Towards Zero Emissions Road Freight: seven things fleet operators can do today to reduce emissions

1 November 2019 - By Sophie Punte, Executive Director, Smart Freight Centre.


This piece was written for Shell Rimula, following my engagement as speaker at their 2019 media event “Shell Rimula Ultimate Stopover: collaborative thinking to power fleets of tomorrow” in Barcelona. Watch my presentation here.

Today, freight contributes 39% of transport-related carbon emissions globally. But between now and 2050 the world will see a doubling in the freight emissions due to the increasing volume of freight traffic. Experts expect this to cause freight emissions to increase until they are at least equal to those of passenger transport. They may well exceed them.

This cannot be allowed to happen. With most countries around the world now committing themselves to cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the freight-transport sector is becoming increasingly motivated to find ways to be more sustainable.

Often, when we think of reducing emissions our mind goes to big innovations such as alternative fuels, autonomous driving and big-data analytics. And these are important. But there are also many other things fleets and their customers can do, right now, to help reduce emissions.

Here are seven things fleet operators can do today, to reduce emissions:

1. Report emissions and set science-based reduction targets

To improve something, you need first to measure it, set a target for change, and then track and report against that target. Using the Global Logistics Emissions Council (GLEC) Framework, fleets can reliably calculate and track their emissions using recognized global benchmarks.

2. Reduce the carbon content of the energy you use

There are already many ways in which fleets can use lower-carbon energy sources: these range from switching to EVs, through using natural-gas-based fuels, to even using cleaner diesel. Electric vehicles (EVs) may not be ready for all use cases, yet. But EVs and other lower-emissions powertrains are ready for use in certain scenarios, for instance, in last-mile delivery in urban areas. Switching where you can will reduce your emissions today.

3. Improve fleet energy efficiency

By using more advanced and premium consumables and technologies, fleets can improve the operating efficiency of engines, transmission systems and other vehicle components. For instance, you could use low rolling-resistance tyres, premium lubricants, aerodynamic cabs and trailers and so on. Not only can this help cut fuel costs, but by helping to reduce fuel consumption, it also cuts carbon emissions.

4. Join the data revolution

Using modern fleet-management solutions, along with telematics and in-cab technology, you can collect and analyse data on everything from maintenance to driving styles. With the information you gain, you can optimise for efficiency and

5. Train your drivers and staff

With the right training and incentives, drivers and staff can significantly reduce your fuel use, for instance through route planning, slower acceleration, or preventative maintenance. Using data from telematics systems can help you understand how individuals can change the way they drive to be safer and to use less fuel.

6. Increase asset utilisation

Businesses should be using solutions such as freight brokerage, load-optimization, supply chain consolidation, and company collaboration to cut empty miles and ensure that each vehicle is loaded with exactly the right amount of freight to maximize efficiency. For example, Proctor and Gamble, cannot fill their trucks because their heavy pallets of shampoo mean they hit legal weight limits while there is still space left. Tupperware, on the other hand, has lots of empty plastic boxes to transport. Increasingly, the two companies are collaborating to consolidate loads in a way that cuts costs and emissions.

Companies can also reduce freight demand by transporting the same volume of goods more efficiently and consolidating supply chains. For instance, by using 3D printing Adidas now manufacturers the soles of its shoes in Germany, much closer to the European markets for which those shoes are intended. And that means lower freight emissions.

7. Use active fuel management

With the right approach to fuel choice, storage and use, operators can maximise the amount of energy transferred to the wheels from every unit of fuel. Not only does this help to reduce emissions, it cuts costs too.