April 17, 2015 Leave a comment
Companies have devoted a lot of effort to reducing the carbon footprint of freight transportation as part of their sustainability programs. But one element of logistics operations, less-than-truckload (LTL), has proved challenging because it is difficult to quantify the carbon emissions from LTL transportation. A new white paper based on research carried out by MIT CTL graduate students, describes a model that helps companies to find this missing piece of the puzzle.
The research was sponsored by C. H. Robinson, the multimodal logistics services company that is an MIT CTL corporate partner. The white paper, “A New Model for Estimating Carbon Emissions for LTL Shipments” is published by the company. Two graduates in the Supply Chain Master’s program at MIT CTL carried out the research, which used actual shipment- and route-level data from TMC, a division of C. H. Robinson.
LTL trucks pick up and deliver a wide mix of freight from many shippers, making it difficult to associate the carbon emissions generated by each component shipment in the vehicle. The research also found that traditional methods for calculating LTL emissions are highly inaccurate, and based on flawed assumptions about this type of freight transportation. One of the main reasons why traditional approaches can be way off the mark, is that they do not take account of the pick-up and delivery elements of this mode. The research showed that this segment accounts for roughly 30% of total carbon emissions.
Yet LTL is a $35 billion business in the United States, and is expected to grow in line with the growth of ecommerce and the increasing demand for last-mile delivery services.
The researchers developed a detailed emissions evaluation model for the participating carrier’s existing network, and a simplified model where the characteristics of the LTL network are unknown. The simplified model was effective for estimating total emissions across a portfolio of shipments, but detailed route and carrier information proved to be important when estimating emissions of shipments individually. An easy-to-apply formula that is derived from the simplified model is included in the white paper.
In addition to providing a much improved method for evaluating the carbon footprint of LTL operations, the models also revealed much about the dynamics of this form of transportation.
The models are freely available to every logistics player, and it is hoped that the research provides a platform for further work in this area. At the very least, this important research helps the logistics industry to create a more precise account of LTL carbon emissions. And since a green supply chain tends to be a more efficient supply chain, applying the methodologies can also yield operational benefits.