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10 Tactics for Sustainable Freight

Real-world ways to move the needle forward on decarbonising your supply chain today.

03rd July 2023

Written by

Dr. Christopher de Saxe

Head of Sustainability

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How to start the road to decarbonising your freight and supply chain.

As the necessity of decarbonisation becomes a hot topics, Zeus has prepared a review of the Top 10 tactics that shippers (and transport providers) can start implementing today. These are focused on 'middle mile' overland transport solutions for use across Europe and the UK.

  1. Multimodal solutions

  2. E-HGVs

  3. Renewable fuels

  4. Supply chain efficiency and optimisation

  5. Universal standards

  6. Supply chain relationships

  7. Modernisation vs system innovation

  8. Sustainable packaging

  9. Sustainability transparency, accountability and reporting

  10. Immediacy

1. Go Multimodal

Multimodality is a powerful tool for creating sustainable freight systems. It works by integrating the strengths of various transport modes into comprehensive networks, shifting between modes as necessary.

In practical terms, this means combining the energy efficiency of rail, the cargo capacity of maritime transport, the convenience of roll-on, roll-off ferries, or the speed and flexibility of road transport to deliver on the needs of each route.

According to the Global Multimodal Freight Transportation Market Report 2020-2025, multimodality can increase efficiency by 30%, reduce costs by 20%, and significantly reduce highway congestion and emissions.

Europe, with its extensive rail and maritime infrastructure, is an ideal region for the expansion of multimodal transport. Dr. Herbert Kotzab, in the preface to Sarah Pfosers’ 2022 study 'Strategies for Sustainable Freight,' asserts “sustainable transport concepts must rely on multimodality.”

The Strategy in Action: See Zeus’s low-carbon multimodal strategy in action in Europe. Here, Zeus developed a solution that used renewable diesel and modal changes to deliver 84% reduction in carbon emissions.

2. E-HGV Powered Road Freight (Electric Heavy Goods Vehicles)

The European Climate Law aims to phase out diesel HGVs by 2050. The UK will be phasing them out by 2040. Positioned as a promising alternative, e-HGVs hold real potential to drastically reduce CO2 emissions.

However, adoption of e-HGVs in Europe and the UK, especially for long-haul journeys, hinges on critical factors like supportive infrastructure. The European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA) contends that Europe’s “10% most utilised truck stop locations should be fully equipped with suitable chargers no later than 2027”. In addition to this there will need to be a supporting backbone of charging infrastructure at depots and possibly warehouses and retail sites.

The Strategy in Action: Progress is evident. The ACEA reported a 32.8% surge in electrically-chargeable truck sales in the EU during 2022.

3. Renewable Fuels

Low carbon fuel alternatives to diesel are an immediately actionable strategy. Without requiring substantial investment in new infrastructure, they can significantly reduce freight emissions. Key examples - renewable diesels (like B100 or HVO100) can fuel existing diesel engines with no modifications. Others such as biomethane can achieve similar reductions in greenhouse gas emissions but require specialised vehicles.

Still, biofuels used must be produced sustainably. 100% renewable diesels avoid issues like competing for feedstocks or deforestation, as they only use waste oils (at least this is EU & EEA certified law; not so in the USA). Also, in the EU, palm oil (even in waste form) has been legally excluded from all fuel use by 2027. Fuels like HVO100 are an increasingly prominent key in the decarbonisation of the freight transport industry.

The Strategy in Action: For 9% of the distance travelled by truck during Q2 and Q3 in 2022 the H&M Group reported using 100% biofuels.

4. Supply Chain Efficiency and Freight Optimisation

The saying goes, "a chain is only as strong as its weakest link," and in many ways, this extends to sustainable supply chains. Maximising efficiency and optimising at every stage, from procurement and production to distribution and delivery, is essential for sustainable freight.

In practice, this could involve optimising routes to reduce travel distances and ensure vehicles don’t run empty.

The Strategy in Action: Route optimisation has been shown to deliver up to 20% less carbon emissions, by many studies. At Zeus, in 2021, we measured this with our Dedicated Fleet, and saw that through better freight matching, proactively selling empty assets (backloading) and using industry-leading route optimisation through our Driver app (which only provides routes suitable for HGVs) we tracked a reduction in emissions of 22% (compared to standard). This was without any change in fuels.

5. Apply Universal Standards

Universal standards and universal cooperation are integral to sustainable freight. Currently, even within the domains of the EU, a fully-laden truck can depart one country and arrive in another - and be in violation of road weight laws upon arrival.

