How is the transport industry decarbonising the supply chain?

Jan 18, 2024

For as long as the transport industry has existed, the primary focus has always been on delivering high quality services as quickly as possible.

As the supply chain has evolved over time, the use of resources and their environmental impacts have continued to increase, and as a result we now find ourselves in the midst of some significant environmental challenges.

With the UK Government throwing down the gauntlet of a 68% reduction in emissions by 2030, and net-zero by 2050, sustainable supply chain management has never been more front of mind than it is now.

Read on to find out more about how the transport industry is decarbonising the transportation supply chain.

Acceleration of sustainably powered vehicles

One of the primary drivers of the transport industry’s environmental impact is, unsurprisingly, the transport vehicles themselves.

In 2022, a UK Government report revealed a total of more than 153 million HGV journeys throughout the year, covering a total of almost 20 billion kilometres. With the vast majority of these vehicles being traditionally fuel-powered, the potential carbon emissions here are more than significant.

In an effort to tackle this problem head on, many transport companies are moving towards electric powered vehicles (EVs) wherever possible. By expediting the rollout of this initiative and decreasing the number of fuel-powered vans and lorries on the road, the UK transportation supply chain’s environmental impact will substantially decrease.

As an industry which thrives on collaboration, the transport sector has also seen investment and involvement from individual companies looking to support the development of sustainable vehicles.

The quicker we can develop and deploy low emission vehicles, the sooner we will see the benefits for the UK supply chain and the planet as a whole. As it stands, the availability of EV chargers and the driveable range associated with EVs make it an imperfect match for long distance haulage, but here’s to the future.

Reuse and recycle resources

Recycling is one of the most widely recognised and longest standing initiatives for decarbonisation, and for good reason.

With more than two thirds (67%) of plastic waste in our country stemming from packaging, the environmental impacts of single-use plastic are unavoidable. By developing new, sustainable packaging methods, the opportunity to dramatically reduce the country’s plastic-led pollution is huge.

Whilst some organisations may opt to employ entirely re-useable packaging methods, others reinforce their recycling processes in-house or with the support of an industry partner.

Whether your organisation opts to reuse a combination of both, or waving goodbye to single use plastic is a hallmark of the 21st century.

Boxes load being loaded onto lorry for delivery from warehouse

Planning in advance

Planning ahead is never a bad idea, no matter which industry you are in.  A lack of planning can save some time in the short-term, but it will also undoubtedly lead to less sustainable activity when operating vehicles.

For example, the use of sustainable packaging in the transportation of goods. . Working directly with suppliers to identify more than one suitable method of sustainable packaging can pay dividends if a shortage occurs. If you employ a reactive model in this instance, you may not have the time to identify a suitable replacement and instead fall back on single use plastic or other unsustainable materials to make ends meet.

However, planning in advance is not just about contingency planning, it’s also about increasing efficiency, reducing waste, and maximising the resources you have access to.

One example of planning in advance is coordinating complimentary return journeys for increased efficiency and reduced waste. This method is the loading of goods vehicle with more cargo after it has made its primary delivery, meaning that vehicles are not heading back to base empty and potentially travelling hundreds of miles with no productive return.

The UK Government revealed that in 2022, operational goods vehicles travelled more than 5.8 billion kilometres whilst empty, demonstrating an enormous amount of inefficiency.

Whilst this is a strong way to decarbonise your transportation supply chain, it involves a sizeable logistical undertaking in house to make this possible. In order to make this a realistic solution for your organisation, consider working with a 4PL (Fourth Party Logistics Provider) to organise and implement complimentary return journeys into your transportation supply chain.

An established 4PL, such as X2, with its network of more than 1,000 industry partners, is able to identify opportunities for complimentary return journeys, helping you to increase efficiency of your transport and replace an otherwise unprofitable journey with a productive one.

Route optimisation AI

Another sizeable contributor to a transportation supply chain’s carbon footprint are the routes in which the drivers operate along.

With drivers of goods vehicles often making multiple deliveries from a single load, it is commonplace to see drivers doubling back on themselves in order to hit their time-based deadlines.

Effective route planning has long been a feature of the transport industry, but thanks to ever-improving Artificial Intelligence this is becoming much easier and more effective.

Route optimisation AI will automatically devise the optimum delivery route in order to minimise your fuel consumption and travel the fewest kilometres possible. The technology considers live factors such as traffic, road accidents, and the type of roads to provide accurate, streamlined routes.

Whilst you may only appear to save a few kilometres each trip, with goods vehicles travelling almost 20 billion kilometres a year, these savings add up quickly. From cutting fuel costs, reducing vehicle maintenance, to saving on driver expenditure and even tolls or congestion charges. AI can supercharge delivery and cost efficiency in tandem.

 Offsetting emissions

Sometimes, carbon emissions cannot be avoided. Whether it stems from the use of packaging materials or from the actual transportation of goods, carbon is emitted across the industry.

Thankfully, there are a wide range of ways for organisations to offset their carbon emissions and negate their impact on the environment.

Here are some examples of initiatives businesses can invest in to offset its carbon emissions:

  • Creation of woodland and planting tress – such as Woodland Carbon
  • Investing in biodiversity and conservation efforts – such as Ceres Rural
  • Implementing or financing renewable energy solutions – such as Ecologi
  • Increasing recycling schemes within the business to promote a sustainability-first culture and reduce waste wherever possible

There are a host of other potential options, one of which is joining a corporate carbon scheme. These initiatives manage the logistics, management, and rollout of these carbon offsetting efforts, allowing you to invest in their work without adding additional strain to your workforce.

Some examples of established carbon offsetting schemes include:

  • Carbon Footprint Ltd –  a scheme covering a wide range of activities, from tree planting to solar energy installations.
  • My Carbon Plan – primarily focused on planting thousands of trees each year.
  • Native –  help to offset carbon emissions through investing in clean water, renewable energy, and regenerative agriculture.


From optimising delivery routes, sourcing renewable packaging, implementing complementary return journeys and investing in carbon offsetting schemes. There are a catalogue of ways you can implement sustainable practices in the management of a transportation supply chain.

Consider the options available to you and begin taking steps towards securing the future of the transport industry and our planet.

If you are interested in finding out more about the decarbonisation benefits a 4PL, such as X2, can offer your business. Get in touch today to find out more.

Call: +441455 220909