Carbon emissions are a part of everyday life, from the cars we drive to the power stations creating the electricity for our homes. But did you also know the consumer items you buy, whether it’s a toy for your child or a new suit for a job interview, all have a carbon footprint too?
These consumer items’ carbon footprints include the emissions from the factories that produce them, of course, but they’re also held responsible for some of the carbon emissions produced to ship them. Each item a freight company ships accounts for a small portion of the emissions the semi-truck, cargo ship, train, airplane, or other means of shipment creates.
Fortunately, freight companies, like any other company, can strive to reach net-zero carbon emissions through many initiatives. Let’s review their road to net zero below.
How Do Freight Companies Reach Net Zero?
Becoming a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions (GHG emissions) producer doesn’t necessarily mean a freight company doesn’t produce any greenhouse gasses. That’s simply not possible in today’s landscape, given they must account for all emissions throughout the production, transportation, and even consumption of their services. However, directly reducing their own GHG emissions is a key step.
They can reduce their GHG emissions in many ways, and we’ll cover these strategies in a later section.
Freight companies can further reduce their emissions and achieve net-zero status through sustainability initiatives, such as reducing fuel consumption, relying more on domestic-sourced fuel, and moving to more sustainable and cleaner biofuels.
After trimming their GHG emissions and maximizing their sustainability with the technology available today, freight companies can expand their net-zero goals by supporting climate-sustaining and climate-improving initiatives and receive carbon offsets in the process, which we’ll cover more in depth later.
What Kinds of Strategies Can Freight Companies Use on the Road to Net Zero?
Freight companies can use various strategies to help them achieve a net-zero carbon footprint and help fight climate change without negatively impacting the supply chain. Let’s review these strategies and their benefits.
Reduce Transportation-Related Emissions
No matter what mode a freight company uses — cargo ships, airplanes, trains, semi-trucks, or smaller delivery vehicles — they generally are the main source of the company’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
A Co-Optimization of Fuels & Engines (Co-Optima) study found that vehicles with advanced turbocharging technology are 10% more efficient with pollution-reducing fuel options made from things like discarded cooking oils, algae, and manure. They also found engines that can run on this fuel produce 60% fewer GHG emissions.
Co-Optima also mentions that while biofuels are still a work in progress, freight companies can accelerate their path to net-zero by opting for today’s thriftier and more eco-friendly, low-carbon-emissions hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) as their delivery vehicles. On top of that, switching to electric cars as last-mile delivery vehicles — those that deliver to individual homes — can further accelerate that plan by eliminating fossil fuels and emissions altogether.
Yes, electric cars need to connect to a charging source nightly, and companies often get their electricity from emission-producing power plants. However, they can offset this by investing in solar panels and battery storage systems to charge these vehicles off the power grid.
Waste in the freight industry is real, whether it’s semi-trucks driving long distances with only partial loads, trucks idling in rest areas, or ships moored at port idling their engines. And with waste comes a larger carbon footprint attached to each item it’s delivering.
Freight companies can work toward net zero by mitigating this waste through more efficient scheduling of routes or setting minimum shipment loads and offering sliding scale shipping fees to ensure they meet these minimums.
Technology is also in the works to reduce truck idling at rest areas. These Idling Reduction Technologies (IRTs) rely on other forms of power to keep the truck cab warm or cool and run the limited electronics truck drivers use in their cab, like a refrigerator or small television. It can be something as simple as an auxiliary power unit or generator to something more complex like a thermal storage system or truck stop electrification.
Freight companies can drive the adoption of these IRTs by offering incentives to drivers who keep their idling time low.
Another way to reduce idle time is to avoid traffic congestion. Through technology and proper route planning, freight companies can schedule routes that avoid high-traffic times and areas.
The physical transport of goods isn’t the only opportunity to reduce emissions. Their hubs also produce emissions from the electricity they use, the waste they produce, and more. Some actions they can take to reduce the GHG emissions at their hubs include:
Switching to LED light bulbs
Installing water-conservation technology
Installing solar panels or other clean energy technology
Planting trees on their property
Scheduling shifts and installing automation for maximum energy efficiency
Reducing waste through reuse and recycling
Installing emission-reducing technology on any emission-producing equipment
Eyes on the Future
Technology is constantly evolving, including the tech that can help a freight company achieve net-zero emissions. So it’s important to always have an eye on the future of transportation and what new technology is on the horizon that can further reduce a company’s carbon footprint.
