Truck driving on the freeway

3 Trucking Sustainability Trends to Watch in 2021

Categories: Trucking.

Trucking keeps our nation moving, and without it the U.S. economy would come to a standstill.

We’ve previously talked about how eCommerce continues to thrive despite the presence of a global recession, so it’s safe to say trucking won’t slow down anytime soon. It’s no wonder then that environmentally sustainable transportation of freight is on the minds of customers and companies alike.

If you’re unfamiliar with trucking’s impact on climate, the facts might surprise you.

Data shared by the EPA demonstrates that as of 2018, transportation is the leading contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, in which trucks account for almost one quarter of emissions. When we consider their effects on a global scale, freight produces 7% of the total CO2 emissions worldwide with trucking exposed as the largest producer.

This raises questions as to how the industry can evolve to balance environmental concerns with the bottom line. Here, we outline three trucking sustainability trends paving the way toward environmental (and industry) change.

Reduce empty miles and LTLs

A surefire way to waste resources and produce unnecessary emissions is through unnecessary empty miles and less-than-truckloads (LTLs). Empty miles, also referred to as ‘freight waste’, involve trucks driving around without a load, typically due to no loads being available for the driver to collect that are headed in the same direction.

The business need for reducing empty miles isn’t a new concept, although the motivation now takes a different form as companies become more environmentally minded. Not only do drivers lose out in these instances — the environment bears the cost too.

In 2017, empty miles accounted for 17% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., or to express the impact in other words, the equivalent of approximately 74.2 million metric tons.

Reducing these statistics calls on a simple equation: Carry more freight per load for fewer required loads overall, which ultimately leads to decreases in CO2 emissions and better profit margins. Ensuring that truckloads are full (FTLs) and reducing empty miles are some of the simplest ways to reduce carbon footprint and costs.

Electric and alternative fuel vehicles

Deployment of alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) continues to be a talking point in trucking.

Currently, biodiesel remains the most popular alternative to fossil fuels, while interest in hydrogen-electric and renewable gas options is on the rise. But the one alternative fuel that’s sparking real interest is electric-powered trucks. Recent advances in electric vehicle technology offer the potential to substantially decrease emissions per mile, so much so that almost every manufacturer is taking orders for electric-powered trucks these days.

To put the environmental impact of going electric into perspective, each electric vehicle on U.S. roads emits just over 4,000 pounds of CO2 annually, compared to gas vehicles producing approximately 11,400 pounds per annum.

It’s evident electric vehicles can assist companies in minimizing their environmental impact by replacing gasoline or diesel fuelled trucks with greener alternatives.

Moreover, California has declared a new rule that requires truck manufacturers to sell an increasing share of electric trucks each year. The goal is to ensure all new trucks sold in the state are zero-emission by 2045. Regulation in this space coupled with tighter national emissions targets could encourage trucking sustainability in the near-term, particularly as electronic trucks become more reliable and affordable.

Automated vehicle technology

There is tremendous potential to reduce costs and CO2 emissions without having to choose between one or the other, and automated vehicle technology is leading the charge.

In late 2020, Daimler Trucks, the world’s largest commercial vehicle manufacturer, announced partnerships with Waymo and Luminar Technologies to facilitate the development of highly automated (SAE Level 4) trucks, in line with their push to launch the tech within a decade. Vehicles under this classification can operate in self-driving mode and action safety-critical functions with the capacity for human intervention if required. They may still be in development, yet driverless trucks appear to be imminent.

Aside from safety improvements in automated vehicles, the technology also intends to increase productivity and cut costs per mile significantly.

Driving practices are found to impact vehicle efficiency and fuel consumption given drivers control factors including idle time, brake use, speed, and route choice. With increased automation and smart vehicle design, truck manufacturers and drivers can produce better driving practices using IoT sensors, thus improving fuel economy and by extension, emissions.

With new possibilities emerging all the time, further R&D can only expand the options available to businesses down the line.

Looking ahead

Trucking sustainability is finding its way into the limelight and for good reason. The world is calling on companies to better manage greenhouse gas emissions, and the industry can evolve as many exciting developments arise. Trends such as empty mile reduction, alternative fuel vehicles including electric-powered trucks, and automated vehicle technology can help us move toward a greener future, one which doesn’t force us to choose between cost or environmental benefits.

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