Road freight emissions can be cut by up to 46%, suggests new framework

As the primary method for freight transportation in South Africa, road freight, excluding passenger freight, emits about 16.8-million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) a year, making it the second largest contributor to carbon emissions, after electricity.


One way to reduce these carbon emissions is to put in place a road freight decarbonisation framework that is specifically developed for the local context, says business analyst Dr Lee-Anne Terblanche.


Terblanche recently obtained her doctorate in Logistics Management at Stellenbosch University.


She developed the first-ever road freight decarbonisation framework for South Africa that transport companies and policy-makers can use to decrease CO2 emissions.


“Given the necessity to lower carbon emissions, the framework provides companies and policy-makers with guidelines on how this can be achieved and what areas to focus on,” says Terblanche.


To develop the decarbonisation framework, Terblanche engaged with several experts and managers in the road freight industry.


Altogether 132 registered road freight companies took part in her study.


Terblanche’s framework identifies four key decisions a company has to make when it comes to road freight transportation, with all of these able to influence the amount of carbon emissions being released.


The framework also quantifies how much carbon emissions each of these decisions would contribute to the total road freight emissions in South Africa.


The decisions revolve around a move from road freight to rail; the efficiency of the logistical route or network; operational and mechanical efficiency; and a culture of compliance with the Road Transport Management System (RTMS, which is an industry-led self-regulation scheme).


These four key decisions were broken down to nine smaller carbon variables to highlight how each of these variables contributed to total road freight carbon emissions.


These include, among others, missed slot or delivery times; hijacking and theft (leading to unplanned trips and, thus, more carbon emissions); empty loading (trucks returning empty to the warehouse after a day’s deliveries have been done); unnecessary trips; trucks’ mechanical efficiency; and driving behaviour (for example, do drivers make the best decisions in terms of idling the truck, acceleration, the use of cruise control, making unplanned or unauthorised stops, and so forth.)


Terblanche says carbon emissions can decrease considerably if companies pay close attention to these variables.


“If companies in South Africa focus on these core aspects, carbon emissions in road freight can decrease by a staggering 46%,” she states.


“This number shows how inefficiently we operate our road freight.”


“The largest reduction potential of carbon emissions and road freight kilometres lies within logistical network efficiency decision-making, which may reduce carbon emissions by 27%,” adds Terblanche.


“A shift to rail can contribute a 7.5% reduction, while operational efficiency can contribute a 20% reduction.


“Should all the influences be implemented at once to achieve synergy, a total calculated carbon saving of 7.7-million tons of CO2 can be achieved, along with a reduction of 7.36-billion road-freight kilometres.”


Highlighting the value of the decarbonisation framework, Terblanche says it is now possible to identify where the most potential lies for carbon emission cuts within the road freight industry in South Africa, as well as the measures to be taken to decrease these emissions.


“This is important if we take into consideration that road freight traffic is projected to increase to a million freight vehicles on our roads by 2050, with Gauteng set to [welcome] most of this increase due to the economic activities in the province.”