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Earth Day 2023 and Freight

April 19, 2023 Kevin Baxter

Earth Day

Earth Day 2023 is Saturday, April 22. For the world, the day serves as a reminder to practice good environmental habits to help preserve the planet. For the freight industry, Earth Day is a time to assess both the steps already taken to reduce emissions and those still to come to reduce its environmental impact. After all, transport - including both the freight and passenger variety - accounted for 37% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2021 worldwide and over 50% of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the U.S.

Since freight shipping is not going anywhere, many phases of the industry have already taken action to make it more sustainable. But there is still more to be done on a number of fronts to improve.

What's been done to reduce freight's environmental impact?

Let's start with the good news first, as we spend time looking at the environmental movement already underway. The freight industry has made a number of strides over the past couple of decades to reduce its carbon footprint.

EPA's SmartWay Program

This is a wide-reaching - and still ongoing - success. EPA SmartWay certified partners can be shippers, carriers or logistics companies. And they commit to measure, benchmark and improve freight transportation efficiency - all in the name of a more sustainable supply chain. Since its inception in 2004,

  • SmartWay partners have saved 357 million barrels of oil (which in turn has saved those companies $47.6 billion in fuel costs
  • SmartWay has helped partners avoid emitting 152 million metric tons of CO2, 2.7 million short tons of NOx and 112,000 short tons of particulate matter

As mentioned, SmartWay is far from done, so expect these numbers to continue to improve for program partners.

Diesel fuel improvements for trucks

New standards have led to improvements in reducing diesel fuel emissions for trucks in a couple of ways.

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%.

Better fuel and engines for cargo ships

Like trucks, requirements - this time through the International Maritime Organization (IMO) - have led to vast improvements in emissions by cargo ships. International standards that went into effect in 2020 required ships to use fuel with a sulfur content of .5% or less. Otherwise, they must use devices called scrubbers to strip out sulfur an equal measure from what's often known as bunker fuel.

Additionally, engines are required to meet appropriate emissions standards corresponding to its build or modification date of 2000 or later. And those built since 2016 must meet more stringent requirements.

What steps are still to come to reduce freight's environmental impact?

With all the efforts that have already been made to reduce freight's environmental impact, as of 2021, freight was responsible for an estimated quarter of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and 10% of energy-related CO2 emissions in the U.S. So clearly there are still steps to come to make things better.

Those steps include:

  • Further increases in EPA emissions standards for trucks to reduce CO2 beyond the currently in effect standards
  • A strong push for electric trucks, a push that's getting stronger in some areas like California - perhaps too quickly for some. New regulations require EVs as replacements for some gas-powered trucks that reach end of life as soon as next year
  • The IMO has set goals to reduce carbon emissions from ships 40% by 2030 and 70% by 2050. Beyond carbon emissions, the IMO goal is to 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
  • While railroads produce significantly fewer emissions already, the Federal Railroad Administration is shooting for net-zero by 2050
  • Air cargo is aiming for the same goal with its Fly Net Zero initiative
  • Companies are proactively making their supply chains more sustainable, using greener transport modes when possible, sourcing products/components better and streamlining processes to become more energy efficient and reduce waste

While all of these initiatives take time and money, there are a few big incentives that are pushing the industry in the direction of reduced environmental impact. Those are the aforementioned legal requirements (you can't keep operating if you don't follow those), a genuine desire to invest in our planet's long-term health and the financial benefit of consumers' tendency to choose environmentally responsible companies, thus leading to potentially greater revenue. Addressing environmental issues can even save money over time.

Want your logistics operations to have a happy Earth Day in 2023 and beyond? Concerned your shipping operations are short of sustainability goals? As a SmartWay Certified company, InTek can help. Simply fill in a few details and and we'll follow up to discuss how we can help your company meet its priorities. For more information about InTek, or logistics and supply chain issues in general, check out our Freight Guides.

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