The freight industry is in the midst of a paradox. Customers want more goods shipped faster than ever before, but they also want shipping methods that are sustainable and environmentally friendly. The problem is that there’s often a trade-off between those demands.
“The time in transit has a direct relationship to the environmental impact,” said Patrick Browne, director of global sustainability at UPS. “I don’t think the average consumer understands the environmental impact of having something tomorrow versus two days from now. The more time you give me, the more efficient I can be.”
According to data from FreightWaves and Commercial Fleet, a single truck has the same carbon footprint as 14 people do in a year: a staggering 223 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. But the industry as a whole? Passenger and freight transportation churned out 1.87 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent in 2018, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, accounting for roughly 28% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions that year. And all of that is before the pandemic-induced same-day delivery craze prompted carriers to adopt environmentally harmful practices, either willingly or unwillingly, to catch up to demand.
Same-day last-mile provider GoFor hopes to solve the paradox of speedy and sustainable freight with its new strategy, Renewable Delivery, announced on Tuesday. The strategy boasts 10-for-1 carbon offsets, meaning GoFor purchases 10 miles of offsets for every mile its vehicles drive, and it will offer smart packaging, smart technology solutions and a fleet of zero-emissions electric vehicles to create a more efficient and eco-friendly last mile.
“The idea is to turn the clock backwards versus just making it neutral,” CEO Ian Gardner told Modern Shipper. “Our vision is to make cities livable; that’s really what we’re all about. And the commercial trucks are the largest polluting segment of transportation. If you don’t solve the commercial problem, you can’t solve the big problem.”
Going negative can be a positive
Gardner points to two trends that highlight the problem. One is that last-mile delivery is increasing rapidly, with an estimated compound annual growth rate of more than 15%. The other is that commercial vehicles are orders of magnitude more polluting than passenger vehicles.
GoFor’s solution goes beyond carbon-neutral — it’s carbon-negative, meaning it removes more carbon from the atmosphere than it adds. The Ottawa-based company achieves this through a partnership with Pachama, from which it buys carbon credits to offset emissions through foresting.
In addition to the carbon offsets, GoFor is electrifying its entire fleet to reduce emissions and noise pollution. The company will launch leasing options for drivers of transit-type vehicles and Class 5 and 6 flatbeds, the most popular vehicles among its drivers, to help ease the transition to EVs. GoFor is also launching smart packaging, made from cradle-to-cradle sustainable and recyclable materials, that can be used multiple times.
“All of those Amazon boxes that get broken down and sent to landfills … now those go away,” said Gardner. “It becomes part of this closed ecosystem, and the packages move around the world like an electron moves around the internet — they are smart about how they move.”
Giving the people what they want
Gardner says that customers have been clamoring for a renewable last-mile solution, and GoFor wants to deliver one. A look at the company’s website shows that GoFor now brands itself as “renewable delivery for large items,” emphasizing its commitment to being carbon-negative.
“They’ve been begging for it, but there haven’t been any options available,” Gardner said. “The customers all want it, our merchant partners want it, the end customers want it. It’s not that hard to do. There’s lots of ways to go about it.”
Sustainability might seem like a daunting challenge, but not to Gardner. He doesn’t see the problem with renewable delivery as a cost-related or even technological one — it’s just politics.
In 2019, Amazon became the first major corporation, per sustainability nonprofit group Ceres, to announce the goal of carbon neutrality by 2040. Just over a year later, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google had all followed suit with similar promises. But while the jury is still out on those companies, Amazon’s progress toward that goal is murky at best. Despite its pledge, Amazon’s carbon footprint has grown every year since 2018, when the company first began reporting its emissions. For GoFor and other companies’ efforts to make a difference, larger companies will need to overcome political pressures to join them.
“The climate change problem is not technical — it’s political,” Gardner said. “And a lot of it is around legislation and the will to act. The cost of doing this, even on a 10-to-1 basis, is not material. The customers want it. There are organizations who can do it. The merchants want it. It’s a question of knowledge and leadership and the will to act.”