Watch Now

Net-Zero Carbon: Guys, it’s the COPs!

Freight Impacts of Global Climate Talks

TLDR: A big international climate treaty meeting in Scotland (blah, blah, blah), 72 recipients of the latest EPA Green Freight awards, and the difficult task of choosing between steak and ice cream.
Climate pundits, activists, and investors all around the world have watched this week as climate negotiations kicked off in Glasgow, Scotland at COP26. Thousands of delegates from across the globe are on hand as the world waits to learn progress made toward emissions reductions, climate finance, and carbon markets since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015. National leaders have delivered opening remarks that outlined ambitious goals and have since left the party and told negotiators to figure out the thorny details of exactly how to save the planet. A few takeaways:

Definite Big Deal

Countries representing more than 85% of the world’s forests have pledged to end and reverse deforestation by 2030. Trees are good; they keep us breathing.

Over 100 countries pledged to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Despite only representing 40% of global production, this is a big deal because of the tremendous global warming potential of methane compared to carbon dioxide (86 times as powerful, despite being short-lived).

Maybe a Big Deal?

I’m bullish on carbon and the use of free markets as a tool to solve the world’s biggest problems. But I also understand many activists’ warnings against the use of carbon offsets to claim carbon neutrality. Greenwashing concerns are essentially the reason environmental activists are protesting and interrupting negotiations. And if the goal is to actually reduce overall net emissions, simply paying to protect existing carbon sinks probably shouldn’t count toward my GHG inventory (if you REALLY want to go down the credit rabbit hole, here). Ultimately, nobody has the “right” answer for appropriate climate finance.

For those of us in freight, it’s tempting to hit an easy button to buy an offset or plant a tree. While both of those are important efforts, logistics service providers ought to be careful how they choose to market those actions. Even good actors who are striving for change and investing real money in new, climate-friendly solutions (I see you IKEA, Amazon & Maersk) can and should expect detractors

Did they talk about logistics?

Not yet. Next Thursday, Nov. 10, is Transport Day at COP26. Expect plenty of corporates to raise the stakes on increased green freight procurement goals and promotion of low carbon fuels and vehicle electrification. We’ve mentioned this before, but the demand for emissions data sharing is expected to balloon. Carriers, brokers, and forwarders with strong environmental performance and targets are more likely to benefit.If climate action or emissions reduction is the path your company wants to take (good call, IMO), be sure to do the required reading before committing. Study, study, study. Gather your data. Definitely get involved in programs like SmartWay. Talk to consultants, competitors, and customers. When you’re all-in and looking to set public commitments, follow these steps from the Science-Based Target Initiative, which recently launched a Net-Zero Standard
Excellent Emissions, says EPA

Speaking of green freight programs, last week the U.S. EPA announced its 2021 SmartWay Freight Partner Excellence Award recipients at a virtual award ceremony. The 72 awardees were broken down into categories (large, medium, and small) of shippers, carriers, and logistics service providers operating in various modes and regions. I’m glad to see one-third of the honorees represented by new faces to the program. One of the great successes of SmartWay is its ever-expanding reach, with the program now listing over 4,000 partners after starting with just 15 in 2004. For voluntary green freight programs, it really is the global leader.

I’ve been torn recently about the effectiveness of programs like SmartWay. On one hand, it’s really very valuable to encourage emission reporting and benchmarking. It’s a good differentiator in sourcing freight capacity and facilitates more granular carbon accounting for shippers. On the other hand, won’t it have diminishing returns without technological advancement in equipment/fuels? Aren’t the worst emitting fleets today just not reporting and hauling load board freight? Is the program really delivering the scale of change needed to expedite energy transition?

As with most complex issues, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. 

Yes, a voluntary, self-reported green freight program that generates positive publicity and goodwill from both the public and shipping communities is really valuable. It takes resources to track and submit network and emissions data, and that should not be undervalued. The platform provides best practices and insights into lowering emissions and arguably contributes (in the form of demand signaling) to industry-wide adoption of viable solutions like trailer aerodynamics or idle reduction tech.

Ultimately, the sea change needed to drastically lower mobility emissions won’t come from incrementalism. It will be driven by driving out costs and scaling solutions such as new engine technologies or alternative fuels. Upstream regulations and policy may be the driving force behind those changes but until they come, we shouldn’t take our foot off the accelerator to broaden the adoption of green freight programs.

I found this paper to provide a good review of SmartWay’s program details & successes: 
Carbon Trivia
Which product has a bigger footprint? 
Recent FreightWaves Sustainability Content:
Environmental, freight policy experts seek ‘bold commitments’ ahead of climate summit
Supply chains to be included in Science-Based Targets initiative net-zero standard
The biggest food trend of ’22, vertical farming potential to reduce waste and improve lives

Trivia Answer:
8oz of beef generates 9,973 gCO2e while a similar volume of ice cream (~225g or 3 scoops) is responsible for just 859 gCO2e. My aunt is right, eat dessert first. 


Tyler Cole

Tyler joined FreightWaves with 15 years’ experience in global supply chain management as both a broker and a shipper. His work spanned all modes of transportation across various sectors such as biofuels, food/beverage, bulk commodities & CPG. A passion to eliminate waste and emissions from freight led him to focus on low carbon fuels, carbon markets/policy and industry collaboration. The Net-Zero Carbon show and community newsletter is really about how to inspire action that ensures our kids inherit a better world.