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Supply Chain, Transport, Sustainability • min reading time 8

Sustainable transportation: what are the best solutions?

Diane Carroll published on 13 March 2023

In recent years, businesses have been turning to more sustainable modes of transportation. Concerned about reducing their environmental impact while still meeting consumer expectations, companies are turning to greener solutions for shipping their goods

New, environmentally friendly modes of transportation, such as rail or river transport, offer alternatives to traditional modes of transportation.

In addition to helping the environment, businesses can experience a positive impact from shifting to more environmentally responsible modes of transportation by reducing shipping costs and improving their image among consumers.

However, this shift also presents logistical challenges to most businesses, which must rethink their supply chain in order to incorporate new transportation methods.

In this article, we share our tips for choosing the most sustainable and appropriate modes of transport for your supply chain.



1 | What are the most sustainable modes of transport?

2 | The criteria for choosing sustainble modes of transport

3 | Other benefits of sustainable transport for the supply chain


1. What are the most sustainable modes of transport?

1.1. Rail

If you want to reduce your company's impact on the environment, then using rail to transport goods can be a good choice.

Experts agree that trains are the cleanest form of transportation. By contrast, transporting goods by road is much more polluting.

But there are other benefits to choosing rail over road as well:

  • Transporting goods by rail also reduces road congestion, which contributes to improved air quality (less congestion means fewer trucks stuck in traffic jams, which means less pollution).

  • Freight trains are designed to carry large quantities of goods vast distances. Each freight car can carry up to 125 tonnes of freight. Therefore, a train with a hundred cars offers a total transport capacity of over 12,500 tonnes.

  • Trains are one of the fastest modes of transporting cargo. Well-developed rail networks exist in many parts of the world, which makes it easy for trains to run on dedicated routes without being affected by heavy traffic.



1.2. Next-generation trucks

For many years, diesel trucks were a major source of air pollution. But in recent years progress has been made in this sector.

Electric trucks are the first option to come to mind. Equipped with rechargeable batteries, they are a good example of environmentally friendly vehicles already used in supply chains. Increasingly used for urban deliveries, they produce little or no pollution and are quiet, which makes them even more suitable for built up areas.

But there are other, equally durable vehicles that are often chosen by businesses. For example:

  • Compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG) trucks are a good alternative to reduce air pollution because they produce fewer particulates and nitrogen oxides than diesel trucks. In addition, natural gas is often cheaper than fossil fuels, which helps to reduce operating costs of trucks.

  • Bio-fuel trucks are vehicles using fuels produced from renewable sources such as plant crops, agricultural residues or organic waste. Unlike fossil fuels, these biofuels have the advantage of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

  • Bio-gas trucks use gas produced from decaying organic matter, such as food waste, sewage sludge and agricultural waste. The use of biogas contributes to reducing waste and encouraging the development of a circular economy.

Other trucks that are even more environmentally friendly than their predecessors are also in development, such as hydrogen-powered trucks that produce nothing but water vapour as an emission.

Finally, on February 13, 2023, the first helicopter powered by deep-fryer oil flew for more than 3 hours without interruption. It is possible to imagine that within a few years trucks will also be able to run on this unusual fuel.

Electric truck charging

2. The criteria for choosing sustainable modes of transport

It's a good idea to adopt sustainable transportation, but your supply chain must be able to handle the impact.

Here are some criteria to consider when choosing more sustainable modes of transport.

2.1. The distance

When you're choosing a sustainable mode of transport for your goods, distance is an important factor. The most environmentally friendly modes of transport, such as rail or river transport, are usually more efficient over long distances.

However, when transporting goods over short distances, trucks are still the best alternative. Small towns, although often crossed by railroads and sometimes rivers, generally aren't equipped with loading docks.

In this case, it is important to have a fleet of next-generation vehicles.

For very long distances (such as intercontinental shipping) there are generally only two solutions available: maritime or air transport. While the former is much more efficient, it may not always be possible to use it. Unfortunately, maritime transportation isn't suitable for all kinds of goods. Some kinds of fruits and vegetables, for example, cannot withstand the extended shipping time.

2.2. The type of goods

Depending on the kind of goods you transport, their transportation must be done at different speeds. For example, shipping eggs doesn’t have the same constraints as shipping cars!

When time is a factor and you have long distances to cover, planes are unfortunately still the only way to ensure that perishable goods arrive on time.

2.3. The cost

Due to the economic reality, it is important to find a balance between profitability and using more sustainable transportation methods.

In fact, an electric truck currently costs two to three times more than a traditional diesel truck.

However, in some countries, purchasing "clean" vehicles can be advantageous to your business because it may qualify for government subsidies and tax breaks.

As for train travel, it remains an alternative with a quality-to-price ratio that is extra advantageous for long distances. When possible, we strongly recommend using rail to transport goods.

3. Other benefits of sustainable transport for the supply chain

By choosing to invest in sustainable transportation for your supply chain, you are not only reducing your company's environmental impact.

3.1. Improve your company's image

Today, the environmental reality cannot be ignored. Consumers are placing increasing importance on companies' commitment to sustainable development.

In addition to reducing pollution in your supply chain, using new modes of transportation that are more environmentally-friendly is a great marketing tool.

3.2. Gain resilience

If you include sustainable transport options in your supply chain today, you can be sure that it will be more resilient in the future, and less dependent on fossil fuels. This would allow you to anticipate and better withstand possible:

   Oil crises
   Strikes in refineries
   Armed conflicts
   Natural disasters

3.3. Access to new markets

In some countries, increasingly stringent environmental standards are being implemented (and the number continues to grow). Companies that use sustainable modes of transport therefore have a competitive advantage in accessing these markets



In conclusion, the use of sustainable transportation methods is increasingly popular among businesses and represents an advantage for those who decide to make the transition.

Rail transportation, trucking with compressed or liquefied natural gas, biofuel use, and biogas offer interesting alternatives for businesses concerned about reducing their environmental impact while remaining competitive in terms of cost and delivery times.

However, the logistical and organisational challenges that stem from these new modes of transport are causing shippers to rethink their logistics chains to incorporate them.

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Diane Carroll

Commercial & Business Contracts Director UK & Ireland

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