Why Freight Matters to Supply Chain Sustainability

Consumption of goods is growing.

In the developed world, consumer trends point to an insatiable desire for low-cost consumer goods, high-end "luxury" products, and a “throw away” culture puts heavy pressure on natural resources and systems.

Moreover, rapid population growth across the developing world is driving sharp increases in demand for all manner of goods, from food to consumer products to building materials.

Supply chains that produce consumer goods are increasingly global.

The world is experiencing an unprecedented era of globalization. New technologies, manufacturing methods, materials, information channels, transportation capacity and trade policies are accelerating the globalization of commerce.

Increasingly, U.S. consumer products are manufactured overseas, transported by marine vessels or planes to the mainland, and distributed across the country via barges, trucks, and rail cars.

In 2012, the U.S. logistics industry moved more than 54 million tons of goods worth nearly $48 billion every day, which is more than 60 tons of freight per person per year.

Therefore, producing goods means transportation over longer distances, and that means more fuel consumption.

This much movement demands an extraordinary amount of energy, consuming over a billion barrels of oil and generating over 500 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

Freight transportation is a large contributor to air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and climate change.

Between 1990 and 2013, total U.S. freight greenhouse gas emissions from supply chain activities grew by over 50 percent.

And freight’s contribution is expected to increase.

Projections are that by 2025, as international commerce increases and supply chains become more global and complex, shipments of U.S. goods will grow another 23.5 percent, and by 2040, a total of 45 percent.

As freight activity in the United States increases, projections are that during this same time frame, growth in greenhouse gas emissions from freight will exceed growth in greenhouse emissions from all other transportation activities, including passenger transportation.

The science is clear—greenhouse gas emissions from all sources must decrease.

While economic development and expanded trade are raising living standards for many, unless we take action, the environmental impacts of increased global commerce will be significant.

The majority of greenhouse gasses come from burning fossil fuels. The good news is that freight transportation is one area where proven technology, policy, and operational strategies exist to reduce fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and climate risk while still achieving sustainable economic growth.

Companies involved in production, distribution and transportation of goods can make a difference.

The business community can reduce the risks we will face from climate change. By measuring, benchmarking, and assessing freight transportation activities and strategically making better choices that reduce greenhouse gas pollution, companies can make a significant impact on the contribution of freight to climate change.

Companies that participate in EPA’s SmartWay program are leading the world in reducing these impacts and making freight transportation more sustainable.