2023 NFL Draft - Top Picks for Most Neutral Freight Luggers
April 24, 2023 •Kevin Baxter
As the 2023 NFL Draft will soon have the Carolina Panthers on the clock for the first pick, there's a different type of draft that can help inform responsible shipping decisions this Earth Month. This draft also shares the same initials, thanks to a little stretch of the terminology: The Top Picks for Most Neutral Freight Luggers. Luggers equals freight modes in this case (think lugging cargo) if you'll indulge us, even though the term's definition is more nautical in nature. By neutral, we're concentrating on environmental responsibility. So another way to say this could be drafting the most environmentally friendly freight modes, but that wouldn't work for the NFL of it all.
At any rate, our 2023 draft will undoubtedly be shorter than the football version, as we have far fewer freight modes to choose from than there are draft prospects, so our big board is not so big. In fact, ours will just encompass four picks, and since we're all in the shipping and logistics business, we're all on the same team. We will, however, take stats into account. But instead of dead lift and 40 times, we'll focus on emissions and other sustainability metrics in arriving at our decisions. Without further ado, the first pick is in!
Pick 1: Train/Intermodal
Intermodal transportation - which relies heavily on trains and the rail system - goes with pick number one. As you may have heard, intermodal is the most environmentally friendly form of freight transportation - especially of the ground variety. Here are some statistics to back up that claim in its competition against trucks:
- An intermodal train can carry the equivalent of 280 trucks
- Rail can move one ton of freight 450 miles on a single gallon of fuel
- If 10% of long haul highway freight was shipped intermodally instead for a given year, it would save 12 billion gallons of fuel over that 365 day period
- A train emits approximately 5.4 pounds of carbon dioxide per 100 ton-miles whereas trucks emit approximately 19.8 pounds
- In other words, rail is roughly four times more fuel efficient than trucks
While trucks may have intermodal beaten on other measurables like speed and flexibility, those advantages are often overstated. And for those who think that intermodal is not a good fit for their shipping needs, more than nine in 10 shippers could in fact use one of the many intermodal lanes in North America for their cargo. And back to sustainability, a recent announcement has U.S. railroads shooting for net zero emissions by 2050.
Pick 2: Ocean Liner
The draft gets a bit less cut and dried after number one, but we'll go with volume and a bet on continued improvements to select ocean liner as the second freight mode based on sustainability factors. Here are a few key reasons why in comparing ocean to its main competition of air freight:
- Ocean freight can generate 47 times fewer greenhouse gas emissions per ton-mile than air freight
- Container ships emit only 10 to 40 grams of CO2 per metric ton of freight per kilometer, while airplanes emit 500 grams
- An International Maritime Organization (IMO) rule that went into effect in 2020 placed limits on sulfur content in ship fuel - to 0.5%, at least seven times lower than what it was previously
- Planes release emissions directly into the upper atmosphere, causing a greater impact on atmospheric chemistry
Beyond the present, the IMO has set goals to reduce carbon emissions from ships 40% by 2030 and 70% by 2050 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2050 as well. These goals will be achieved in part through stringent requirements for newly built vessels, better fuel and other regulations. There's also increased incorporation of sails, solar and talk of hydrogen fuel cell engines in the future. And similarly to intermodal, volume matters a lot in these calculations. Trains and ships can simply carry far more cargo in one trip than trucks and planes, which certainly helps their emissions calculus.
Pick 3: Trucks
Trucks have a lot going for them on the environmental front these days, as emerging technology and regulations will likely lead to a big jump in their ability to limit emissions and fuel consumption in the near future. Here are some trucking stats that look good for sustainability:
- EPA fuel standards have led the petroleum industry to produce Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD) which burns cleaner and contains - you guessed it - less sulfur. Most diesel sold in the U.S. is now this type, which helps reduce harmful emissions in any type of engine
- Standards for model year 2007 and later diesel highway vehicles included engines that only use ULSD and advanced exhaust emissions control systems. Trucks built to those standards using ULSD can reduce particulate matter emissions up to 90% and NOx by 25 to 50%
- While controversial, California and as many as eight other states have enacted new regulations pushing for more electric trucks, requiring EVs as replacements for some gas-powered trucks that reach end of life as soon as next year. Sales of some truck classes will need to be 75% electric by just 2035
Once an electric charging infrastructure is in place - or if hydrogen fuel cell trucks take off - trucking could go from a big contributor of carbon emissions to a negligible one, so there's definitely some long-term value in this pick.
Pick 4: Air Freight
Much like the other freight modes in this draft, air freight has improved its environmental track record over the years. And there's no denying its speed, security and reliability - all of which remain important X-factors in talent evaluation. But because its emissions - especially per capita - are higher than the other modes, air freight is bringing up the rear in this draft. We won't call it Mr. Irrelevant, though, as it's still quite relevant and necessary for a variety of cargo. And it still has a lot going for it environmentally, like:
- Adoption of newer, more efficient planes and design elements has increased fuel efficiency
- The use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), which can cut down CO2 up to 80% in some cases
Additionally, the air cargo industry as a whole is aiming to achieve net zero emissions itself by 2050, similarly to the railroads noted above. The Fly Net Zero initiative outlines a combination of 65% SAF usage, 19% offsets and carbon capture, 13% new technology, electric and hydrogen, and 3% infrastructure and operational efficiencies to get there.
So that ends our shipping and transportation mode variation on NFL Draft 2023. As you saw, there was plenty of value in each of the four picks and reason to be excited for the future of freight sustainability.
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