Economic activity depends on effective logistics to supply materials to industry and to move products along the supply chain and eventually to the end consumer. While logistics encompasses a range of activities, the most visible and environmentally damaging element is the extensive use of freight transport.
Transport generally accounts for about 35% to 40% of global total energy end use. Heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) alone accounted for 19% of UK transport emissions in 1999-2010, and vans a further 12%, according to the Department for Transport. Shipping is another important, yet polluting, component of freight transportation, accounting for 3% of the world’s greenhouse gases, according to the European Commission. That’s around a billion tonnes of emissions a year, or twice the carbon footprint of aviation.
In the past 30 years, overall freight transport has doubled and road freight transport has tripled, in the process becoming the dominant transport mode. Although there are a number of large players in this field, there are, even during this recent recession, an enormous number of smaller freight operators with fleets which number in single figures. The movement of freight, whether by road, rail, inland waterways or short sea shipping, is vital to the economy of the UK. However, the impacts of congestion, the environment, and an overburdened infrastructure have to be addressed. There is a need for an emphasis on improving sustainability of the freight system, in terms of both enhancing the benefits of a robust freight system and minimising the negative impacts freight movement can have.