The global freight transportation and distribution system generates nearly 3 billion metric tons of carbon emissions each year, which equates to over 700 coal plants, according to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
Those emissions are projected to grow in line with an increasing demand for goods and services. In the U.S. the amount of freight has grown 47 percent since 1990, and freight emissions are on track to increase another 20 percent in the coming decades.
Because fleet vehicles are driven hard, they average about double the mileage, fuel consumption and emissions of personal vehicles, making fleets not only expensive to operate but also a huge source of pollution.
According to the Clean Air Initiative, while trucks are only about 5 percent of national vehicle populations, they are responsible for about 60 percent of transportation emissions.
One sustainable shipping solution is switching over to hybrid trucks and vans. Hybrids can greatly improve fuel efficiency, which can help offset any upfront costs associated with the switch, the EDF stated on their website. Trucks are especially ideal for hybrid technology, because their frequent stops and starts harness braking energy that recharges batteries. Some hybrids can also tap raw power from electric batteries to run onboard equipment, which increases fuel savings even further.
There are also a number of financial incentives to help companies realize quicker benefits from hybrid truck purchases. The U.S. offers federal tax credits that are based on fuel economy gains, while many states and local governments offer tax credits for emissions reductions. Private groups also offer incentives, including the Diesel Emissions Reduction Collaborative, the Clean Cities program and the EDF, which offers customized incentive funding assessments for fleets considering hybrid purchases.
In addition to the transportation green movements in shipping, reusable packaging materials are important to factor into sustainable shipping as well. Reusable crates, containers and cases have long service lives, and can offer both environmental as well as cost savings over single-use corrugated boxes, disposable wood pallets and stretch wrap.
Reusable packaging is ideal for shorter shipping routes and closed loop systems that make it more efficient to return empty reusables. Companies with longer shipping routes may benefit more from renting or leasing reusable containers and pallets. One type of reusable container is made out of virgin or recycled plastic, which is moisture resistant and offers strong insulation. Perishables especially benefit from the moisture resistance and ventilation of sustainable packaging. U.S. grocery chain Kroger has eliminated more than 45 million pounds of waxed and corrugated boxes by using reusable plastic containers.
“What started as a sustainable solution to ensure the highest quality of fruits and vegetables for our customers has grown into an impactful way for Kroger to reduce waste and improve the efficiency of our produce supply chain,” Phil Davis, Senior Perishables Supply Chain Manager for Kroger said earlier this year in a press release about Kroger’s RPC usage.
According to Eric Fredrickson, president of Thor Consulting, many companies can benefit financially from switching to reusable shipping materials.
“As a rule of thumb, reusable packaging costs five times as much as expendable packaging, but it lasts 100 times as long,” Fredrickson commented in another publication about the benefits of reusables.
An alternative option to using plastic containers is reusable wood crates. This green material is equipped with durable hardware, such as hinges, locking hasps and link locks, which allow the box to be opened and closed repeatedly without damaging the container. Due to the minimal damage that occurs in shipping wood crates, they can often be refurbished to keep them looking like new.
One step further in green shipping is filling the plastic and wooden containers with reusable packaging materials. One solution is corrugated packaging. Companies that shred used cardboard and then reuse it as cushion and protecting material eliminate the need for packaging peanuts. Once it reaches its destination, the packaging can be reused or recycled with other cardboard.
Green shipping benefits both the environment and companies’ bottom lines – a win-win for profitability and environmental prosperity too.
This article was written by Brandon Serna with Craters & Freighters, a leader in custom shipping needs with a strong focus on high quality professional packaging for over two decades.