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Why Freight Matters to Supply Chain Sustainability

Supply chains increasingly global.

The U.S. and other countries are experiencing an unprecedented opening of our economies to new and emerging markets.  New technologies, manufacturing methods, materials, information channels, transportation capacity and trade policies are accelerating the globalization of commerce. 

Increasingly, U.S. manufacturing relies upon multiple sources and modes of transportation.  A single product can be transported by marine vessel or plane multiple times, then distributed across the country via barge, truck, and rail.

In 2015, the U.S. logistics industry moved more than 49.5 million tons of goods worth nearly $52.7 billion every day, which is more than 56 tons of freight per person per year.

Therefore, producing goods means transportation over longer distances, and that means more fuel consumption.

This much movement demands an extraordinary amount of energy, consuming over a billion barrels of oil.

Freight transportation is a large contributor to air pollution.

Air pollution emitted from transportation contributes to smog, and to poor air quality, which has negative impacts on the health and welfare of U.S. citizens.  Pollutants that contribute to poor air quality include particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

The transportation sector is responsible for:
  • Over 50% of NOx total emissions inventory in the U.S.
  • Over 30% of VOCs emissions in the U.S.
  • Over 20% of PM emissions in the U.S.  

Within transportation, heavy-duty trucks are the fastest-growing contributor to emissions. 

And freight’s contribution is expected to increase.

Projections are that by 2025, as international commerce increases and supply chains become more global and complex, shipments of U.S. goods will grow another 23.5 percent, and by 2040, a total of 45 percent.

As freight activity in the United States increases, projections are that during this same time frame, growth in air emissions from freight will exceed growth in emissions from all other transportation activities, including passenger transportation.

Companies involved in production, distribution, and transportation of goods can make a difference.

The business community can reduce the risks we will face from air pollution and health effects caused by freight transportation. By measuring, benchmarking, and assessing freight transportation activities and strategically making better choices that reduce emission, companies can make a significant impact on the contribution of freight to cleaner air.   

Companies that participate in EPA’s SmartWay program are leading the world in reducing these impacts and making freight transportation more sustainable.