October 12, 2021

No time to waste: New climate research further highlights the need to eliminate empty miles

Though talk of climate change and implementing sustainability measures has been a nationwide topic of discussion for decades, this August’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report by the UN called our current status a “code red” for humanity. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres tweeted, “The evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions are choking our planet & placing billions of people in danger.” Harrowing words, words that can no longer be ignored. A big factor contributing to this data? Carbon emissions from vehicles. So, what does this all mean for the mighty transportation industry?

How much carbon does the transportation industry emit?

Unfortunately, tons of it (1,870 million metric tons of CO2 to be exact). According to the Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions and Sinks 1990–2019, the national inventory that the U.S. prepares annually under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the transportation sector accounted for the largest portion, 29%, of total U.S. GHG emissions in 2019. This number represents a combination of cars, trucks, commercial aircrafts, and railroads, all contributing to emissions nationwide.

Within that 29%, the largest contributor, with 58% of GHG emissions, were light-duty vehicles, like passenger cars and light-duty trucks. Next were medium- and heavy-duty trucks, accounting for 24% of emissions. In the last two decades, GHG emissions in the transportation sector increased more than any other sector, including electricity generation, industry, agriculture, residential, and commercial, mainly because of an increased demand for travel.

Freight is a large piece of the pollution puzzle

It is undeniable that freight plays a big role here. The International Transport Forum reported that international trade-related freight movement is responsible for about 30% of all transport-related CO2 emissions from fuel combustion, that’s more than 7% of global GHG emissions. These emissions are bad enough on their own, and as all of us in the freight industry know, are greatly exacerbated by the trucking industry’s continued struggle with empty backhaul miles.

The problem with empty miles

Backhaul miles refer to the trip a truck makes when returning from a delivery, and more often than not, these miles are driven with no cargo, traditionally referred to as empty miles. Unfortunately, a large number of both private and dedicated fleets end up driving empty backhaul miles. Shippers who have a dedicated fleet or their own private fleet have one main goal: to make sure their goods are delivered on schedule, and that their trucks return in time to get the next round of merchandise out. They typically do not have the bandwidth or time to address one-off spot market contracts, or to manage drivers to ensure they don’t run out of hours. In many ways, it’s easier to drive empty; there aren’t any extra logistical hurdles to jump through to do so.

Some fleets use a variety of resources to locate backhaul loads to create revenue and cover operational costs, but aren’t always successful. Others don’t even attempt to look for backhaul opportunities because the act of finding them, contracting them, and then managing them is just too cumbersome and time-consuming. According to Jagan Reddy, Chief Community Officer at SemiCab, “If shippers are going to eliminate empty backhaul miles, they need a resource dedicated to scheduling recurring backhaul trips, just like they have for their headhaul.” That’s where SemiCab’s Collaborative Transportation Platform comes in.

Turning climate awareness into climate action

SemiCab believes that reducing carbon emissions relies on community action and an equity-based ecosystem designed to ensure all participants benefit. Our collaborative transportation platform built around proprietary technology enables us to orchestrate collaboration across the transportation industry.

Orchestrated Collaboration™ works because we unite supply and demand data from all our members to predict and optimize millions of loads and hundreds of thousands of trucks in real-time. By using AI/ML predictions and advanced optimization models, we build fully loaded trips (that means both head and backhauls are full), eliminating empty miles and creating new value for all members on the platform. According to Reddy, what’s really different about SemiCab is that “Shippers on the platform don’t have to change a thing to benefit from collaborative opportunities. We do the hard work of collaborating on their behalf.”

There’s no time to waste

As one of the biggest contributors of carbon emissions in the country, the transportation industry needs to change, and fast. One-off collaboration between one or two shippers just isn’t going to cut it. If we want to not only reach, but surpass our sustainability goals, we need multi-enterprise collaboration. The transportation community needs to band together to do everything in our power to put an end to the needless destruction of our planet. If you’re passionate about saving the planet, saving money, and becoming more efficient, let’s talk. Contact us to join the platform and let’s start making a change, together.


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