Prospection: A Fresh Perspective on Road Freight Electrification

We're all familiar with the massive challenge of transitioning to cleaner energy in the industry. This challenge is shaking up the way things have been done, demanding introspection and innovation. With pressure from all sides, we have two choices: embrace change willingly or be forced into it. Well, easier said than done. The field of logistics and the road freight market is complex, hard to grasp, and excellent at resisting change. But that doesn't mean we can just give up. Rather, it means we need to think better about the sector and what role we play in it. This short article reports on an exercise we performed together with you, during the Smart Freight Week, and provides some high-level takeaways, that can help us do just that: think better.

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Turning a ‘problem’ into an opportunity

Many of us are transport buyers who directly or indirectly purchase services from the road freight sector. Some are frustrated with the slow pace of the road freight sector in adopting emission reduction solutions, especially electric vehicles. While there are good technical reasons for this, the elephant in the room is actually the underlying structural and sectoral issues that make the decarbonization process entirely unappealing to carriers and drivers.

If you are like me, you are likely bored of dissecting ad nauseum the sectoral challenges, in the hopes of finding solutions. Luckily, we don’t always have to do that. At the Smart Freight Week (SFW) 2023 during the Road Freight Electrification Guidance (RFEG) session, we took a different approach. We set aside our pessimism and cynicism for two hours to rethink and reevaluate what we would actually want to see in the sector. This approach is called "pragmatic prospection.


Imagine, share, and post it

About 40 of us gathered in a small catering room, standing in groups of 3 to 6 around a few tables. I explained the session's goal and asked each of you to think individually and then share with your group your thoughts on this question:

Imagine if the electric road freight sector was an irresistible sector to work in. What would that look like?

The room buzzed with confusion and enthusiasm in response to this question. That's expected since the question was probably not something we usually think about. After sharing with each other, each group wrote down their thoughts on post-it notes and placed them on boards around the room.

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Relationships, service value, and operations have to change

Well, the way we imagined the future looked quite different from the current state of the road freight sector (surprise, surprise). This means that for an electric road freight sector that's socially and economically sustainable, many things need to change. We identified at least 9 major themes covering three broad areas: relationships, service value, and operations. Broadly speaking, they revolve around the following:

(1) Relationships: Consider how partnerships work, the involvement of different groups in the energy and freight sector transition, and how we can make progress together.
(2) Service Value: Completely shift how companies value transport services, focusing on sustainability as a necessity, not just something that's good to have.
(3) Operations: Revise how we plan transport and logistics systems, especially by working together more and restricting ourselves to drastically more eco-friendly ways of moving things around.

This exercise helped us gain a holistic view of a functional electric road freight service market. A major conclusion of this crowd-thinking exercise is simply that our old ways of doing things in 2023 are inadequate to create this new market.

Start asking appreciative questions to disrupt current thinking patterns

The prospection exercise is a valuable tool to reassess your corporate vision for your transport suppliers. If you conduct it in your organization with your stakeholders, you'll likely get different results. And that's perfectly okay. If the outcome is to maintain the status quo, there are probably valid reasons for it. However, if you want to tap into the collective intelligence from that SFW 2023 gathering, you can use the following questions to assess your company's approach to the road freight sector:

  • In what ways can we foster collaboration between carriers, LSPs, shippers, system suppliers, and government to develop innovative decarbonization solutions that benefit all stakeholders?
  • How can we collaborate with other stakeholders to invest in and develop the necessary infrastructure to support the transition to sustainable transportation?
  • How can we encourage sustainable business practices to promote stability and environmental responsibility within our industry?
  • What strategies can we implement to attract young talent and enhance the perception of the logistics and trucking industry as an exciting and forward-looking sector?
  • How can we prioritize driver well-being and satisfaction through measures like quieter e-trucks, longer breaks, and improved working conditions?
  • What innovative technologies and practices can we adopt to improve operational efficiency, reduce costs, and stay competitive in a rapidly evolving industry?
  • How can we support the expansion of electric solutions beyond trucks, such as rail, to contribute to a more sustainable and integrated transportation network?

Pose these questions, or any other set that suits your needs, in an action group. Have everyone share their thoughts and take each opinion seriously. This self-assessment exercise might spark ideas for actionable steps your team can take right away. Beyond being a fun exercise, prospection helps us redirect our energy toward what we truly desire see changed, bypassing unnecessary incremental steps rooted in flawed assumptions about the future.

You’re going places!

If you want to go places, know where that destination is. This skill can help articulate that with your team and stakeholders. To learn more about this skill and how it can apply to your organization check out this article and the Appreciative Inquiry Commons for more resources.

We’re eager to hear from you and continue to be part of that journey.

Written by Tharsis Teoh
Written by Tharsis Teoh

Senior Technical Manager at SFC

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More on SFC electrification projects

Road Freight Electrification Guidance

The Road Freight Electrification Guidance works towards helping fleet owners and freight buyers to better understand where and when electrification should be applied, based on solid research, a tested decision-making approach, and through real-life examples from around the world.

Fleet Electrification Coalition project

The Fleet Electrification Coalition (FEC) aims to speed up large-scale ​e-truck deployment by leveraging the power of demand aggregation​. By fostering a strong market for electric trucks, FEC will help drive the transition to sustainable transportation and carbon emissions reduction. Through strategic partnerships, innovative solutions, and targeted advocacy, FEC will empower businesses to make the switch to eTrucks, creating a more sustainable future for all.