The transportation industry plays a vital role in everyday life, moving everything where it needs to go—people, supplies, raw materials, equipment, finished goods, etc. Given how reliant we are on the industry, it’s no surprise that it’s exerted a significant impact on the environment. Between 1990 and 2020, greenhouse gases attributed to the transportation sector increased more in absolute terms than any other sector, according to EPA data.

Many in the transportation industry—and specifically logistics—have turned their eyes toward greener, more sustainable solutions. Perhaps that’s not so surprising for an industry that’s always been focused on efficiency. After all, more efficient solutions are also often the more sustainable ones. Route optimization for trucking fleets is a great example of this concept in action.

As transportation and logistics companies look at minimizing their carbon footprint, there are six areas poised to make a big difference. We’ll take a look at these areas and examine how some critical shifts could mean significant strides toward greener logistics and more sustainable transportation solutions.

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#1: Get Customer Buy-In on Longer Delivery Times

Increasing numbers of consumers are finding themselves motivated toward environmentally-friendly decisions. As you can see from the data below, this includes both 1) shopping with retailers who offer sustainable solutions and 2) changing their buying behavior to reduce environmental impact.


Consumers who are more likely to choose retailers with sustainable delivery options.


Percentage of consumers who are willing to change their purchasing habits to reduce environmental impact.

B2C companies like Bite, a direct-to-consumer oral health company, are leveraging these “green” attitudes as part of their logistics and marketing strategies. Bite proudly does not offer rush shipping. Instead, they leverage the existing USPS network for all deliveries. This strategy, Bite argues, keeps its carbon footprint low. (It also likely has a positive impact on Bite’s last-mile delivery expenses!)


In order to make this strategy work, education is important. As Patrick Browne, director of global sustainability at UPS, was quoted as saying: “I don’t think the average consumer understands the environmental impact of having something tomorrow vs. two days from now. The more time you give me, the more efficient I can be.” While supply chain professionals likely understand this equation, consumers may not.


Along these lines, Bite created a dedicated webpage to explain their sustainability practices, including why they don’t offer rush shipping. From the customer feedback on the page, you can see that the brand is attracting environmentally-conscious consumers who applaud the brand’s practices—and are happy to wait for their products.

Brilliant! I love your product & your thinking re sustainability and our environment, planet and us. Great educational site with clear researched info – wish EVERYONE would see this! Will pass the word along. Thank You!

Wendy Gedney, Bite Customer

I really appreciate you doing this! Especially because you know your customers are concerned about creating waste! The most frustrating thing is buying from a company that claims to have sustainable products and then you see plastic in the packaging or they don’t pay attention to the ways the products are distributed. Thank you, Bite!!!

Caroline Vatterott, Bite Customer

Slower shipping is often marketed to customers as “cheaper” (or even free). However, it’s not always marketed as “greener.” Pitching longer delivery times as sustainable has enabled Bite to grow consumer buy-in around their shipping practices, a win-win for all parties involved.


To leverage this strategy, B2B companies have to go a step further. Rather than marketing their sustainability solutions directly to end consumers, B2B companies can, instead, market to potential partners who are building a sustainable supply chain from cradle to grave. Salesforce’s requirement that its partners set carbon-reduction goals offers one example. In other words, being a “green” link can be an attractive value proposition when building B2B partnerships.

#2: Focus on Last-Mile Logistics

As the logistics industry seeks ways to lighten its carbon footprint, there are a few areas with the potential to make an overweighted impact. Last-mile logistics is one of those. It’s long been an expensive area for many companies, and it often comes with a heavy carbon footprint.


The percentage of total shipping costs attributed to last-mile delivery.


The anticipated jump in carbon emissions from urban delivery traffic by 2023 if nothing changes.

In other words, companies who focus on creating efficiencies within last-mile delivery stand to both 1) save money and 2) innovate in the area of sustainability.

