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Survey: Sustainable trucking faces regulation and cost barriers

Environmental regulations not worth cost, 40% of respondents said

Sustainable transportation and logistics of freight is a growing concern for investors, customers and freight companies worldwide.

Data released Wednesday shows that truck drivers, dispatchers for fleets and owner-operators have mixed feelings about different aspects of sustainable trucking.

A February survey conducted by Convoy said that 75% of respondents believe fuel economy is an important factor to consider when buying a truck. That number jumped to 94% for respondents who said they are considering purchasing a truck within the next year.

Driving trucks with higher fuel economy saves companies or drivers money and reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Based on the response to the importance of fuel economy, it seems that people surveyed were in favor of environmental sustainability when it also benefits their bottom line. 

Of the 17% of respondents who completed an eco-driving fuel-efficiency training program, 92% said that fuel economy is important when purchasing a truck.

“It’s encouraging to see the interest from carriers wanting to adopt green truck technology and the urgency for wanting to take action,” Jennifer Wong, head of sustainability at Convoy, told FreightWaves.

More than 474 small and midsize trucking companies participated in Convoy’s survey, and 58% were owner-operators, 22% were dispatchers, and 20% were dispatchers and drivers. The survey said that 84% of respondents had no more than five trucks in their fleet.

There is debate about whether environmental regulations and technology such as electric vehicles are worth the extra investments often required.

While there is a lot of news about electric truck technology, manufacturers and orders, this survey’s participants expressed a few major barriers to purchasing an electric truck. They are too expensive, 58% said; 37% said distance limits were an issue; and 34% responded that the current charging infrastructure was a limiting factor.

Wong said she expects more electric trucks on the road in the next 10 years as technology matures and resolves some of the issues expressed in the survey.

Despite barriers to adopting more sustainable technologies, 36% of respondents said they felt pressure to reduce carbon emissions in their business coming from the following sources: 22% from government regulation, 21% from more awareness of the impact of carbon emissions, 10% from personal motivation and 7% from reducing operating costs.

While slightly over one-fifth of respondents said they felt pressure from government regulations, 40% said that stricter environmental laws and regulations aren’t worth the monetary costs, and 45% said these laws and regulations hurt the economy. However, many experts state that without environmental regulations, the transportation industry could be very slow to change.

The reaction to environmental laws and regulations makes sense when you consider that only 23% of respondents said they think global climate change is impacting their communities a great deal. An additional 34% responded they believe climate change is somewhat affecting their community, but the remaining 43% said they think climate change is less than “somewhat” impacting their communities. 

A major challenge that climate scientists and governments face in making sustainable progress is helping people understand how climate change and GHG emissions directly impact their lives and their communities enough to make it a priority.

Experts often attribute the growing severity and number of extreme weather events such as hurricanes, wildfires and polar vortexes to climate change. Air pollution that contributes to asthma and other lung complications can be a more direct, relatable impact that GHG emissions have in cities. 

A 2020 study funded by the Mainz Heart Foundation titled Regional and global contributions of air pollution to risk of death from COVID-19 said that there is a strong link between traffic, energy use, public health and air pollution. It said, “a significant fraction of worldwide COVID-19 mortality is attributable to anthropogenic air pollution, of which ∼50-60% is related to fossil fuel use.”

Decarbonizing road freight continues to be a challenge as companies, governments, investors and customers consider the costs and benefits of different sustainable practices.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Alyssa Sporrer.

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One Comment

  1. Don’t walk, run from those respondents who said (especially the ones saying they were going to buy within the next year) that fuel costs “WERE NOT” in important factor in their consideration to buy. The Convoy data really don’t reveal that much new information. No offense, and I love your site/articles usually, but I kept asking myself if a relatively recent grad in environmental studies was the best qualified to do this piece. If there is going to be editorial content mixed into the story, are you at least consulting with someone with real experience, who has actually driven a truck and paid for fuel? Regarding the final sentence: “Decarbonizing road freight continues to be a challenge as companies, governments, investors and customers consider the costs and benefits of different sustainable practices.”, I say, “OK, tell us something we don’t know.” And then I ask, “How about observing and meticulously analyzing data from what’s happening in the auto industry first?” There are so many manufacturing contestants jumping into thedecarbonizing of automobiles challenge; multiple hundreds of billions of dollars being spent on myriad technologies. Moreover, many of those supposed solutions turn out to be more harmful (over all) to the environment than the problems they were trying to fix. But that is for another day, and I’m all ears if anyone should want to debate the absurd fallaciousness of many proposed decarbonizing “solutions”, especially when it comes to biofuels. But have your facts ready, and I mean real empirical facts.

    Then, after unbiased data analysis of each of the most popular and proven effective solutions (to one degree or another) within the auto industry, the trucking industry can know where to better invest their and/or their investors money. This assumes of course that they are part of this group to which you refer, “those that believe fuel economy is an important factor to consider when buying a truck.”

Alyssa Sporrer

Alyssa is a staff writer at FreightWaves, covering sustainability news in the freight and supply chain industry, from low-carbon fuels to social sustainability, emissions & more. She graduated from Iowa State University with a double major in Marketing and Environmental Studies. She is passionate about all things environmental and enjoys outdoor activities such as skiing, ultimate frisbee, hiking, and soccer.