Clean road transport game plan

Enjoyed reading Prime Mover magazine’s recent sustainability report series. Signing the COP21 Paris accord certainly does accelerate the need for a commercial road transport industry game plan to lead Australian business and government policy responses or we’ll be left wondering what happened post-2020. The language has changed: “low carbon” ambitions of last century are obsolete; specific, measurable “zero carbon” goals are in.

With an old truck fleet averaging 14+ years of age, half our technology is last century too. Fuel is such a critical and volatile cost; why the lack of fleet renewal in Australia? Especially when new fuel-efficient trucks promise substantial operating cost savings and liquid capital markets offer the cheapest interest rates in memory. Perhaps it’s the difficulty accessing capital when thin profit margins produce long paybacks on capital intensive equipment?

To help operators buy new trucks, government funds are available from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Emissions Reduction Fund, but there’s been little take-up. If these programs don’t suit the industry, we need to understand what policies will work and advocate accordingly. Without effective government assistance we’ll continue falling further behind the rest of the world. Reducing fuel tax credits for trucks over 13 years old and using the money saved to help operators buy new trucks is a great idea.  

The US SuperTruck program shows the critical role government can play, not only in R&D but also supporting market adoption of new technologies at scale. The USA has many policies that may work here: fuel efficiency standards; standards for renewable and low carbon fuels; vouchers to help buy efficient trucks; co-investment in alternative fuel infrastructure and vehicle technology; and a Smartway partnership between government and industry that tests, benchmarks and informs operators on green transport technologies, so successful there’s now similar programs in Europe, Asia and Brazil. Meanwhile the enormous carbon reductions possible through biodiesel use in Australia have previously been constrained by perverse government policies. While Scania and Volvo show biofuel blends all the way up to B100 are technically viable, fuel tax credits only apply up to a B20 blend limit.

The commercial road transport industry needs targets. Aviation is the first transport sector to set a global goal, aiming for carbon-neutral growth after 2020. Key to this is a target of 1.5% fuel efficiency improvement each year, currently being over-achieved at 2.9% p.a. While emerging technologies featured in Prime Mover’s report may help a clean energy transition in the future, fuel efficiency remains the best action we can take now using current technologies. Key to this will be using the growing daily flood of data coming from each modern truck.

Transport is Australia’s largest energy user, so action in the road freight sector will be critical to achieving the Paris COP21 zero carbon goals. Doubling energy productivity, using clean fuels and offsetting residual emissions is the way forward. Carbon neutral engine oil is a brilliant start; zero carbon transport is the new goal. Making it happen, to use Prime Mover’s June editorial theme, is now the challenge. Creating a game plan with the industry’s green and clean solutions for input to the 2017 Australian climate policy review, rather than taking the policies we’re given, will take collaboration and leadership, and the time to start is now.

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What does a COP21 goal of net zero emissions mean for Freight Transport?

Business leaders are calling for a goal of net zero emissions to be set at the UN Climate Change Conference COP21 in Paris this week. With 7% of global emissions coming from international freight transport, and growth in globalisation expected to increase such emissions nearly fourfold by 2050, the response from the logistics industry will be fundamental to meeting that goal. Yet for Freight Transport to achieve zero carbon, a key constraint is having good information all supply chain players can trust.

The Volkswagen saga shows how gaps in emission measurement standards or their application can shatter our faith in claims regarding emissions or fuel performance. Transport operators make a variety of statements about their environmental credentials, but how can freight buyers compare options with confidence?

A new non-profit, the Smart Freight Centre, is leading a collaboration of the world’s biggest shippers and transport companies to create a transparent, universal method of calculating logistics emissions along supply chains so people can make better decisions on how to move freight in the greenest way.

Data Drives Emissions Down

Transporters act in various ways to reduce energy use and emissions intensity across all logistics sectors to save money, reduce risk and meet growing customer demands for green transport services.

Good information is crucial for transporters to understand the real costs and benefits of potential emissions savings opportunities. It can be difficult to isolate gains produced by a single initiative given the amount of variables that affect fuel economy. Uncertainty about the environmental performance of alternative fuels and engine technologies is compounded by the lack of reliable case study information on their effectiveness for each transport mode. The integrity of external information sources relies on what exactly was measured, how and by who, and how the data applies to a specific task, the equipment configurations and local conditions.

In response, a growing number of collaborative groups are assessing technologies and practices that enable low carbon transport and share information on what works and what doesn’t.

Measuring the Whole Supply Chain

At a broader level we must consider a supply chain’s end-to-end profile. Measuring emissions from a train, truck, plane or ship is one thing, but allocating shares of those emissions to each freight item carried gets complicated across all legs of multi-modal freight movements criss-crossing the globe.

