Sustainable transportation reduces total GHG emissions from the transportation sector

Sustainable transportation is the practice of reducing total GHG emissions from the transportion sector. New federal data from the U.S. Energy and Information Administration (EIA) shows the U.S. transportation sector is the largest source of carbon pollution than any other economic sector, including electric power, industrial, residential, and commercial divisions.

The transportation sector accounted for 27% of total greenhouse gas emissions in 2020, amounting to 1.6 billion metric tonnes of CO2 released. Transportation is crucial to businesses – from employee transportation to vendors and suppliers. However, transit comes with complex challenges for a green business, especially around emissions. To combat these challenges, a green business must adapt and make the necessary changes for greener operations and to save money in the process. The emissions created by businesses are split into three categories: Scope 1, scope 2, and scope 3. We explain these emission categories below.

Understanding scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions caused by business transportation

Business emissions can be split into these three emission scopes depending on where they come from, as we explain.

Scope 1 emissions are direct greenhouse gas emissions that come from sources controlled by the company. For example, these would be emissions from any company-owned vehicles the business may own. These company-owned vehicles burn petrol and diesel directly for fuel.

Scope 2 emissions emissions are indirect greenhouse gasses released from electricity purchased by the company. For transportation that would be emissions from electricity, which the company needs to charge electric vehicles.

Scope 3 emissions are also indirect, but are greenhouse gasses released due to operations outside of a company’s control. In terms of business transportation, an example would be emissions that come from business-related transportation using vehicles that are not company owned, such as customers, employees, and deliveries. Scope 3 emissions from transportation can be split into the following sub-categories:

  • Business travel: This includes travel by air, rail (underground and light rail), taxis, and buses, plus other business mileage using private vehicles.
  • Employee commuting: This includes emissions released from employees commuting to and from work. Such emissions can be reduced by encouraging public transportation, cycle to work schemes and introducing remote work.
  • Transportation and distribution: This includes supplier and customer transportation, by land, sea, and air. This category also includes third-party warehousing.
  • Downstream distribution and transportation: This category includes emissions that occur in the reporting year from the transportation and the distribution of sold products in vehicles and facilities not owned or controlled by the reporting company.

Sustainable transportation checklist and guide

Thinking about business scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, our sustainable transportation checklist presents initiatives that will lower GHG emissions across these three scopes.

Reducing scope 1 emissions from business transportation

  • Tip #1 – Make sure company vehicles are well-maintained: As your vehicles get older, harmful deposits will build up in the vehicle’s engines, reducing efficiency and increasing GHG emissions. To avoid this, you’ll want to regularly service and maintain your company-owned vehicles. Basic vehicle maintenance includes using an exhaust and fuel cleaner every three months to maintain optimum efficiency and adding a cleaning agent to the fuel system to remove deposits and lower emissions.
  • Tip #2 – Provide efficient company cars: Purchase company vehicles that are more efficient and have a better fuel economy. It’s estimated that, by 2025, global CO2e emissions can be reduced by 0.5Gt/year if all vehicles were upgraded to more efficient models.
  • Tip #3 – Switch to second-generation biofuels to run vehicles: One gallon of biodiesel has the potential to lower GHG emissions by 74% compared to emissions from petroleum diesel, provided there’s no land-use change. Second-generation biofuels are manufactured from non-food biomass, and represent the most sustainable option in the biofuel market.
  • Tip #4 – Plan and optimize delivery routes so there are fewer unnecessary stops: You want to optimize your delivery routes to reduce delivery mileage traveled and the GHG emissions (and monetary costs) associated. To do this, you need to plan routes using customers’ shipping addresses, sequence multi-stop routes, optimize delivery routes for fleet vehicle capacity and different parcel delivery types, and measure results by selecting the right Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to track and analyze routing data. For more information on how you can optimize delivery routes, read: How to Optimize Delivery Routes.
  • Tip #5 – Send deliveries in bulk: It’s advised to transport your goods in bulk rather than opting for smaller, more frequent deliveries. Doing so will reduce the number of trips made, cutting total GHG emissions. If you deliver your goods and services using a third-party logistics company, then note this tip is applicable under scope 3 emission reductions – from downstream distribution and transportation. In this instance, you must work with suppliers who can meet your emission reduction goals.
  • Tip #6 – Switch to electric vehicles: Making the switch to electric vehicles can not only reduce your company’s gas prices by up to $1,000 a year but will also eliminate business scope 1 emissions from the direct burning of petrol and diesel fuels. GHG emissions from electric vehicles are counted as scope 2 emissions, which can be reduced by switching to renewable forms of electricity, as we will discuss.

Reducing scope 2 emissions from business transportation

  • Tip #7 – Receive electricity from renewable sources: Renewable energy and electrification can deliver 75% of the world’s CO2 reductions needed on a global scale. With this in mind, think about the reductions possible on a business level. To reduce scope 2 emissions, you can either switch to a green tariff, purchase a renewable energy certificate or power purchase agreement, or install your renewable energy source on site.

