Highlights of a Roundtable on Smart Freight Leadership

How to be a Smart Freight Leader? This was the central question at a groundbreaking roundtable between 40 representatives from the private sector, government, civil society and funders, organized jointly by Smart Freight Centre (SFC) and Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) on the fringe of the International Transport Forum (ITF) Annual Summit in Leipzig, Germany.

Companies need to deliver products to consumers around the globe and want to do this in the most cost-efficient and environmentally sustainable way. Businesses today operate in a climate-constrained world and must take charge of the climate challenge and turn it into an opportunity. “It is not good enough anymore for businesses to say we’re obeying the law” one corporate leader noted. The business case must be presented in the full context in which companies operate: costs, legislation, climate, air pollution and health, road safety, and traffic congestion, to name a few.

Leadership requires setting targets, implementing actions and disclosing emissions impacts – and the only way to reach double-digit emission reductions is through collaboration between key players in the logistics supply chain. Luckily, ample examples exist. One multinational explained it set aggressive targets and allocated a multi-million dollar figure upfront to kick-start actions. A logistics service provider is trying to stay ahead of the clean energy curve by using renewable natural gas for its UK delivery fleet. A supplier of consumer goods partners with other suppliers to optimize the loads of trucks going to a retailer, and pointed out that what made this possible was a common objective and determination that there should be a win for everyone involved.

It was clear that we need more business leaders to catalyze the sector’s transformation towards greater sustainability. A fragmented sector involving thousands of shippers, logistics service providers and carriers, spanning different modes and global regions doesn’t make this an easy task.

Green freight programs bring these companies together to collectively take action. Eleven green freight programs from around the world articulated what value their programs bring to business, ranging from reducing fuel bills and emissions, access to data needed to calculate a corporate carbon footprint, a competitive edge with customers, public recognition through a label, to avoiding legislation and earning a seat at the table with policy makers. Companies’ feedback was that all programs have their merits but need to do more to collaborate and align, if we want to entice more companies to join. The Global Green Freight Action Plan of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) aims to do just that.

So what are challenges ahead? We need to build on great examples of leadership by individual companies to achieve broader industry change from multinationals to the smallest carriers. A key challenge is working a different scales: taking a helicopter view to identify the biggest opportunities to decarbonize the entire sector, while at the same time taking concrete actions on the ground now. And finally, accelerating the uptake of solutions across industry requires solutions to key barriers, most importantly, policy, information and financing.

Three specific areas identified by roundtable participants are setting emissions reduction targets for the freight and logistics sector, identifying priority technologies and measures that are impactful and scalable, and getting industry together to articulate what specific support from government is most required to enable real change, covering policies, programs, institutional frameworks and infrastructure. We will pursue these priority areas through our Smart Freight Leadership work, including our engagement in this and future ITF Annual Summits. Watch out for our “How to be a Smart Freight Leader” white paper to be published soon!

SOPHIE PUNTE, Executive Director, Smart Freight Centre



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