Adopting these universal standards is a strategy that businesses need in order to meaningfully change their operations. This applies to everything from universal standards on renewable energy grids (to power electric HGVs), unified road weight and dimensions, supporting new infrastructure for zero-emission vehicles, and emission reporting standards.

The Strategy in Action: Companies can join universal bodies like the Global Logistics Emissions Council today and ensure that they align their policies, procurement strategies and political voice with others. Combined representation drives faster adoption.

6. Build Collaborative Supply Chain Relationships

Sustainable freight isn't a solitary endeavour. Instead, it's the result of various stakeholders, all playing their role in the supply chain.

Partnerships between suppliers, manufacturers, logistics providers, and customers can have significant impacts on sustainability. Shared sustainability goals and practices across these relationships can drive greener freight operations. This is increasingly important to support Scope 3 emissions reporting.

The Strategy in Action: Smart Freight Centre’s Sustainable Freight Buyers  initiative is a great highlight of this action at work. Helping define how the burgeoning role of ‘sustainable procurement’ can work for the benefit of both supplier and buyer.

7. Adopt System Innovation vs Modernisation

Two central strategies - both fundamental to a sustainable transformation of the freight industry.

Modernisation involves updating and upgrading existing systems: think cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicles, advanced logistics software for optimised planning, or energy-efficient warehouses.

System innovation goes beyond this, involving fundamental changes in practices and structures to create new ways of functioning. This could be through the adoption of circular economy principles, the creation of shared logistics networks to reduce empty runs, or the implementation of fully digital, transparent supply chains that allow for real-time monitoring and accountability.

Modernisation is necessary, but system innovation can completely shift paradigms, making sustainability a natural outcome rather than an added task.

The Strategy in Action: Zeus's proprietary system uses advanced algorithms to optimise freight matching, ensuring transport needs are met efficiently, and trucks are never empty - a prime example of system innovation at work.

8. Sustainable Packaging

An enduring strategy, sustainable packaging, continues to hold an important role in the freight industry.

Examples include using new materials that are recyclable, made from waste products, or biodegradable. Plus, new designs matter. Intelligent design reduces product damage, limiting the need for return journeys and associated emissions.

In addition, lightweight and compact designs (e.g. less excessive paper, plastic wrap, polystyrene foam) reduces cargo weight, in turn reducing fuel consumption and emissions.

The Strategy in Action: New packaging made from materials that otherwise would go to landfill have made significant reductions in carbon emissions. Such as this Indian startup which makes packaging from waste rice by-product.

9. Transparency, Accountability and Reporting

Transparency, accountability, and reporting are pillars of sustainable freight.

Sustainability transparency involves openly communicating the environmental impact of a company's activities. Accountability is taking responsibility for these impacts, and reporting means systematically recording and publishing this data.

The Strategy in Action: Adopting the new ISO 14083 on standardised freight transport emissions reporting is a big step in unifying and ensuring everyone is reporting on similar terms. Zeus has prepared a handy guide to the new ISO - download it for free here.

10. Immediacy

The freight industry doesn't have the luxury of time. Immediacy as a strategy demands quick transition to sustainable practices. It's about immediate shifts, like adopting lower-emission vehicles, optimising routes for fuel efficiency, or utilising renewable fuels now, not in the distant future.

But moving swiftly towards a sustainable future is not just about what the industry can do - it also involves the regulatory landscape.

The draft EU law on climate impact presents a significant obstacle since it doesn’t align with full decarbonisation by 2050. Instead, only sets a goal of 56% emission reduction. This kind of gap between politics and industry needs underscores the urgent demand for stricter regulations and bolder climate goals

Strategy in Action: To reach net-zero goals, we need an aggressive decarbonisation curve. Recognising this, 41 industry leaders in freight and logistics called for a sharp 65% emissions cut by 2030, regulatory inclusion of all truck types, and a fixed deadline for 100% zero-emission new trucks in their June 2023 letter to the European Parliament and EU member states.

 - Why Zeus cares

It is apparent that each of these tactics plays a crucial role. In 2023, the freight industry's sustainability hinges not just on adopting new technologies, but also on rethinking traditional systems, fostering collaborative relationships, adhering to global standards, and maintaining transparency.

Our involvement in this subject goes beyond interest. As a sustainable freight platform - Zeus is actively assisting key players in the logistics industry to decarbonise their freight. Our approach to decarbonisation is immediate, innovative, and inclusive.