Online retail is creating exponential growth in single-item deliveries direct to homes and workplaces from worldwide sources. Growing consumer demand takes priority over the efficiencies of traditional logistics models, where bulk shipments via distribution centres to retail stores provide economies of scale for more energy- and emissions-efficient freight. Light commercial vans are the fastest growing traffic category in many countries, yet vans are second only to aircraft in energy consumed per tonne kilometre and generate over four times more CO2 per tonne-km than the average 44 tonne truck. This restructuring of supply chains affects the environmental footprint differently across geographies and logistics sectors.

Increasingly, freight buyers need to better understand the sources of logistics emissions along their supply chains, where freight can account for 25% or more of a product’s lifecycle emissions.

One Common Standard

The Smart Freight Centre hosts a collaboration of business and associated stakeholders creating a global framework for logistics emissions accounting. In 2014 they established the Global Logistics Emissions Council (GLEC) to develop a universal and transparent way of calculating logistics emissions across global multi-modal supply chains so that shippers and logistics providers can include carbon footprints in business decisions, alongside costs, time and reliability when selecting modes, routes and carriers.

GLEC will harmonise existing methods and address gaps to devise an assurance standard in freight logistics emissions that enables more accurate and reliable benchmarking and realistic emission reduction strategies. Its’ framework builds on:

To better understand how it will operate for both shippers and logistics service providers in real world supply chains, a series of case studies is underway to gauge the practical availability of data and how it can be used to optimise low carbon freight movements. By simplifying a complex business with a common standard everyone can use to compare green logistics options, people can confidently use good information to reduce both environmental impact and cost.

Towards Zero Carbon Transport

Achieving net zero transport emissions requires using less fuel in tonne-kilometre terms (a key energy productivity metric) and using the cleanest fuels that suit particular freight tasks. The unavoidable residual emissions can then be neutralised by purchasing carbon offsets based on precise and trustworthy emissions measurement.

As global freight emissions rise, a harmonised method for emissions accounting becomes increasingly necessary. Supply chain players large and small must have good emissions information to maintain competitiveness and prepare for the complexity of a carbon-constrained world.

Consultation workshops in the USA, Latin America, Europe and Asia are inviting public comment on the GLEC Framework, so download it to learn more. If you think about how this tool can improve your freight decision-making, you can help develop a logistics emissions methodology that assists Freight Transport to realise the net zero emissions goal.

Manufacturers Target Supply Chain Emissions

As leading corporations respond to increasing customer, investor and community pressures to reduce environmental impacts, it is becoming clear that the biggest impacts occur outside their control but within their influence along the value chain. For some sectors such as retail and food manufacturing, latest estimates put their supply chain emissions at 50% to 90% of their total carbon footprint, and transport often accounts for the largest share.

Food Supply Chains Go Sustainable

After first reducing environmental impacts within its operations, leading brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev now recognises there are bigger challenges across their supply chain, where a large part of their impacts occur. Despite having less control over outsourced logistics processes, ABInBev has taken great strides by:

  • Developing emission measurement systems within a global framework
  • Understanding their network baseline emissions profile and setting reduction targets
  • Collaborating with partners to find innovations including fleet sharing with Walmart and Unilever, and working with industry programs such as Lean & Green in Europe

Food manufacturer Mars recognises that the supply chain represents their largest impact on people and the planet. As the infographic shows, transport makes up a full 25% of lifecycle emissions, with the most controllable activities on-site making up only 14% of all emissions in the Mars value chain.

Nestle meanwhile takes a full product lifecycle approach from farm to customer to certify emission reductions along their value chain, while SABMIller, ABInBev’s global rival and owners of Fosters and CUB brands in Australia, works with suppliers to build a detailed picture of supply chain emissions so that substantial reductions can be found.

Economic Growth = More Transport Emissions

No one has yet worked out how to de-couple economic growth and transport’s environmental impact. Simply put, the more freight you move, the more fuel you burn. Linehaul trucking is particularly energy and carbon intensive. While freight customers are beginning to set targets to reduce fuel use and carbon emissions from their outsourced transport, residual emissions will continue to be generated for the foreseeable future.

With Freight Transport accounting for 5.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions and growing it makes sense that progressive transporters are responding to an emerging market niche that seeks carbon offsets for transport emissions. Developing in parallel with ongoing cost pressure on Australian supply chains, large freight forwarders like DHL, UPS and Agility now offer carbon offsetting options as a premium service for their customers.

Offsets Create Shared Value

Enabling customers to offset 100% of the CO2 generated in their freight task creates shared value for customers, transporters and the communities we serve. By balancing freight emissions with investments in emission reduction projects, we can create a self-sustaining investment model that produces environmental improvements with social and economic returns.

Some fear that Offsetting may reduce the impetus to keep lowering emissions. Mars, for instance, uses no carbon offsets at all. Yet until de-coupling technologies and practices are realised, carbon offsetting may be an effective interim measure allowing manufacturers, retailers and other freight transport customers to demonstrate environmental and social responsibility to their local communities, and gain economic benefits from consumer and investor demand for low carbon goods and services. 

Offsetting freight emissions can help companies take big strides to meet their environmental targets across the whole supply chain.