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How can supply chain greenhouse gas emissions be reduced?

Semi trucks are a small portion of total vehicles on the road but are a major source of pollution. Here's how leaders can help address this source of pollution.

In November, Tesla unveiled a prototype for an electric big rig truck. In conjunction with the Tesla announcement, Jimmy O'Dea, who studies clean vehicles at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Wired: "Heavy-duty vehicles make up a small fraction of the vehicles on the road, but a large fraction of their emissions."

Indeed, the move by Tesla is just one example of how supply chain and business leaders are working to help lower transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions and improve supply chain sustainability. Supply chain leaders are working to reduce the actual amount of transportation used through smart shipment and route planning and making different choices in supply chain planning to emphasize more efficient alternatives. Vehicle makers are continuing to find ways to improve vehicle emission performance. Here are three other ways leaders are working to lower transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.

Reducing movement, one of the eight wastes defined in lean manufacturing, can play an important role in reducing transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions. Supply chain optimization efforts include working to reduce transportation costs, and that means consolidated shipments and full truck loads versus less-than-load shipments. It also means optimizing warehouse locations so that the distance traveled for small shipments, which are inefficient, is minimized. Smart route planning can also reduce the amount of mileage and, therefore, fuel usage and emissions produced.

Road transportation generates 10 times the emissions per tonne-kilometre rail and transports more than 100 times as much.

Transportation choices can make a significant difference in lowering transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions as well. According to a report by Alan McKinnon of the Logistics Research Centre at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, U.K., road transportation generates 10 times the emissions per tonne-kilometre rail and transports more than 100 times as much. The underlying message is that slower transport is more eco-friendly, so when there is a choice, pick the slower method. This is a challenge for supply chain planning because the overall goal is usually to move things faster as a means of reducing inventory and risk. Supply chain planning systems that are configured to put more weight on transportation costs -- that relate directly to speed and pollution -- will plan larger and slower shipments where the inventory and lead-time penalties are not as severe.

Advances in vehicle design are another area that's contributing to a reduction in transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, with newer vehicles being designed and built to use less fuel and produce fewer emissions. Transportation providers that want to reduce emissions are upgrading their fleets, replacing older equipment with newer, more eco-friendly alternatives as they wait for the promised emergence of electric self-driving vehicles.

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