Did you know that freight transport generates 16% of corporate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions? Specifically, commercial and private fleet trucks account for the dominant share of all those logistics-related greenhouse gas emissions (EDF Green Freight Handbook).
As a result, businesses are under increasing pressure to operate more sustainably, and that’s one of the things contributing to an 11% growth rate in the route optimization software market. More efficient routes mean fewer truck miles, less gas and lower CO2 emissions. Distribution companies recognize that their truck fleets are an untapped source of dramatic carbon reductions—and cost savings.
We recently explored the subject of green logistics with Mike Roeth, Executive Director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE), which researches freight efficiency with carriers, manufacturers, government agencies and NGOs. Roeth is optimistic that the tools available to the trucking industry will help companies achieve their transportation sustainability goals, and says this is an exciting time to be in the business. We asked him to explain more.
Q: The role of route optimization in promoting green logistics and the overall sustainability of freight-driven commerce may seem obvious. But you point to other, more human benefits. Can you elaborate?
One great example is the way greener logistics make life better for truck drivers. The driver shortage is arguably the biggest challenge in trucking today. With more intelligently choreographed freight operations, we have a much better chance of getting drivers home every night or every two nights, instead of ending their shifts far from home, and that is really good for the drivers. Advanced route optimization software can be programmed to make driver-friendly routes a priority.
Q: And how does driver-friendly equate to greener freight?
Well, if you’ve got an anxious customer waiting for a delivery, a fully loaded truck, and no one behind the wheel to drive it, you’re scrambling to get the load delivered. You’re not going to prioritize green freight strategies in this environment. But if we can get drivers home predictably, it’s going to be easier to attract them. That relieves a lot of the day-to-day chaos around assigning drivers to delivery routes and allows more focus on sustainable freight strategies.
The nice thing is that the tool you use to make routes more efficient can also help address the fundamental human issue of driver satisfaction.
Q: How does ecommerce impact green logistics goals?
Consumers want goods delivered quickly, which means a greater focus on regional versus long-haul runs. This trend will help expedite electrification and other alternate fuels, where the range is typically limited. But it also presents an opportunity to attract and retain drivers with the promise of a more normal life where they sleep at home most nights instead of in the back of a sleeper cab.
Q: What other changes are enabling a move to greener freight practices?
Technology is really helping here. Route optimization software is an excellent tool for cutting emissions, but those improvements are only possible because of changes in the supply chain.
For example, we can be much more accurate about predicting when freight is available to pick up. When I was running a freight operation, we’d often tell the driver the load was ready for pick-up when it might still be coming off the production line—because we were guessing. Nowadays, we know exactly where the freight is, and that’s new.
Q: So, everything’s connected.
Sure. You can use software to optimize final-mile deliveries, but it doesn’t do you much good if the inbound freight schedule is unpredictable. Thankfully, freight movements are far more orchestrated these days.
Q: How is the U.S. freight industry doing in terms of sustainability?
We’ve made significant progress on the technology side with the development of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs). Right now, we’re in what I call the “messy middle” as we move towards an all-electric future. Route optimization and other such technologies are critical for getting good, green results while we shoot for more ambitious, more distant goals such as zero emissions from freight.
But we can’t just focus on zero emissions as if fuel and route efficiency don’t matter. We must do both. And, of course, route optimization will continue to drive efficiencies whatever fuel trucks run on.
Q: How so?
Well, routes that can be completed in fewer miles equate to less energy needed to power the trucks, regardless of where that energy comes from. Fewer miles also equate to fewer trucks and drivers—the two major cost drivers for commercial and private fleets.
Q: Your focus is on green freight practices in North America. Many say that Europe is ahead in terms of sustainable freight practices. Do you agree?
I think it’s unfair to say we’re lagging behind Europe. There’s a sense of modesty in the trucking industry in the U.S. and Canada when it comes to touting our progress, and that does not serve us well. Low fuel prices haven’t helped in terms of an impetus toward better fuel economy and freight efficiency, so that’s a challenge. But the U.S. took the lead back in the early 2000s by passing bipartisan bills limiting greenhouse gases before anyone else. I think the truth is that sustainability is now ingrained in our business thinking, and the freight industry is already more sustainable than many people think.
Q: Did that momentum take a back seat once the pandemic hit?
Interestingly, no. North American businesses continued to pursue sustainable strategies even during the COVID-driven supply chain chaos. An emergency can sometimes be used as a rationale for changing course. If I’m trying to lose weight and exercise, but then I lose my job, it could be a great excuse to eat pizza and drink beer. But businesses actually saw it as a challenge and learned from it. The continued investment in route optimization software is a good example.
Q: Where do you see green logistics in ten years?
We still have a long way to go. In 2030, we need to look back and be able to claim success because of better deployment of route optimization and zero-emission vehicles. We need to have figured out how to make ecommerce and door delivery better and take a comprehensive view of correcting the fact that the movement of goods tends to leave a big carbon footprint. We have to get all of that right. We have to get from talking the talk to walking the walk and be more aggressive with the available solutions.
Aptean is dedicated to helping customers use advanced route optimization software to achieve sustainability goals while reducing transportation costs by 10-30%. We’ve received industry recognition for doing so, including being named among Food Logistics magazine’s Top Green Providers and winning Supply & Demand Chain Executive’s 2020 Green Supply Chain Award. Ready to discover how Aptean can support your business goals? Contact us today.
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