Reducing carbon emissions from freight transport is moving up the agenda – it is only a few weeks since some of Europe’s leading brands, including Nestlé, Philips, and Deutsche Post DHL, called on the EU to introduce energy efficiency standards within the next two years.
They were suggesting that the priority should be to make commercial vehicles much more fuel efficient. They pointed out that an artic burns about €35,000 of fuel every year, so realising the 35 per cent cost-effective potential for truck fuel efficiency improvements could save businesses up to €10,000 per year, per truck, while avoiding 37 million tonnes of carbon being emitted annually.
But that is not the only option. In deep sea shipping, container lines have adopted “slow-steaming” as a way of reducing fuel consumption – and that thinking could also be applied to road transport.
The idea is explored by Alan McKinnon, professor of logistics at Kuehne Logistics University in Hamburg, in a new paper entitled “Freight transport deceleration: its possible contribution to the decarbonisation of logistics”.
In it, he challenges the conventional view that the movement of goods through supply chains much continue to accelerate, arguing that this may not be compatible with governmental climate change policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 60–80 per cent by 2050.
He looks at the opportunities for cutting CO2 emissions by ‘de-speeding’ within a freight decarbonisation framework, and defines three categories: direct, indirect and consequential.
Making trucks go slower might reduce carbon emissions, but it will introduce delays into the logistics process, which might or might not, have a critical impact. However, McKinnon points out that there are opportunities to accelerate other logistics activities offsetting the increases in freight transit times. This could allow the overall carbon intensity of supply chains to be reduced with minimal loss of performance.
Overall, McKinnon points out that more research is required but argues that freight deceleration is a promising decarbonisation option.
We already have slow steaming at sea. Perhaps we are about to enter the era of slow trucking on the road.