Tackling Emissions in Freight Transportation

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Freight transportation plays a crucial role in the global supply chain, yet it is also one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the commercial transportation sector, which includes trucks, planes, ships, and trains, accounts for about 15% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.

Supply chain experts warn that the transportation sector could soon become the largest contributor to global greenhouse gases. Trucks, in particular, are significant emitters, producing 65% of freight’s emissions. Suzanne Greene, program manager of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sustainable Supply Chains Initiative, predicts that growing economies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America will triple the global demand for freight by 2050, doubling freight’s greenhouse gas emissions. She states that if we continue with current practices, freight will become the highest-emitting sector by 2050.

Many companies are aware of the environmental cost of shipping goods but struggle to know how to act. Jackelyne Hernandez, a logistics and supply chain professional, notes that many companies have reached out to her, unsure how to begin their sustainability efforts despite being tasked with reducing their carbon footprint by 30% over ten years. Hernandez suggests logistics companies can make strides by using carriers certified by the Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay Transportation Partnership, switching to intermodal transportation, and employing multi-stop truckload shipping strategies to reduce the number of trucks on the road.

Hernandez predicts that sustainability will become increasingly crucial in the future, evidenced by the rise of electric trucks, B Corp companies, and the environmentally conscious attitudes of Gen Z and millennials. She notes that more companies are starting to take significant steps to cut carbon emissions, from reducing packaging waste to eliminating empty transport miles.

One such company is Alpha Augmented Services, a Switzerland-based startup using AI to enhance profit margins while reducing waste. Co-founded in 2022 by Massimo Rossetti and Joachim Paech, Alpha’s solutions identify supply chain inefficiencies and implement AI-driven tools to optimize shipments and reduce carbon footprints. Their OptiInsight platform uses client data to pinpoint inefficiencies, while OptiShip, OptiPack, and OptiOrder simulate millions of shipment configurations to ensure maximum space utilization. Alpha’s AI capabilities allow for efficient and consistent optimization across all levels of the supply chain, reducing costs and emissions.

CHEP (Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool), another innovator in the sector, has been enhancing supply chain sustainability since 1945. CHEP, part of the Brambles Group, operates in 60 countries and manages over 353 million pallets, crates, and containers. In 2019, CHEP launched the Zero Waste World initiative to improve operational efficiency, reduce costs, and meet sustainability goals. This program fosters collaboration among distributors, manufacturers, and retailers to eliminate waste and inefficiencies, contributing to a circular economy where materials are continuously reused.

Finally, ReturnBear, a cross-border reverse logistics platform founded by Sylvia Ng, addresses the environmental impact of e-commerce returns. ReturnBear simplifies the returns process and reduces landfill waste and carbon emissions. Ng, a former Shopify executive, created ReturnBear to solve the industry’s returns problem. The platform provides over 1,000 package-free, label-free return drop-off locations across Canada and regional mail-in hubs, making returns more convenient and less wasteful. By consolidating shipments and processing returns locally, ReturnBear cuts shipping costs and emissions significantly, reducing return costs by around 40% for brands.

Ng emphasizes the importance of creating a sustainable supply chain for future generations. She reflects on environmental changes she has witnessed over the years, underscoring the need for action to preserve natural habitats. Companies like Alpha Augmented Services, CHEP, and ReturnBear are leading the way in reducing the environmental impact of freight transportation, striving to create a more sustainable future for the industry.

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