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Five steps to reduce shipping emissions and improve sustainability

How to leverage available capabilities and options to cut your transportation emissions.


Companies of all sizes are working to reduce their emissions and are making sustainability pledges to signal to stakeholders that they’re serious about meeting their environmental goals.  Sustainability and cutting emissions can be good for business – optimizing shipping and fuel costs, and attracting investors, employees and customers who want to work with a company that is focused on environmental progress. Promises to reduce emissions are a great start, but many companies are finding that turning their pledges into actionable plans is easier said than done.

Emissions associated with transportation and shipping are one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for many companies, so optimizing supply chains and the transport of goods is key to meeting sustainability goals.

Emerging technologies like battery electric trucks hold a lot of promise and a sustainable future is certainly electric. However, few places in the country currently have the infrastructure and grid capacity necessary for battery electric trucks to operate at scale. The good news is you don’t have to wait for electric vehicle infrastructure to be built out to start dramatically cutting emissions in your shipping and logistics operations. The key is to be smarter with the resources you have and take advantage of existing technologies.

Understand your baseline: Emissions reporting

Before you start looking at how to cut emissions, it is crucial to understand what your emissions actually are. Take the time to understand the types of transportation you are using to move goods and what your miles per gallon equivalent works out to. Establishing a baseline emissions level will give you a clear picture of what your current environmental impact is and what you can do to reduce it.

Step 1: Network optimization

The first step to reducing the carbon footprint of logistics operations is making sure that available resources are being used as efficiently as possible. Think about how many “empty miles” you’re putting on the road when drivers are pulling empty trailers and consider how you might optimize your routes to avoid this. For customers that book freight through Schneider, our experts leverage artificial intelligence to consider trillions of combinations of routes, vehicles, drivers and endpoints to minimize empty miles.

Step 2: Consider mode selection

Intermodal transport train

Trucks aren’t the only way to move freight, and they’re not always the most efficient. Intermodal and Bulk Express Intermodal rail freight offers per-mile emissions savings of 50% over truck freight, making it a highly attractive option for shippers looking to substantially reduce their carbon output. In fact, rail freight is so efficient that it can move a ton of freight up to 500 miles on just a single gallon of fuel. We have developed an intermodal CO2 and fuel savings calculator, so you can see exactly how much of an impact intermodal would have on your carbon footprint. Rail is also highly reliable and predictable because trains, unlike trucks, don’t have to deal with road traffic and are less susceptible to weather delays.

Step 3: Freight consolidation

Consolidated Freight

Consolidating freight ensures that trucks are as full as possible before they hit the road. The fuller the truck, the lower the per-unit emissions of transported goods. Consider whether several smaller loads can be consolidated into one truckload for part of the journey before dispersing to various endpoints. Having fewer but fuller truckloads is one of the simplest ways to dramatically reduce your carbon emissions. Our supply chain and distribution experts leverage advanced software to determine optimal freight composition, giving you the information you need to ship smartly.

Step 4: Use efficient carriers

Make sure that you’re working with efficient carriers that share your commitments to sustainability. Carriers that are EPA SmartWay certified are guaranteed to be measuring, benchmarking and tracking their efforts to improve their fuel use and limit their emissions. Also, check that your carrier is using up-to-date and efficient equipment. At Schneider, we use up-to-date equipment and perform regular maintenance, in addition to adding technologies like automatic tire inflation systems, trailer aerodynamic enhancements and battery-powered HVAC systems that control the cabin temperature without running the engine.

Step 5: Electric vehicles

Electric Truck

Start thinking about how battery electric vehicles (BEVs) can fit into your carrier mix and if there’s anything you can do to support creating the infrastructure needed for BEVs. Steps like adding charging stations at warehouses and considering lengths of haul in your distribution network will be critical. Work with a carrier like Schneider that has expertise and experience developing a fully electric fleet and knows how to engage local utility companies.

Taking the next step

At Schneider, we have a team of logistics experts that leverage big data and artificial intelligence to find the optimal mix of routes, transport modes, load compositions and drivers to maximize efficiency every day. Our engineers are constantly working to make our diesel fleet more efficient by implementing cutting-edge fuel saving technologies, making us one of the most efficient fleets on the road now. 

Companies are getting serious cutting emissions and have developed business offerings that can help make that a reality. Many companies have already made great progress in reporting and reducing direct emissions (scope 1) and indirect emissions (scope 2). However, as companies begin reporting the emissions of their entire value chain (scope 3), collaboration with logistics partners is key. We have the experience and expertise needed to advise companies on how to understand, measure, and reduce their carbon footprint, turning sustainability pledges into concrete plans. 

Looking to reach your sustainability goals?

With Schneider, focus on environmental progress while optimizing your shipping and fuel costs.

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