So, if freight companies and transportation services have an eye on the future, they can prepare to invest in emerging emissions-reducing tech and always stay on the cutting edge.
Buy Carbon Offsets
In many cases, companies cannot get to net-zero emissions independently. Some companies, like freight companies, will likely have at least some emissions for the foreseeable future. This is where carbon offsets can help.
Carbon offsets, like those from Terrapass, allow individuals and corporations to invest money in green projects, such as reforestation, decarbonization, forestry conservation, renewable energy, and more to offset any remaining carbon emissions they cannot eliminate through the above methods.
Offsets can be great stopgap measures while companies travel down the road to net zero.
What Is Included in Net Zero?
Getting to a net-zero carbon footprint requires much more than a company reducing its own carbon emissions. Three types of emissions comprise a company’s carbon footprint: scope 1, scope 2, and scope 3. They must reduce or offset all three scopes.
Scope 1 emissions: These are direct emissions the company emits. For a freight company, this could be the emissions its vehicles produce, emissions from equipment use, and other GHG emissions the company produces in its daily operations.
Scope 2 emissions: These are indirect emissions but are still related to the company itself, such as the emissions the power plant that provides its electricity produces.
Scope 3 emissions: These are indirect emissions produced outside the company but still related to the company and its services. These can include the emissions workers produce commuting to the company, business travel, emissions produced by suppliers, and others not covered by scope 1 or 2.
Many times, it’s scope 2 and 3 emissions that are the hardest to reduce, which is where carbon offsets can come in to help.
Additionally, being a net-zero organization means eliminating all GHG gases, not just carbon. This includes things like methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and other hydrofluorocarbons.
What Companies Are Already Net Zero?
In the freight and shipping sector, no companies currently claim to be net zero, and only 35% of the 94 major shipping companies aim to be by 2050.
For companies that have made the net-zero pledge, they’ve made commitments that meet these criteria:
They set reduction targets for GHG emissions that align with The Paris Agreement‘s standard, which is to keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius compared to preindustrial levels.
They must release public annual reports of their GHG emissions and progress reports that show improvement every year.
They’re required to meet or exceed other industry- and company-specific criteria, including publishing scientific papers, mentoring other organizations or the public, or contributing to offsetting or environmental, social, and governance (ESG) projects.
Brambles: No set target date
Siemens AG: 2030
City Developments Limited (CDL): 2030
Hon Hai: 2050
Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE): 2050
American Airlines: 2050
Currently, no companies have attained net-zero emissions. Often confused with net-zero emissions is carbon neutrality, which many companies are. Carbon neutrality means the company has offset or eliminated all its carbon dioxide emissions only. This is still a notable achievement and a part of becoming a full net-zero company.
How Long Will It Take to Reach Net Zero?
As you can see above, reaching net-zero emissions is a marathon and not a sprint. Plenty of obstacles stand in the way, such as budget constraints, policies, procedures, and awaiting the technology to be developed and perfected.
As mentioned, only 35% of the 94 major companies in the freight and shipping industry have made the net-zero commitment by 2050. This means it could be mid-century before the freight companies reach net-zero emissions. The commitment rate could increase as technology and policies evolve, but as of 2023, this is where it stands.
Only 35% of the major freight companies making the net-zero pledge is evidence of the challenges freight companies expect to face while striving for this goal. However, the near-term milestones they will reach along the roadmap to net zero will still positively impact climate risk.
It’s a Long Path to Net Zero, But a Worthwhile One
Global emission reduction and other climate action to reverse the impacts of climate change and lower the global temperature is not something that’ll happen overnight. It will take many years, but the future of our planet rests on companies making and reaching net-zero commitments.
Terrapass can help freight companies reach these targets through carbon offsets, which fund climate-related initiatives, such as reforestation, alternative energy, conservation, and more. Terrapass offers packages suitable for businesses and individuals alike.
If your business has a complex offset plan and needs a custom product honed to its needs, our advisors can help build a custom offset program for you.
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