The consulting firm Accenture studied the use of local fulfillment centers for last-mile delivery in three urban areas—Chicago, London, and Sydney. By leveraging greener fleets to make deliveries in city centers, including electric vehicles, bikes, and even pedestrian porters, the firm estimated emissions savings of 16-20%. Read the full report from Accenture.


Obviously, solutions like pedestrian porters won’t work for all types of companies. Many raw materials, for example, will still need to be delivered via heavy-duty trucks. However, for the increasing number of small parcels delivered to consumers, innovative last-mile solutions come with a big environmental impact.

And even where heavy-duty vehicles are concerned, more sustainable solutions are fast becoming reality.

#3: Harness the Emerging Power of Electric

Whereas heavy-duty EVs were once a mere pipe dream, they’re increasingly becoming reality. Along with hydrogen trucks, electric fleets, and even electric warehouse fleets, companies are increasingly seeing a growing roster of low- or zero-emissions vehicles.


Of course, electric vehicles come with their own unique set of challenges. Converting to an EV fleet means significant changes in fleet management. For example, charging an electric fleet is significantly more time-intensive than fueling a diesel-powered one. Additionally, many current fleet locations simply don’t have an electrical infrastructure that’s ready for an all-electric fleet.


Additionally, there are still lingering questions about the return on EV investments. Electric options generally cost more up front, with companies hoping to recoup their investment over time via lower operating costs. That equation still hasn’t been fully road-tested, and some are reluctant to be among the first.

Electric aside, there’s already a more sustainable mode of transportation available—one that’s already been tried and tested.

#4: Consider Rail Where Possible

Although rail isn’t right for every freight shipment, leveraging this mode of transportation does hold some significant potential in the area of sustainability.


Figures from the Boston Consulting Firm report that, while freight was globally responsible for 9% of passenger movement and 7% of freight movement, it was only responsible for 4% of the transportation industry’s emissions in 2019. Rail also uses 80% less energy than trucks per ton of freight carried.


When you look at the U.S. rail figures alone, the mode’s “green” advantage becomes even more apparent.


The percentage of long-distance freight volume carried by rail in the U.S.


The percentage of U.S. transportation emissions attributed to rail.

While the global market for rail transportation continues to grow, it doesn’t appear to be growing as fast as the global truck transportation market. Considering the fact that rail offers companies a lighter carbon footprint—and a lower cost-per-ton-mile—it’s a mode worth leveraging, especially for companies embracing sustainability.

#5: Reduce Packaging Waste

Packaging has long been part of the freight industry’s equation for minimizing damage and creating handling efficiencies of goods in transit. However, packaging also plays a big role in creating waste, making up as much as 30% of the U.S.’s annual total, according to the EPA.


Recent innovations in packaging offer some promising results for keeping packaging out of landfills while offering goods in transit both protection and maneuverability.

Of course, there are some cons, in that biodegradable and compostable packaging must be stored carefully so it doesn’t break down before it’s used. Sunlight and humidity may also undermine its integrity. Given the potential upsides—including a significant reduction in plastics in landfills and oceans—these materials seem worth consideration.

#6: Continue to Do What Supply Chain Managers Do Best

Supply chain optimization revolves around creating and uncovering new efficiencies. This principle goes hand in hand with the principles that drive sustainability.


Consider initiatives such as more efficient routes for last-mile deliveries; reducing the number of trips a truck takes between a warehouse and a distribution center; and making the most of every cubic foot of a shipping container. All of those miles not driven, gallons of fuel not burned, extra shipments not sent—they all make positive impacts to the bottom line, and they all contribute to a lighter carbon footprint.

Ultimately, the logistics industry already has the core skill it needs to create greener supply chains—a focus on efficiency. Paired with new technology like alternative fuels and innovations like bio-alternatives to plastic, greener solutions are just around the corner.


Looking for some help uncovering new efficiencies within your supply chain? Our experts would be happy to talk with you. Simply request a complimentary consultation, and we’ll take a holistic look at your supply chain—together.

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