The pressure towards environmental sustainability for businesses is increasing; however, it is not a simple question of which mode of transport produces the least emissions for national and overseas transportation. Companies will have to take into consideration the costs involved, and the speed in which their cargo can be delivered to remain ahead of their competition and maintain customer loyalty.
When making efforts to provide a more sustainable service, considering the miles travelled, emissions released or the amount of cargo involved could help companies make the best decisions for continued business growth as well as the environment.
What is green transport?
Green transport, also referred to as sustainable transport, refers to the reliance on renewable or natural resources to get from A to B. This could be in reference to individuals travelling, or the delivery of goods from place to place.
Types of freight transportation
The types of freight transportation discussed in this article will include:
Is road freight transport an eco-friendly option?
Truck emissions account for 0.1693kg of carbon dioxide per ton-mile
Due to a reliance on fossil-fuelled trucks and lorries, road travel is not a sustainable option when it comes to delivering goods. In addition to vehicles relying on non-renewable sources of fuel, heavy traffic and delays increase the emissions released into the atmosphere. Other modes of transport, with less possibility of congestion, would be a more viable option, especially if this results in cargo being delivered more swiftly.
While there is a drive towards electrification, making transport by vehicle a much greener option, it is yet to reach a point where it can be considered viable. Currently, the amount of energy required to manufacture electric vehicles is significantly higher than traditional options. Even though the lifecycle of running electric vehicles produces far fewer emissions, further development is required before they can be heavily relied on; particularly for freight transportation.
Another problem surrounding the electrification of trucks and lorries for delivery services involves the frequency in which these vehicles need to be charged.
However, as developments are made to improve not only the manufacturing process but the distance in which electric trucks and lorries can travel before charging is required, we may begin to see this mode of transport becoming greener in the not-to-distant future.
When should road freight transport be considered?
Road freight transport may be an environmentally friendly option for short-haul transportation, particularly if ferrying or access to the Euro tunnel is not required.
Is train travel more environmentally friendly?
Train emissions account for 0.1048kg of carbon dioxide per ton-mile
Train emissions are second to sea shipping in the amount of CO2 emitted per ton-mile and, with the electrification of locomotives, we can expect these emissions to reduce further.
Freight trains can transport the equivalent of up to seventy lorries for a quarter of the carbon emissions. Additionally, rail freight is four times more efficient regarding fuel and energy than road freight.
Rail transport offers swift delivery and does not fall victim to congestion or changes to weather; however, for further progression to be possible, improvements regarding capacity and network integration need to be implemented.
When should rail freight transport be considered?
Railway freight can be considered for both national and international transport for companies interested in lowering their carbon footprint.
How eco-friendly is sea or ocean freight?
Sea freight emissions account for 0.0403kg of carbon dioxide per ton-mile
While this mode of transport is considered a more cost-effective solution to transporting goods overseas than air, the time required to complete delivery is considerably slower. The maximum speed an ocean freight can travel is 29.4 mph. When compared to the 420-800 mph that aircraft can fly, sea freight is a less attractive option.
An advantage of transporting goods by sea is that it releases considerably less air pollution than air freight. This does not mean that air pollution from sea transport is low, just lower than the alternatives. The IMO (International Maritime Organisation) has predicted that by 2050, 50-250% of global human-made emissions will stem from shipping via sea.
When should sea shipping be considered?
Sea shipping should be considered for trips that would be regarded as ‘short-haul’ by aviation standards. While the carbon dioxide produced is significantly lower than air and even road transport, there are additional pollutants that should be considered.
What about air freight transportation?
Air cargo accounts for 0.8063kg of carbon dioxide per ton-mile
With a drive towards reducing emissions by opting not to fly for leisure, it could be assumed that air freight is not the most environmentally friendly way to transport goods; however, there are advantages and disadvantages.
If your goods are being transported overseas, or even from one end of the country to the other, air freight is a viable option. Air freight transportation can significantly reduce the number of miles traversed to move cargo from point A to B. Rather than navigate the roads; a flight can head straight towards its destination.
Additionally, delivery times can be significantly swifter via air than road or sea. This is due to a mixture of reduced congestion, straightforward flight paths and more reliable arrival and departure times.
However, although air traffic is considerably less congested than road, we must still take into account aspects such as circling the runway until permission to land is granted and the impact this has on emissions released.
When should air freight be considered?
Air freight may be a more suitable option from an environmental standpoint for longer journeys, to combat the high energy costs associated with take-off and landing. For shorter flights, road or sea travel may be a better option.
How to choose the most environmentally friendly travel for your business
Unfortunately, there is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution. However, when making this decision for your corporate entity, there are a few factors to consider:
- How many miles will each mode of transport take? - The number of miles will vary between road, rail, air and sea. Does the shortest route result in less fuel being consumed?
- How much cargo needs to be transported? - Can your shipment be carried in one trip? This may not be possible for rail, road, or air transport; but it may be so via sea.
- How many emissions will be produced by each option? - It may take longer to transport your cargo by sea. Still, in terms of emissions produced, it may be a more environmentally friendly solution.
By considering all forms of freight transportation, a company can choose a solution that meets the needs of the business and its customers, while taking into account environmental sustainability.