What are Green Freight Programs

Green freight refers to a collection of technologies and practices that improve the efficiency of the freight sector and provide a means to benchmark and track performance. Green freight programs promote these technologies and practices across the freight sector to help cut costs, track carbon, and benefit the environment.   

A green freight program combines carbon accounting and disclosure with action plans, collaboration, and recognition for businesses’ efforts (e.g., through a label). An initiative may be working on a subset of those activities or conducting research or work to support programs.

Numerous green freight programs and related efforts have developed around the world in the past decade. Most of these programs have developed a variety of approaches to promote the adoption of energy-saving and emission reducing strategies. Their focus, the types and numbers of members, and their data collection, performance benchmarking, and reporting methodologies depend on the transport modes they address, the pollutants and performance metrics of interest, and their geographic regions.

The most successful green freight programs are based on the business case for fuel savings; they incentivize investments in fuel saving and emission reducing technologies and operational strategies, resulting in substantial cost savings to operators. In this way, the programs generate a “win-win” outcome, with both financial and environmental benefits. Although the green freight programs may differ, several common features lead to program success:

  • Stakeholder involvement
  • Trusted and impartial administration
  • A system for collecting data and benchmarking member performance
  • Guidance for technologies and operational best practices
  • Public recognition and incentives
  • Consistent and reliable funding

There are a number of green freight programs around the world in various stages of development. The SmartWay Transport Partnership (“SmartWay”) in the United States and Canada is one of the most well-established national-level programs with more than 3000 members (“partners”). Green Freight Europe is a good example of a regional level program, and the Clean Cargo Working Group is an example of a mode-specific (marine) program. Green freight programs are also forming in Asia and Latin America.

By coordinating, aligning, harmonizing, and sharing best practices on a global scale, green freight programs can ensure continued success and growth in the future. While the growing popularity of green freight programs underscores their appeal, their success depends on inter-program collaboration and cooperation. Businesses and industries with global, multi-modal supply chains need green freight programs that use standardized tools, methods, and metrics to support their sustainability efforts; policy makers need to learn from best practices and experiences of others to develop and implement green freight programs in their own countries.