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Supply Chain, Transport • min reading time 11

Reducing the environmental impact of freight transport

Samantha Dennis published on 19 July 2022

The amount of greenhouse gases produced by freight transport in the UK has been steadily increasing for several decades. In fact, it is estimated that these emissions have almost doubled since the 1990s.

In 2019, freight transport accounted for 27% of the UK's total greenhouse gas emissions. The Department for Transport estimates that this figure will continue to rise to 35% by 2030.

The majority of these emissions come from road freight, which accounts for around 80% of emissions from all UK freight transportation. Most of these emissions come from diesel engines, which are still a major cause of air pollution.

This is why companies working within the supply chain must take steps to review, and take action against, their actions which negatively impact the environment and move to a more sustainable approach.

In this article, find out what you can do to reduce the environmental impact of transporting your goods.

Quick Navigation:

1. Removing empty miles

2. Use larger containers

3. Switch to rail

4. Use multimodal transport

5. Optimise routes

6. Load optimisation


1. Removing empty miles to reduce the environmental impact of freight transport

To reduce the environmental impact of freight transport, it is important to ensure that the load capacity of trucks is maximised.

Trucks are a central element of the supply chain and it is very difficult to do without them.

However, road transport is enormously polluting. It is important to find ways to reduce fuel consumption, and in turn, the amount of pollution produced.

One of the ways to achieve this is by maximising the loading of trucks, so that more goods can be transported. This reduces the number of trips made, and therefore, their fuel consumption.

In addition, maximising the load capacity of trucks also has other advantages that directly impact business:

  • You increase your productivity: fewer journeys also means fewer logistics operations, a more available fleet and optimised staff turnover.

  • You save money: by reducing the number of journeys, you also save on fuel costs, maintenance and wear and tear on your vehicles.

2. Use larger container

By choosing larger containers and vehicles, you reduce the carbon footprint of each product.

Reduce emissions

A larger truck can often carry as much as three smaller trucks.

This means that fewer trips (and vehicles) are needed to transport the same quantity of goods. In turn, fewer emissions are released into the atmosphere.

Reduce intermediate packaging

Should you select larger containers to reduce the environmental impact of your goods, you can also reduce the amount of intermediate packaging needed to ship your products.

This allows you to save both on the cost of materials and on the labour required to pack each item. Less packaging means that your business saves movey and is more sustainable.

3. Switch to rail

While the UK is one of the world leaders in rail travel, with more than 8 billion passengers transported on the country's railways each year, the transport of goods by train remains underutilised.

In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, rail transport is much less harmful than road freight. In fact, according to the Department for Transport, rail accounts for just 9% of all freight journeys in the UK and this figure has been falling steadily in recent years.

Yet, rail freight is an environmentally friendly alternative to road freight as it reduces air and noise pollution, as well as greenhouse gas emissions.

Transport more, pay less

Railways can haul larger loads than trucks, at higher speeds, leading to lower total energy consumption.

In addition, by transporting more goods, you also achieve better economies of scale (less logistics costs, reduced wear and tear on your trucks, etc.), which allows you to radically reduce transport costs.

Choose an ecologically sound transport option

To reduce the environmental impact of freight transport, the train is the ideal solution in many respects:

  • It reduces the need for trucks and their polluting emissions.

  • It (usually) runs on electricity, cleaner energy than diesel or petrol.

  • It can be used during off-peak hours as well as during peak hours, thereby reducing the impact of traffic jams.

As a bonus, rail infrastructure uses much less land than highways, so their construction is less disruptive to the natural environment and, in particular that of wildlife.


4. Use multimodal transport to reduce the environmental impact of freight transport

Road freight consumes more energy and produces more CO2 than any other mode of transport. On average, road transport emits 30 times more CO2 per tonne-kilometre (unit of measurement corresponding to the transport of one tonne over a distance of one kilometer) than rail or maritime transportation.

Other means of transport

Shipping goods by other means of transport makes it possible to reduce the overall environmental impact.

  • Transport by rail: as we mentioned earlier, the train is a fast and environmentally friendly means of transporting goods. It allows quick and easy access to the entire territory in a safe and efficient way.

  • Transport by boat: whether by sea or river, the transport of goods by boat makes it possible to move larger volumes. Although a little slow, it is also a practical and economical way (both in terms of energy and money) to export your goods internationally.


