Pursuing Environmental Sustainability in today’s Intermodal Transportation Industry

TLMT331 – Fundamentals of Intermodal Transportation Research Paper

Economic development is a hallmark of the 21st century and responsible for numerous improvements that have transformed the lives of millions across the globe. Poverty has reduced dramatically while noticeable changes are now commonplace in education and healthcare. Yet, these developments come at a cost. The introduction of intermodal transportation and subsequent deregulations has exacerbated the climate crisis and now ranks high among emerging issues of grave concern. Although intermodal transportation has introduced economic gains, it is a major threat to environmental sustainability. The transportation industry is a major producer of greenhouse emissions and a major existential threat to global wellbeing. Fossil fuel combustion increases CO2 levels of present in the atmosphere which ultimately results in unpredictable weather patterns (Craig, Blanco, & Sheffi, 2013, p. 34).

Read also Impact of Regulation and Deregulation on Intermodal Transportation in Europe and United States

Even though this fact is common knowledge, major players in the sector have been slow to act owing to numerous employment opportunities provided in the sector. Pursuing environmental sustainability in today’s intermodal transportation sector is, therefore, necessary for the present generation and posterity. Novel inventions such as fuel-efficient transportation systems that emit less carbon serve as one of the major strategies that governments can implement to reduce pollution and the emission intensity in various forms of intermodal transportation. It is, therefore, imperative to assess solutions for this emerging problem and whether “going green” will introduce changes that may affect the industry’s future.

Read also What Transportation & Logistics Leaders need to do to Prepare for the Future of Freight Transportation


 The global freight sector has recently been highlighted as an immediate threat to the environment. According to a study conducted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), intermodal transportation is now responsible for 29% of the greenhouse gases emitted globally (Environmental Protection Agency, 2019). This process began with a steady rise in industrial production during the second half of the 21st century which required the large-scale introduction of freight transportation.  Elaborate infrastructure was then familiarized across the board to improve connectivity between nations while ensuring that roads were specifically upgraded to service the production volume. Intermodal transportation was then embraced globally where jurisdictions in Europe, Asia, and the Americas signed bilateral and multilateral agreements to create a free flow of goods. Freight transportation now represents a huge portion of traffic and a prime initiator of CO2 emissions globally. This type of pollution represents an immediate threat to the wellbeing of millions across the globe with the World Health Organization (WHO) currently estimates that pollution accounts for 2.7 million annual deaths globally (Fahimnia, Bell, Hensher, & Sarkis, 2015).

Read also Impacts of Transportation Regulation vs Deregulation

CO2 emissions are projected to increase twofold by the year 2050 with scientists projecting that freight, international maritime and air transportation serving as the major contributors. A call for environmental sustainability has, therefore, emerged as the only viable option capable of remedying the situation globally. The approaches proposed to target the movement of goods from one locality to the next while significantly lowering the climatic and environmental impacts of intermodal transportation. “Green freight” now refers to a model of transportation that champions transportation systems capable of reducing the intensity of emissions while still facilitating economic growth. Through a liaison system between governments and the private sector, stakeholders in the sector are also engaged directly to ensure that they participate in the implementation process. It is critical to contend with the reality that global economies and industrialization will continue growing given the current trend, which then puts the environment in danger of damage by intermodal transportation. Thus, environmentally sustainable intermodal transportation systems present an emerging approach that aims to introduce positive changes through a change in policy, market liberalization, and financial incentives.

Strategies to Introduce Green Freight and their Effect on the Future Of Intermodal Transportation

Leveraging Emerging Technology.

Innovations in intermodal transportation have been linked to an increase in pollution and a host of negative impacts that affect the environment. A fresh solution to this problem entails controlling the technologies used in intermodal transportation to reduce emissions while saving fuel. Engine monitors, emission transmitters and computerized routing ensure that fleet operators make a fuel-efficient choice during their runs. Furthermore, these technologies will also be responsible for turning idling engines off while reducing the total number of miles traveled. Remote monitoring also ensures the driver’s proficiency is always assessed before providing recommendations

 Transportation Maneuvers focusing on Fuel Efficiency.

