13th October 2021

It is not easy being green

In almost every industry, companies are redoubling their efforts to improve the green credentials of their products and services. Finding ways to improve working to be more eco-friendly and environmentally conscious is vitally important. But there is a balance that needs to be found between making ambitions a practical reality without negatively impacting costs and growth.

This article will consider some of the most overlooked concerns around going green to identify the challenges of switching to more environmentally friendly practices.

The current situation

Across the world, there is a concerted effort to meet ambitious environmental targets to help reduce carbon footprints, greenhouse gas emissions and the need for single-use materials. With so much uniformity of purpose, it is easier to adopt a proactive attitude and turn to innovation, technology and revised practices to identify ways that businesses can improve environmentally and continue to experience growth.

However, the UK’s haulage industry is not currently in a strong position for putting time and resources into long-term planning. Due to a combination of Brexit and the pandemic, the industry is struggling in the short term as it manages new border processes and driver shortage at a time where demand is continuing to increase.

Understandably, going green under these conditions is not going to be as simple as it sounds. So, what are the main challenges that could restrict the adoption rates of green practices for HGV companies?

Green targets
For some companies, deciding to flip a switch and go green as soon as possible would be financially devastating. While it may appear simple, the process impacts every aspect of how a haulage company works – particularly fleet management.

On the other hand, waiting too long could have serious consequences. The deadline for green targets is moving closer (to meet the 2050 deadline, production of new diesel trucks will need to end in the 2030s). Failure to act could result in government or industry pressure that can negatively impact businesses - from public perception and the financial perspective.

There is a balance to be struck. Many will likely approach each aspect of the organisation on a case-by-case basis to see when implementing changes should occur. Hauliers should move at their own pace. But should certainly be moving, or at least developing a strategy to improve sustainability issues.

The rate of technological advancements continues to increase, but further leaps are required to make green haulage viable industry-wide. While electric HGVs are coming to market and becoming more common, there are still questions about affordability, efficient charging and range. Simply having electric vehicles on the market is not enough.

The expense of upgrading a fleet can be enormous regardless of the company’s scale, and many will feel that it is in their best interests to wait and see how the electric vehicle market develops before committing fully.

Being a green company is a marketing angle that many are currently using to present their brands as proactive and caring. But deciding which changes to implement needs to be balanced to ensure the competition doesn't leave you behind. 

Those targeting a green consumer will likely spend large amounts of money and resources, but having green credentials might not be enough of a consumer benefit if service costs are higher.

Thankfully, protecting the environment is not a zero-sum game. It is in the interests of everyone that company practices and cultures can evolve to a place where environmental considerations are permanently front of mind.

The unexpected
As we have seen in recent years, unprecedented events have become commonplace. From fuel or driver shortages to spikes in costs, border issues or a lack of parts, the need to shift from long-term evolution to short-term crisis management could happen at any time.

With so many challenges currently facing the haulage industry, it wouldn’t be surprising if businesses felt it was more prudent to plan for the short and mid-term to sustain productivity and profitability instead of putting resources into developing greener processes.

How much impact will going green make?
While the long-term goals are admirable, a single industry – even one as significant as haulage – will not be enough to make a tangible difference. Change needs to come from both public and political desire as well as from industries of all kinds.

For example, by 2050, electric fleets could become normalised. However, if global energy production still relies on coal power plants, issues around greenhouse emissions and eroding the supply of fossil fuels will remain. Not to say that haulage should not play its part in the coming years, but it does underline how ‘going green’ is not as simple as it looks.

What can haulage do now?

Carbon emissions are one of the most significant areas where haulage and logistics could make changes. Electric fleets will gradually become more common over time, but, for now, emissions can be reduced through finding ways to make delivery routes more efficient – reducing the number of miles travelled and therefore reducing emissions.

Similarly, reviewing procedures around how trucks are packed for their routes can help to save time and energy, contributing to a more efficient supply chain overall.

The other aspect to consider is wear and tear on the fleet itself. Careful driving and regular maintenance will help keep vehicles on the road and maximise the life of various components that might otherwise require replacements.

Often the idea of ‘going green’ is focused on reducing pollution and waste. But making changes that can be sustainable in the long-term requires services and strategies to be reviewed and adjusted to ensure they are economically viable. While this is not impossible, it is a significant challenge for an industry in which demand currently outstrips the ability to deliver and short term challenges are prioritised by necessity.

The challenges of going green may cause financial and strategic hardships, but they are a necessity for a prosperous future. The need for innovative approaches and technological developments will help to build more efficient and effective practices. Processes and planning will benefit drivers, consumers, the wider industry and the planet as a whole.

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