Plan transport flows to reduce their environmental impact

How can route optimization help freight carriers in their CSR strategy?

Given the nature and scale of the industry’s activity, it is a major contributor to climate change through the emission of pollutants and greenhouse gases. According to Citepa (Centre Interprofessionnel Technique d’Etudes de la Pollution Atmosphérique), in France, trucks are responsible for approximately 8% of CO2 emissions.

At a time when environmental awareness is growing and in the global context of the fight against climate change, the freight transport industry is working to reduce fuel consumption. Possible actions include the vehicle fleet and driving behaviors, but also the optimization of their transport flows.

In this article, we explore some of the ways to optimize transport flows, such as the use of multimodal transport, route optimization technologies and vehicle loading optimization.

Using multimodal transport

Multimodal transport is generally associated with greener and more sustainable logistics, as modal shift to off-road modes allows for less fossil fuel consumption and lower greenhouse gas emissions. As such, the Law on Energy Transition for Green Growth encourages modal shift to off-road transport modes. In the “Green Logistics” webinar at SITL Live on June 24, 2020, we discovered that a freight train, equivalent to the emission of 3 tons of CO2, is equivalent to more than 45 heavy trucks (i.e. 44 tons of CO2). For a barge transporting bulk goods (equivalent to 36 tons of CO2), 125 heavy trucks are needed (i.e. the emission of 123 tons of CO2).

The use of combined rail-road, river-road or sea-road transport to increase multimodal logistics would also relieve road traffic, limit road accidents and address the shortage of truck drivers in the industry.

Combined road-rail transport involves the transport of goods using both the road network (for the first and last kilometers) and the rail network (for long distance). The goods are loaded at the client’s premises in an Intermodal Transport Unit (swap body that streamlines changing transport modes). The carrier can benefit from financial advantages from France’s ESC (Energy Savings Certificates) when purchasing a new Intermodal Transport Unit. Carriers who carry out pre- and post-carriage operations can also benefit from a 75% reduction in the axle tax. Even if combined road-rail transport brings undeniable advantages from an ecological and social point of view, it represents only a minority of the French transport industry, as the infrastructure and the network are often considered insufficient. It also struggles to compete with heavy trucks in terms of rates and quality of service and requires significant investments in implementing a thorough reorganization of existing transport flows.

combiné rail-route transport impact environnemental

EVE’s December 10, 2019 Combined Road-Rail webinar recommends looking at some criteria to ensure you remain competitive when switching to road-rail. First, be relatively close to origin and destination terminals (less than 150 km recommended), target long-distance flows (over 400km) and shift large and regular volumes to rail for better competitiveness compared to road transport alone.

IT tools for route optimization

The Charte Objectif CO2’s guidelines promote route optimization software and vehicle geolocation tools as solutions for reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

Route optimization solutions are planning software that help define the best way to cover a set of points while complying with several constraints. Compared to manual planning, these solutions enable operating costs to be saved through better use of the vehicle fleet, better filling of available vehicles and a reduction in the number of kilometers traveled. They also limit empty mileage and ensure better quality of service through compliance with contractual constraints and commitments.

The Charte Objectif CO2 estimates that fuel consumption and CO2 emissions can be reduced by 5-15% when a route optimization solution is implemented. These savings are directly linked to the number of kilometers covered less by the vehicle fleet. In practice, it is not uncommon to observe gains ranging from 10 to 40%, especially when the initial manual planning was more of a balanced distribution than an optimization. This type of solution is all the more interesting when the constraints (required delivery time slots, vehicle capacity, drivers’ schedules, etc.) are strong and difficult to meet and when the context is variable (e.g. delivery in urban areas). For the optimization of heavy goods vehicle routes, it is necessary to choose a solution that includes the constraints related to this type of vehicle (bridge heights, weight limits, truck speed, traffic bans, etc.) to provide realistic solutions.

For urban logistics, the changing environment (traffic, works, high density, etc.) in which the drivers evolve can make it difficult to integrate “classic” route optimization. In this case, it is necessary to move towards modern optimization solutions, recalculating the routes in real time depending on traffic and vehicle geolocation, thus allowing for adjustments to be made at any time.

Proper fleet sizing, choosing the right resources for the job, better truck fill rates, reducing the number of kilometers traveled and the number of empty kilometers: route optimization is a real Swiss army knife for reducing costs and environmental impact. Optimization tools that provide the most realistic route plans (by taking into account customer constraints and field hazards) also improve drivers’ working conditions, since they ensure that routes are well calculated and comply with regulations and working hours. The resulting reduction in stress is also an indirect factor in less aggressive and therefore more eco-friendly driving!

Reducing empty mileage

Empty mileage is a common problem in road freight transport. It is estimated that the percentage of empty kilometers driven by trucks in France is around 20%. This percentage soars, when recurring transport patterns are disrupted, as was the case during the Covid-19 crisis. Reducing empty mileage can be achieved by introducing counter-flows in which one outbound trip would carry the goods of a first client while the same vehicle would be used on the return trip to carry the goods of a second client. This type of solution, however, requires finding clients who have the transportation needs for these return trips. In addition to freight exchanges, solutions (such as Fretlink or Chronotruck) allow loaders and carriers to get in touch with each other and help them optimize the loading of their return trips.

The implementation of counter-flows to limit the number of empty kilometers is beneficial in terms of fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, especially since the empty trips are made over long distances and fuel consumption of the vehicles is high.

NOTE: Pickup/delivery issues within a set of operations are managed by Kardinal’s route optimization algorithms. These algorithms can identify the best pickup/delivery combinations to reduce the time spent driving empty. This allows the design of much more efficient overall schedules.

Optimizing vehicle loading

The fill rate is a performance indicator often assessed by carriers since it directly relates to the profitability of their transport operations. Fuel consumption per ton transported decreases as the vehicle load increases. In practice, the GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) is rarely reached, especially with bulky goods.

coefficient de chargement des camions transport impact environnemental

Pooling is an effective solution for optimizing vehicle loading. For example, Pepsico has already been doing this for about ten years to deliver different brands to the same clients, which allows trucks to be better filled.

Another solution is to diversify the products transported in a truck to optimize filling in the case of very large or heavy goods. Whenever possible, grouping dense and light goods in the same vehicle is a great way to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions (the related Objectif CO2 guideline estimates the impact of this type of action at 3-7% on fuel consumption for small trucks, large trucks and truck sets, and could even reach 20% for commercial vehicles).

NOTE: Pickup/delivery issues within a set of operations are managed by Kardinal’s route optimization algorithms. These algorithms can identify the best pickup/delivery combinations to reduce the time spent driving empty. This allows the design of much more efficient overall schedules.

To conclude…

Most industries are nowadays required to take a stand on their environmental impact, whether it is out of conviction, to meet the growing expectations of consumers or to comply with regulations. CSR initiatives are being implemented in many companies, looking at all possible ways to reduce their CO2 emissions. The FRET21 initiative brings together a growing number of freight forwarders who are committed to this approach. For them, improving the environmental impact of their transport operations is a key element in choosing a service provider who is also committed to this effort.

This means that transporters have to adapt their offer to meet the demand for more sustainable transport. In this way, the sometimes heavy investments in fleet modernization and IT tools will become an important competitive advantage in an industry that is striving to meet the expectations of its market as well as the environmental emergency.

The financial support of public authorities, technological advances and the evolution of the market towards less harmful production mean that yesterday’s risky investments are gradually becoming an opportunity, and will be tomorrow’s standard.