Supply Chain Expertise and Technology Blog by TMC, a division of C.H. Robinson

A Better Approach for Calculating LTL Carbon Emissions

A Better Approach for Calculating LTL Carbon Emissions

LTL Emissions

Truckload emission calculations have been used for some time to offer a rough estimate for less than truckload (LTL) emissions. Researchers at MIT’s Center for Transportation & Logistics (MIT CTL) collaborated with C.H. Robinson; TMC, a division of C.H. Robinson; and a national LTL carrier to investigate how accurate those estimations were and to develop more accurate models for estimating LTL carbon emissions.

As part of the research, an easy to use formula was derived from the new models which can immediately be implemented.

Carbon Emissions

There are good business reasons for wanting to obtain a more precise analysis of LTL’s carbon output. Exploring the true carbon efficiency of LTL is likely to highlight potential areas where performance can be improved, enabling shippers and carriers to make smarter operational and environmental decisions. After all, a green supply chain is often a more efficient one—reductions in carbon emissions are likely linked to reduced costs of operation.

Still, it’s more challenging to calculate carbon emissions for LTL shipments than it is to measure emissions for truckload freight. While each truckload shipment may contain freight from a handful of shippers at most, each LTL truck combines a wide mix of freight from up to 20 or 30 shippers, with varying origin-destination pairs. Without visibility to the details about individual shipments on that truck, accurate carbon emission estimates at the shipment level are elusive.

So what did the models developed in this research reveal about existing methods of calculating the carbon footprint of LTL shipments?

  • Low-ball estimates. Existing tools tend to underestimate the emissions associated with LTL shipments, especially for short distances and light freight; the methods rely on over the road distances, rather than actual LTL distances. In addition, the methods fail to factor in pickup and delivery operations (P&D) that accounted for as much as 30% of total emissions in the models.
  • Established methods are flawed. Established initiatives (e.g., the GHG Protocol and SmartWay) provide general guidance on how to estimate the carbon emissions generated by freight transportation. They do not address the complexities of LTL, especially the need to assign emissions to individual shipments. As a result, these measurement methods are not precise enough when applied to LTL shipments. In addition, there is a wide disparity between the LTL emissions levels calculated by the thesis models and the methods commonly used by freight companies. The disparity reflects that the logistics industry generally uses flawed approaches when evaluating LTL’s carbon footprint. As MIT CTL’s Dr. Edgar Blanco points out in his analysis of carbon footprint evaluations in the LTL mode, “These programs have adopted methodologies with varying degrees of breadth, depth, precision, and verifiability.”
  • The detailed model is superior for estimates of single shipments. The detailed model uses historic route and carrier information to estimate emissions for individual shipments. LTL carriers will likely be more interested in this model; most shippers will not have all the information required to make the calculations. With that in mind, the researchers also developed a simplified model that takes network averages into account when estimating the emissions, not requiring detailed information about a carrier’s network. Both models produced very similar results when applied to a portfolio of shipments: the research showed only a 3% difference in total emissions between the detailed and the simplified models for a sample of 2,700 shipments. Shippers, government agencies, and researchers who don’t have detailed information about a carrier’s network may wish to use this model.

C.H. Robinson, which published highlights of the study in its own white paper, A New Model for Estimating Carbon Emissions from LTL Shipments, took the research one step further.

They provided an easy-to-use formula derived from the research that companies can use now to calculate their own LTL carbon emissions with greater accuracy. Like the research’s simplified model, the easy-to-use formula provides better results when used to obtain aggregate emissions of multiple shipments, rather than emissions of individual shipments.

By taking that step, C.H. Robinson illustrates an important point: there is still no perfect method for calculating LTL carbon emissions. However, each incremental development in research brings us closer to that goal.

Click here to obtain a copy of C.H. Robinson’s white paper with an easy to use formula which can be implemented immediately to better estimate LTL carbon emissions.


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