A quick guide to: minimising air travel for freight

Agriculture, manufacturing and other goods have often been flown around the world, or domestically. What are the alternatives, and what do businesses need to consider?

Reducing your reliance on air as a means of transporting freight is a key consideration when decreasing your business’s carbon footprint. Carbonfund.org’s latest figures (source: EPA Emissions Factors for Greenhouse Gases Inventories 2022) reveal that the average amount of CO2 (in grams) emitted per metric ton of freight and per mile of transportation by air is 1.2kg. This sum is far higher than the emissions of modern ships (40g), lorries (200g) and trains (20g).

But failure to act in the coming years may not simply be bad for the environment, it may cost your business because of the measurement of Scope 3 emissions (see here for more info).

Put simply, these are the emissions that, typically, corporates look to reduce in their supply chains; even though the emissions are created by a supplier, a corporate will still record the emissions in their sustainability reporting. And they will seek to clean up their extended supply chains, wherever in the world they may operate.

So what else does a business looking to reduce its reliance on air freight need to consider?

Exploit a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system

Most businesses have some means of logging the orders that customers make, the invoices and payments relating to them, as well as customer feedback. An advanced CRM will also allow you to better plan your logistics, supporting you to time and co-ordinate shipments so that you rely less on last-minute orders that need to be flown to a customer.

Think about localisation and nearshoring

According to a December 2019 roadmap created by the Alliance for Logistics Innovation through Collaboration in Europe (ALICE), where feasible, businesses should localise production close to consumption as this will support the use of air freight alternatives. Likewise, moving stockholding and sales closer to consumers is another way to reduce carbon emissions. For some businesses this may mean setting up an office overseas or finding a local partner in an export market to take over, for instance, manufacture and local delivery of goods.

An advanced CRM will allow you to better plan your logistics, supporting you to time and co-ordinate shipments so that you rely less on last-minute orders that need to be flown to a customer

Manage your customers’ expectations

A 2009 policy paper by the World Economic Forum entitled ‘Supply Chain Decarbonization’ recommends changing consumer behaviour through raising awareness and education about their purchasing habits and the need to shift expectations. For example, if you have chosen not to fly a product to a customer, inform them that delivery times may be longer than they had expected.

Calculate your emissions savings

Having reduced your use of air travel for freight it is worthwhile measuring the positive impact of your emissions by using a carbon calculator. These may be recorded as part of your annual report, if audited, and encourage customers to view your business as a low-carbon emitter, as part of large supply chains. According to the Smart Freight Centre, measuring your business’s emissions will help you set realistic targets for further carbon reductions.

Reconsider the just-in-time model

As many manufacturers are aware, just-in-time (JIT) production is the practice of taking delivery of inbound materials and components at a factory as, and when, they are precisely needed. In the past this has meant that businesses rely less on warehousing and can better control their expenditure as only the quantity of goods needed at a specific time are stored and paid for. While building a new warehouse to reduce emissions might sound counterproductive and expensive, it might make sense for your business to take a blended approach to the JIT model. This might mean reserving air freight for those parts where there is no alternative means for freight, while using slower transportation and storage for other goods.

Join a scheme

Reducing carbon through less reliance on air travel for freight is only part of your business’s journey to net zero. To stay informed about the latest developments in freight management, and to reduce your shipping costs (carbon or otherwise), you might consider joining an alliance such as the Smart Freight Centre, an international non-profit organisation focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from freight transportation. It produces guidelines and helps businesses co-ordinate to keep policy moving in the right direction. Find out more about the Smart Freight Centre.

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