to advance a low carbon freight network. Nor will they address the air and climate pollutants specific to transport like black carbon, SOx, NOx, and so on.

Is it possible to advance a carbon offset specific to the transport sector? Suzanne Greene, Smart Freight Centre's (SFC) Expert Advisor, scientist at the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics and co-author of SFC's Global Logistics Emissions Council Framework, says so in her recent article in Nature Sustainability, Carbon Offsets for Freight Transport Decarbonization.

Suzanne wrote the article together with Cristiano Façanha, of CALSTART. They argue that carbon offsets could easily be applied to the freight network – not by adding new technologies, but by buying back the oldest and most polluting freight equipment. In this way, a freight carbon offset could operate like a “kickstarter” for old equipment. It could provide funding to get the most polluting equipment off our roads and out of our ports now.

Existing mechanisms like fleet renewal programs and carbon offsets for cookstoves and renewable energy provide a template that can be used today in the freight sector. A freight carbon offset could also be used to advance low or zero carbon freight equipment, like electric trucks or hydrogen ships, or to support infrastructure like renewable charging stations.

“The global freight network is filled with old trucks and ships that contribute disproportionately to global emissions, especially in developing countries, where the demand for freight is expected to explode in coming decades”


Carbon offsets in this way are a perfect fit with the five types of solutions SFC recommends companies to include in their sustainable logistics roadmaps.

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