Freight to control its own carbon destiny

In lieu of any meaningful progress at last year’s Copenhagen climate summit, the freight industry is leading the debate on how to record and sensibly reduce its own carbon emissions. Rachael Dillon, the Freight Transport Association’s Climate Change Manager, explains how and why the industry is hoping to shape the carbon debate

The opportunity for a legally binding, global commitment to tackling climate change came and went with the Copenhagen summit late last year. The work that goes into getting 150 plus world leaders together to argue, discuss and then agree on carbon reduction limits means we could be waiting a long time for effective targets to be put in place. Unfortunately, when it comes to global warming, time is a luxury we can ill afford, which leaves the ball firmly in the transport industry’s forecourt.
The good news for the planet is that the logistics sector is not to be found wanting when it comes to self improvement. As the leading transport trade body, the FTA hopes its brand new voluntary scheme, the Logistics Carbon Reduction Scheme (LCRS), will provide the roadmap for future transport-related carbon reduction policy in the UK and beyond.

It's not easy being green
Perhaps more than any other sector, the logistics industry has borne the brunt of ‘greenwash’; a diversionary tactic employed by those who hold the reigns of power to impose unfair taxes under a publicly-acceptable banner. Of course, we all know that lorries have to be driven if we want our shelves stocked, our medicines delivered and our houses built – lorry drivers haven’t the option of hopping onto public transport to make their deliveries. However, that hasn’t stopped politicians from espousing the ill-informed opinion that trucks are anathema to meeting the limits set by the Climate Change Act (an 80 per cent reduction in CO2 by 2050 on 1990 levels). No, according to the government road freight must be taxed to the hilt, regardless of the impact on the economy or on domestic hauliers who simply can’t compete with cheaper (and, in many ways, inferior) competition from the Continent. Ironically, the only upshot of an aggressive taxation policy is that those operators that can afford to keep running despite consistent above inflation fuel duty increases have less money to invest in greener technology.
Sadly, the policy makers are missing a real trick here: the haulage sector wants to limit its impact on the environment. Its will to improve its own environmental performance is linked to various powerful forces: increasingly high customer service levels, a more competitive marketplace, the importance of corporate social responsibility to companies looking to outsource their transport function, and the desire to reduce overheads, such as transport costs. So, the logistics sector wants to be leaner, greener and cleaner. It is, after all, in its best interests. Indeed, it has a history of over achievement in this field as demonstrated in a recent report by Heriot Watt University, which revealed that CO2 emissions from the logistics industry had risen by just 10 per cent between 1990 and 2005, 20 per cent less than previous government estimates.

Fact not fiction
Before we can engage with policy makers to reduce our carbon footprint – and, in such a way that doesn’t do irreparable damage to UK plc – we must first understand the scale of the job in hand. To do so we need to accurately record an entire industry’s carbon emissions. For an industry that comprises relatively small units, like vans and even HGVs, it becomes a relatively onerous undertaking. Currently, there are around 400,000 trucks and over three million vans operating in the UK. Clearly, to accurately measure the collective impact of all these vehicles requires wholesale buy-in from the sector itself. This is precisely what LCRS aims to achieve.
Until now, freight transport has operated in somewhat of a CO2 policy void, with the government limited to just one weapon of choice: fuel duty increases. This has proved singularly ineffective in curbing freight demand as activity is heavily influenced by the economy. LCRS will initially focus on CO2 emitted from diesel fuel and will ask members to provide diesel usage statistics, which can then be reported back to the government in 2011. To ensure the group remains credible, FTA will audit all members of the scheme on an annual basis to ensure the data is being recorded by each member correctly.

Pulling together
Climate change is simply too important to ignore and in the absence of international accord over how to tackle it, it is up to the logistics sector to grasp the nettle. Freight and logistics movements are responsible for around 30 per cent of transport emissions, but without them the economy and essential services would grind to a halt. The logistics sector takes its environmental responsibility very seriously, investing millions in the latest, greenest technology every year. The will within the industry to take responsibility for its impact on the environment is palpable and demonstrated by the sheer number of FTA members that have attended its carbon reduction seminars and events in recent years.
Stewart Oades, FTA President, is right behind the LCRS and will be involved in working with the Department for Transport in developing a robust and consistent carbon measurement and reporting method. In Oades’ words: “We need to start making intelligent decisions if we want to make a meaningful reduction in our carbon output without doing irreparable damage to British business along the way. Before we do this we need to know precisely how many tonnes of CO2 we are responsible for as an industry.”
If the logistics community can pull together to reduce its carbon emissions it can exert a real influence on future government policy and benchmark its collective performance. This is why the LCRS is open to road transport businesses of all sizes, regardless of FTA membership. It has already been backed by some of FTA’s leading members, representative of over 28,000 commercial vehicles, and as time passes the momentum will build to become a voice that cannot be ignored.
The LCRS will open up to all operators of commercial vehicles to join from early 2010. FTA will report its first data collection cycle in January 2011, and every 12 months thereafter.

For more information
To find out more about the Logistics Carbon Reduction Scheme, contact

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