Reducing scope 3 emissions from business transportation

  • Tip #8 – Install electric vehicle charging points to make it easier for customers and employees to use electric vehicles at work: You want to encourage your employees and customers to make the switch to electric. To do this, you need to break down the behavioral barriers which can prevent this switch. Electric vehicles are very efficient at lowering carbon emissions, cutting ~7,000 pounds of CO2 emissions per vehicle. However, finding a place to charge these vehicles can be more difficult and frustrating than finding a gas station. Installing chargers on-site makes it easier and more attractive for individuals to make the switch to electric.
  • Tip #9 – Encourage commuting by bike or foot: If most of your employees are biking, walking, or running to work, then this will drastically cut business emissions. For instance, commuting by bike can reduce an individual’s carbon footprint by up to half a ton per year. This tip also brings holistic benefits. That is, physical activity is encouraged which is beneficial to an employee’s wellbeing.
  • Tip #10 – Introduce onsite facilities to encourage commuting by bike or foot: Install infrastructure to make the commute by foot or bike easier for the employee. Such infrastructure includes on-site showers, changing rooms, lockers, and breakfast areas. Also, consider introducing flexible work start and end times.
  • Tip #11 – Encourage employees to use public transportation: Keeping the global average temperature rise to 2°C requires urgent and transformative actions for urban mobility. Public transportation produces 95% less carbon monoxide (CO), 45% less carbon dioxide (CO2), and 48% less nitrogen oxide (NO2). Hence, business scope 3 emissions can be drastically reduced by encouraging the use of public transportation.
  • Tip #12 – Create company transportation links from public transportation stops such as train stations and bus stops: You want to make public transportation easier for your employees to encourage them to use this form of transportation. Public transportation can require more effort when it’s not part of an employee’s habitual daily routine. Your aim is to break down these psychological barriers to support more sustainable behavior.
  • Tip #13 – Create specific spaces for carpooling: By making the best parking spots at work set only for those who carpool, you’ll encourage more employees to drive to work together (they’ll want to be able to park in the best spots). A 2018 report by BlaBlaCar stated that although carpooling increased the number of cars on the road by 1.6%, it enabled a 210% increase in the number of car passengers while also reducing emissions by 26%.
  • Tip #14 – Offer remote work opportunities: If it’s not necessary to complete work on-site, introduce the option for employees to work remotely. This will reduce business emissions by removing the need for the daily commute. For instance, the business marketing organization Campaign Collective claims to have reduced emissions from transportation by 71.4 metric tons of CO2e in a year (equivalent to taking 15 cars off the road in this timeframe).
  • Tip #15 – Offer flexible work schedules to commuting employees to reduce time spent sitting in traffic: The most popular times to travel, and hence the most traffic-filled times, coincide with the traditional 9-5 work day. Busy roads can lead to idling – the running of a car when it’s not being driven – which causes a reduction in a vehicle’s fuel economy costing employees more in fuel and leading to high C02e emissions. For instance, personal-vehicle idling wastes about 3 billion gallons of fuel, which generates 30 million tons of CO2e. Flexible work schedules will also provide additional well-being benefits to your employees, which include reduced absenteeism rates, improved engagement, and reduced stress.
  • Tip #16 – Offset carbon emissions created by transportation: Carbon offsetting describes the process of reducing or removing CO2 – or other GHG emissions – to compensate for emissions made elsewhere. Some emissions from business transport are inevitable. It’s therefore important you address these emissions that cannot be removed through certified and vetted carbon offset programs. For more information on how to get started, read: How To Buy Carbon Offsets: 6 Certified and Vetted Options.
  • Tip #17 – If shipping overseas, avoid transportation by air when possible: Comparing emissions from shipping and flying, per tonne of cargo carried over a KM, implies shipping is the most efficient method for transporting business goods. That is, shipping releases 3 grams of CO2 per tonne-km relative to 435 grams of CO2 per tonne-km for flying.
  • Tip #18 – Consolidate suppliers and vendors: Many suppliers mean more routes, more shipments, and a more complicated supplier network leading to a less efficient transportation system. Supplier consolidation is the process of reducing the number of suppliers, focusing on the most successful (and sustainable) suppliers within that market. Not only will supplier consolidation boost transportation efficiency within your value chain, but it will also build stronger supplier and vendor relationships. This means organizations can select suppliers whose objectives align with their green goals. Plus transparency across a value chain is boosted meaning areas of inefficiency are easily spotted.
  • Tip #19 – Partner with companies who follow green transportation guidelines: When working with suppliers and vendors, try to work with those who share similar green values and goals as yourself. You want to form a collaborative network that supports sustainability by nurturing the right business-to-business relationships.
  • Tip #20 – Order supplies and materials in bulk: As we’ve already mentioned, shipping in bulk requires fewer trips, minimizing overall costs and emissions. Just as you want to be delivering goods in bulk, you also need to be ordering materials, supplies, and goods in bulk. This tip works to reduce upstream transportation and distribution emissions.

Use our sustainable transportation checklist as a foundation for your broader green strategy

By following our 20-tip checklist guide, you can create a sustainable transportation system for your business, to slash your organization’s carbon footprint.

This checklist covers the entire spectrum of business transportation emissions, focusing on scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. The tips look at improving the efficiency of company-owned vehicles, changing how goods and services are transported, using lower-carbon fuels, and encouraging more sustainable behaviors.

However, creating a sustainable transportation system is not limited to the tips given in this article. Business sustainability is a broad concept that requires continual improvement and assessment of operations. With this in mind, this checklist creates a great foundation for you to then build on. Build on this checklist by following the Green Business Bureau‘s EcoPlanner and EcoAssessment, where you’ll find initiatives that work to improve the sustainability of business-related operations across the entire organization, helping you create a detailed and thorough sustainability strategy.

Once more, the Green Business Bureau will work with you, to guide you through your sustainability program, helping you gain the green certification you deserve. Once certified, you’ll be able to showcase your achievements using the Green Business Bureau’s Green Seal of Approval, which you can showcase on your company website and other online platforms.

You can find out more about the Green Business Bureau‘s sustainability tools and membership here!

Lauren is pursing a bachelors in environmental engineering as well as gender studies. She loves learning about the intricacies within each individual major, as well as where they overlap. She is hoping to go into environmental justice after college. In her free time she loves spending time with her cats and dogs, tending to her plants, and reading all sorts of books.

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