Sustainability is becoming more and more important to trucking. Government regulations, shipper demands, and public opinion are driving a push toward vehicles, technology, and operational shifts that improve greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution and address other environmental and societal concerns.
The COVID-19 pandemic did not slow down commitments to sustainability in the supply chain. Interest in not only energy savings and renewable energy, but also human rights protection, worker welfare and safety, increased significantly over the last year, according to a recent report from the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics and the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals.
Although the survey didn’t ask shippers and third-party logistics companies about how they plan to choose carriers in the years ahead, “for trucking fleets, I think we can read that pressures to be part of their large shippers’ sustainability efforts did not relent under the pandemic year,” MIT’s David Correll told HDT. “Given that … it seems harder than ever now to imagine a reason that this pressure would not continue.”
Walmart, for example, has committed to reach net-zero emissions from all its vehicles and its transportation network by 2040. Knight-Swift plans to cut GHG emissions in half by 2035, and FedEx announced a goal to achieve global carbon-neutral operations by 2040.
The State of Sustainable Fleets report found that in 2019 and 2020, 83% of clean-vehicle early adopter fleets plan to increase their use of natural gas, propane, battery-electric, and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles in the next five years. The report, produced by clean technology consulting firm Gladstein, Neandross & Associates, noted that even during the pandemic last year, the growth of clean technologies continued to rapidly accelerate. It saw an increase in fleet orders and deliveries for natural gas and battery-electric vehicles as well as for lower carbon renewable fuels.
Meanwhile, traditional diesel drivetrains continue to get greener. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Phase 2 Greenhouse Gas Standards for Medium and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles went into effect with model year 2021. When fully phased in by 2027, these standards will require GHG reductions of up to 25% from MD/HD vehicles and 4-5% from engines.
But as the State of Sustainable Fleets Report points out, traditional drivetrains face increasingly stringent regulatory initiatives (including outright bans) and growing expectations from sustainability-oriented customers and the public.
Ultimately, the pace of widespread fleet adoption of new sustainable vehicle technologies comes down to whether they can compete with traditional drivetrains in terms of performance and total cost of ownership.