Sustainability & Tech

5 mins

5 Steps Toward Net-Zero Carbon Emissions

Jenny Vander Zanden

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Jenny Vander Zanden
July 15, 2022

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Achieving net-zero carbon emissions is the central sustainability goal for organizations around the globe over the next several decades. But as shippers develop sustainability initiatives and identify areas for emissions reduction efforts, they often overlook a critical emissions contributor: their transportation network.

While many organizations have already made progress in reducing scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, there is more work to be done toward achieving overall value chain emissions. Scope 3 emissions comprise around 90% of companies’ total carbon output, and transportation emissions are one of the most consistent and significant contributors across industries. Because scope 3 emissions are generated outside of organizations’ own infrastructure, shippers usually lack direct visibility into sources and output levels. This makes scope 3 emissions difficult to measure and analyze. Along with a general hesitancy to fund scope 3 sustainability initiatives, these roadblocks prevent real progress toward emissions reduction KPIs.

But reducing scope 3 transportation and supply chain emissions makes a substantial impact on organizations’ overall emissions footprint — and contributes to the health of the planet. In 2019, the transportation sector became the largest emitter of GHG emissions in the United States. Scope 3 transportation emissions are critical to moving the needle on holistic emissions reduction initiatives, and measuring and analyzing scope 3 transportation emissions lays the groundwork for achieving net-zero emissions across operations.

The challenges of measuring scope 3 transportation emissions

Transportation emissions typically comprise 5–19% of an organization’s disclosed scope 3 output. Because these emissions contribute to a significant piece of the scope 3 pie, they offer huge reduction opportunities for transportation professionals and shippers. A majority of the data that shippers need to analyze transportation lifecycle emissions lies with outside carriers and partners, and it can be complex and time-consuming to gather information across multiple data systems. But prioritizing clear communication standards can make data collection more manageable.

Further, net-zero emissions frameworks frequently change as measurement technologies and government regulations evolve. Internal teams that don’t embrace flexibility as a cornerstone of their reduction strategies will struggle to adapt to changing standards and experience setbacks on their journey. Comprehensive data collection can also prove challenging when there isn’t strong internal communication around implementing and monitoring sustainability KPIs — and when teams lack transparency on individual responsibilities for emissions reduction actions. With a flexible approach and clearly delineated tasks, reducing scope 3 transportation emissions is much more manageable.

If shippers can successfully navigate data collection and identify actionable recommendations, they can make real progress toward sustainability targets — and will likely correct operational inefficiencies along the way. Analyzing scope 3 transportation emissions can reveal needed improvements in transportation networks regarding carrier performance, modes of transportation, and fuel costs. This provides an opportunity to strengthen supply chain networks and build more robust carrier partnerships — ultimately enabling cost and logistics optimization.

5 steps for reducing your transportation emissions

As you begin tracking your scope 3 emissions footprint, here are 5 steps to understanding and reducing your transportation emissions — and ultimately moving closer to your net-zero emissions target.

  1. Establish your scope 3 emissions baseline. Although a majority of the data needed to understand your scope 3 emissions can be collected from outside partners, the data you have in-house is also useful — and it’s likely more abundant than you may think. Perform a thorough inventory of your in-house data, and use daily load and freight information to establish your scope 3 transportation emissions baseline.

  2. Get granular with your emissions footprint. As you begin to gain a clearer picture of your lifecycle emissions footprint, take a granular look at which emissions generation activities are the result of specific organizational decisions. Clarifying the root cause of emissions output will enable more accurate recommendations from outside partners, and it will help flag operational areas that require further emissions analysis.

  3. Establish incremental KPIs. As you develop your emissions reduction plan, it’s important to establish clear and manageable KPIs. Identify specific elements in your carbon footprint for emissions reduction, and ensure that data collection and measurement methodologies are doable. When in doubt, start with incremental initiatives that build toward larger emissions reduction projects.

  4. Prioritize internal and external communication. Successful scope 3 emissions reduction requires transparency and collaboration among internal teams and external partners. Whether within your organization or among carriers and external stakeholders, communicate specific tasks to ensure accurate emissions measurement and analysis.

  5. Leverage strategic partnerships. Robust partnerships will help you make meaningful progress toward your net-zero emissions target. Select a strategic partner with the technology and expertise to provide recommendations unique to your transportation network. A strategic partner can also guide you through obstacles and alert you of environmental policy changes.

Need help understanding your scope 3 transportation emissions footprint?

To learn more about developing your scope 3 emissions reduction plan and achieving net-zero carbon emissions, schedule a demo of CleanMile — our transportation emissions management solution.