September 2, 2023

Viewpoint: Sustainability in transportation is running behind schedule


By Bart De Muynck

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FreightWaves or its affiliates.

Sustainability has become the topic of conversation in our industry these past couple of years. Many supply chain folks write and talk about it in articles, at industry conferences and on webinars. And while there have been efforts to improve sustainability in the freight industry, the undeniable fact is that significant challenges remain.

Progress has been much slower than desired — or would I say required — to preserve our increasingly vulnerable planet.

We read daily about the importance of sustainability and how companies continue to invest in their environmental, social and governance programs. We read about inflated stories only to find out they were examples of greenwashing. And some leaders might not even recognize we have a problem in the first place.

I wrote this article while facing 110-degree days in Dallas and while watching news clips of 200-plus ships waiting to go through the Panama Canal as drought has created a bottleneck. So the question that comes to mind is: Why aren’t we collectively doing more to positively impact the environment?

We know supply chains continue to have their fair share of challenges, which could have impacted the progress made to date. Some of those challenges include the ever-increasing complexity of the supply chain. The freight supply chain is highly complex, involving multiple stakeholders, modes of transportation and regulatory considerations. Freight operations often involve cross-border transport and global supply chains. Harmonizing sustainability efforts across different countries with varying regulations and priorities can be complicated.

Implementing sustainable practices across this complexity can be challenging and requires coordination among various parties. Transitioning to more sustainable freight practices often requires significant investments in new technologies, vehicles, infrastructure and training. Many companies may hesitate due to the upfront costs and uncertainty about the return on investment. Then there is the absence of standardized sustainability metrics and

guidelines that can make it difficult to compare and track progress across different companies and sectors.

In some cases, regulations and policies might not incentivize or mandate sustainable practices in the freight industry. This can limit the motivation for companies to adopt more environmentally friendly approaches. The U.S. has been lagging when it comes to regulations and tax incentives to lower carbon emissions in freight. Some companies may prioritize short-term profits over long-term sustainability due to market pressures and investor expectations. This can lead to a reluctance to invest in sustainable practices that may take time to yield returns.

The adoption of new technologies, such as electric trucks or alternative fuels, can be hindered by technological limitations and inadequate infrastructure, such as charging stations or refueling networks. Or there might be the challenge of seeing electric vehicles as the only solution to lower emissions, which is incorrect. And finally, changing established practices and mindsets within the industry can be challenging. Resistance to change and a lack of awareness about the benefits of sustainable practices can impede progress.

Now despite these challenges, it’s important to note that there are indeed efforts being made to improve sustainability in the freight industry. Many companies are investing in cleaner technologies, which include alternative fuel vehicles and carbon capture, optimizing routes for efficiency and working on collaborative initiatives to reduce emissions and environmental impacts. Regulatory bodies are also waking up and have become more attentive to environmental concerns, which will eventually drive industrywide change. Companies

should start measuring their emissions so they understand their impact and where they can immediately improve.

That way they are fully ready when new regulations come into play.

However, the scale and complexity of the freight industry mean that progress may not always be as visible or rapid as desired or required. There is an urgency to address these needed sustainability challenges. This will require a combination of universal change, technological innovation, policy changes, public awareness and industry collaboration to drive meaningful change across the entire freight ecosystem. But the change has to start today.

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About the author

Bart De Muynck is an industry thought leader with over 30 years of supply chain and logistics experience. He has worked for major international companies, including EY, GE Capital, Penske Logistics and PepsiCo, as well as several tech companies. He also spent eight years as a vice president of research at Gartner and, most recently, served as chief industry officer at project44. He is a member of the Forbes Technology Council and CSCMP’s Executive Inner Circle.


The second annual F3: Future of Freight Festival will be held in Chattanooga, “The Scenic City,” this November. F3 combines innovation and entertainment — featuring live demos, industry experts discussing freight market trends for 2024, afternoon networking events, and Grammy Award-winning musicians performing in the evenings amidst the cool Appalachian fall weather.

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