opinion | Empty road transport, the other ecological disaster

Posted Nov 18, 2022, 2:03 PM

While the “ghost flights” that roam the skies have recently been rightly the subject of an environmental scandal and economical, another type of highly problematic empty transport is also showing up on our roads every day, further from the spotlight.

You are driving on the highway. Every two kilometers or so you pass a truck. You don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. All you know is that it is probably transporting this or that product to the next destination in its supply chain, whether it is a store, a warehouse, or a port. . There is actually a good chance that this truck is completely empty.

20% empty vehicles

Data collected by Eurostat suggests that around 20% of road transport in the EU involves empty vehicles. Even more telling: according to research carried out by the German Ministry for Traffic and Digital Technology on heavy goods vehicles in particular, 153 million heavy goods vehicle transports were carried out empty out of a total of 258.7 million, i.e. almost 60 %.

To put this into perspective, approximately 87 million metric tons of annual global road freight carbon emissions can be attributed to empty miles, out of a total of 252 million tons. This is equivalent to the energy consumption of nearly eleven million homes for one year; a colossal mess, and bad news for a sector that has long been criticized for its impact on the environment.

Telephone brokerage

Why such a magnitude? A Bloomberg NEF report suggests that medium and small carrier fleets that haul loads long distances have the largest share of empty miles. This is largely because they lack the technical infrastructure and resources to truly optimize their operations.

For example, many freight operators still rely on telephone brokerage supporting individual assignments, rather than using self-driving and automated digital solutions to optimize their loads.

The good news is that there is growing momentum within the industry to reverse this trend. A recent survey, for example, revealed that 59% of carriers are now able to calculate their transport-related CO2 emissions, up from 46% in 2020. The proportion of shippers with a decarbonisation strategy is also said to have increased by 50% over the last twelve months.

Use mass data

It is clear that the sector is moving in the right direction, but that will not help much if ensuring the maximum capacity of all transport remains a secondary concern. To reduce empty kilometers and really impact their environment, transport players must be ready to digitize more. Reducing empty goods transport is based on three pillars: data, automation and collaboration.

First of all, the logistics sector must absolutely use the mass of data at its disposal to base its operations on tangible figures rather than on intuition, and get out of the usual operating modes. Several digital tools providing visibility into transport data in real time already exist, and allow shippers and carriers to better understand how their transport is used to improve route efficiency and limit the proportion of empty trips.

In addition, more companies are now relying on primary data which, more precise than the default data, allows them to truly manage their CO2 emissions rather than simply measuring them.


This data must then be complemented by the automation of calculations and analysis, which, based on Artificial Intelligence algorithms, allows companies to act much more easily on the data they collect.

The key to efficiency, however, lies in collaboration, which itself relies on the digitalization of processes and contacts. Businesses need to be prepared to collaborate more with other players in the supply chain – and that means better leveraging online transport networks. Being part of a larger network, for example, makes it much easier for freight drivers to find return cargo when they need it. All they have to do is notify the network when they deposit their load, and wait for another party looking for load capacity to provide them with a match.

A disaster that can be avoided

Businesses can also leverage operational data from across networks to uncover new insights that help them make smarter, greener decisions. However, this is only possible if the majority of players recognize the value of such networks.

The proportion of empty loads traveling through Europe is a disaster that can be avoided by exploiting existing technological tools. Artificial Intelligence, automation, cloud platforms are all innovations whose level of exploitation will determine the future of transport in terms of sustainable development.

We want to say thanks to the writer of this short article for this outstanding material

opinion | Empty road transport, the other ecological disaster

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