Fleet renewal to reduce the environmental impact of transport

At the present time, all of these alternatives still require the use of road freight at one time or another: to bring the goods to the port or station of departure, or even to distribute them at their destination.

That's why, in the face of the challenges of climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, you need to take steps to reduce the carbon footprint of your truck fleet:

  • Use alternative fuels to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere when burnt, or consumed. Natural gas, biodiesel and electricity are examples of alternative fuels commonly used in freight transportation.

  • Use engines and tyres designed to reduce the amount of fuel consumed by your vehicles. For example, a more efficient engine means less fuel is used for every mile a truck travels. More efficient tyres also mean that less energy is expended when accelerating and braking.

  • Reduce the curb weight of the vehicle where possible. This helps reduce fuel consumption, as it reduces the amount of energy used to move each kilo of goods during transport, but also during loading and unloading activities.

5. Optimise routes

The benefits of route optimisation

Route optimisation in freight transport has many advantages.

1. First, it improves fuel efficiency. This is important, because the cost of fuel is constantly on the rise. With route optimisation you can reduce the number of miles your trucks have to travel and therefore save on fuel.

2. Second, it reduces carbon emissions. By reducing the number of miles your trucks travel, you can also reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions they produce.

3. Finally, optimising your routes can improve customer satisfaction by reducing wait times in warehouses and retail stores.

As a result, everyone’s a winner. You, in terms of savings made, your customers who are more satisfied, and finally the planet!

To help you better optimise your routes, you can use a TMS (Transport Management System), an optimisation software specialised in transport management.

Using a TMS to reduce the environmental impact of freight transport

TMS is software that has numerous advantages for any supply chain. Beyond its purely logistic and economic interest, it is also a valuable aid in reducing the environmental impact of the transportation of your goods:

  • It optimises the routes taken by your vehicles:

Your fleet of vehicles make shorter journeys, avoiding peak hours (and therefore traffic jams). Or, optimise the content of your cargo to ensure that your trucks do not run empty.

  • It plans the movements of your vehicles in advance:

This avoids repeated trips that are too varied and allows you to efficiently plan deliveries to your customers. This also allows them to have better visibility of their stock, and encourages them to place more efficient orders, in larger quantities.

A TMS is a valuable ally in reducing the environmental impact of the transport of your goods.

6. Load optimisation to reduce the environmental impact of freight transport

As we have seen previously, it is important to maximise the loading rate of your trucks in order to transport more, while consuming less. This has several advantages:

  • It's eco-friendly

  • It's economical

  • It increases your productivity

Ways to optimise loading

How do you optimise loading capacity and reduce your consumption?

The first step is to use vehicles suitable for standardised pallets. The pallet pooling system, in addition to being more secure for your products (and therefore avoiding the loss of goods during transport) makes it possible to perfectly optimise loading.

The second is to distribute the weight evenly in your vehicles. Care must be taken to distribute the load evenly between your pallets. This once again allows you to reduce your fuel consumption and take care of your fleet.

Other ways to optimise your consumption

Optimise the driving of your drivers! Software now available makes it possible to analyse truck driving in order to make it more environmentally friendly. It detects drivers' bad habits and provides the business with detailed reports to assist drivers in improving their driving. Thanks to this solution, Staples, an American office supply distribution company, estimates that it has reduced its fuel consumption by 20%.

Finally, it is important to maintain your vehicle fleet regularly. Trucks that are maintained diligently are cleaner. So be sure to implement regular maintenance into your company operations.


Let’s recap the essential points:

  • Reduce empty running of your trucks: this allows you to reduce your number of journeys and thus reduce your consumption.

  • Use larger containers there possible: more space means more goods transported in a single trip, and thus fewer round trips between warehouses and distribution centres.

  • Consider rail: consider the possibility of transporting goods by train when possible. Low in pollution, it remains a practical and fast means of transport. If that's not possible, ask about boat transportation.

  • Renew your fleet: go electric, equip your trucks with low-polluting devices... choose a truck fleet that respects the environment.

  • Optimise your routes: thanks to TMS software, you can reduce the distances travelled and consume less energy.

Want to dig deeper? Read our article specially dedicated to Green Supply Chain Management.

If you would like to discuss your logistics issues with our business experts, you can contact them here. You can also access our other blog articles to learn more about the supply chain and pallet pooling.

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Samantha Dennis

Marketing Manager UK & Ireland

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