Clear routing practices are an important prerequisite when seeking to introduce operational competencies which will ultimately prove to be environmentally efficient. Routing avoids unnecessary stops while proving the driver with the shortest itinerary to their destination. Similar to a “package flow”, transportation maneuvers significantly reduce idling time, delivery in addition to loading and packaging. The introduction of auxiliary power units (APUs) reduces emissions and speed in tractor-trailers (Janic, 2017, p.78). By so doing, efficiency is improved through saving fuel which then reduces carbon emissions. For instance, Maersk has embraced this approach and the speed of its maritime fleet as a novel strategy that aims to introduce environmental sustainability.

 Improving Packaging.

Shippers pay particular attention to packaging since it is capable of affecting the efficacy of intermodal transportation. Similarly, the type of packaging used is also capable of affecting the environment. This has prompted the emergence of a new trend where shippers use small packet packages to reduce the use of unnecessary layers. Additionally, the reduction of materials and the layers used results in lighter shipments which then increase the number of items that a container can hold. The result is a reduced number of trucks or containers required to transport the items which are sustainable since it reduces the amount of fuel required

 Cooperative Intermodal Transportation.

Collaborative efforts have now emerged in the intermodal transportation sector to reduce carbon emissions linked to a host of negative impacts on the environment. A logistic triad conglomerate allows major players in the industry to pool, saving resources and reducing emissions that would have been produced by numerous trip (Szyliowicz, Zamparini, Reniers, & Rhoades, 2016, p. 88). The overall result is a reduction of the carbon footprint and transportation cost which then promotes sustainable practices in the sector. The rearrangement of schedules also provides shippers with adequate time to plan for the most cost-efficient route which limits the number of miles traveled and resulting emissions.

Read also Impact of Regulation and Deregulation on Intermodal Transportation in Europe and United States

 Streamlining Logistics Systems.

Physical logistics is an important part of intermodal transportation recently linked to a rise in carbon emissions. A complete overhaul and restructuring of these systems are therefore necessary if noticeable changes are to be realized in the environment. One such initiative entails pinpointing manufacturing facilities that are close to supply bases to reduce the cost of fuel. This approach also endeavors to achieve a state of economic equilibrium where fuel consumption is reduced while still maintaining realistic gains on behalf of a specific entity in the intermodal transport sector. It ultimately proves beneficial to companies relying on freight transportation while championing sustainability in the industry.

 Workforce Training and Compensation Plans.

The application of practical sustainable plans also goes hand in hand with robust personnel training programs in freight transportation. They are critical in raising the awareness of employees regarding the impact of emissions on the environment in addition to lowering operational costs. The introduction of new techniques such as avoiding the use of the air conditioning system and hard braking in intermodal transportation introduces fuel efficiency. Regular maintenance of the fleet also ensures that sustainable practices are easily applied and implemented together with other imperative incentives. Compensation plans now include additional fees for emergency orders using fuel-efficient modes of transportation.

 Restricting Delivery Hours in Urban Metropolis.

Environmental sustainability becomes viable when restrictions on freight deliveries are actualized in major cities. The European Union and the United States are among some leading jurisdictions that now apply legislations specifying specific hours during which freight deliveries can be made. For instance, trucks in the Spanish city of Barcelona are only allowed to make deliveries at night while following a specified route (European Conference of Ministers of Transport, 2015). The essence of such restrictions is to allow the transportation of freight at a time when traffic is reduced which then lowers the idle time linked to emission while on the road.

 The Introduction of Intelligent Intermodal Transportation Systems.

The application of emerging intelligent intermodal transportation systems introduces a treasure trove of benefits in the sector. One such benefit focuses on the reduction of congestion which, in turn, lowers emissions. The application of signal control schemes that are currently deployed in European and American freeways allows traffic control systems to also record emissions from individual automobiles (Siggerud, 2015, p. 89). Air traffic control systems also function with the primary purpose of improving efficiency while reducing emissions using performance-based routes. Fuel consumption is ultimately reduced, which then results in improved efficiency and a sustainable approach to freight transportation.

Government Involvement in Research Development

Governing administrations in the United States and the European Union have been responsible for the deregulation that introduced intermodal transportation into the mainstream. It is, therefore, incumbent upon them to promote research on technological changes taking place in the industry and sustainable freight transportation systems. Investment in such endeavors ensures that a clear direction is provided which ultimately aids technological developments with the primary objective of introducing technology-induced transformations. Modal shifts in freight transportation will also ensure that cargo is diverted to underutilized highways to reduce traffic-linked carbon emissions.

Regulating Engine Standards. 

The creation of succinct emission standards is critical in certifying that vehicles plying various highways satisfy regulatory requirements. Engine and emission standards are centered on air quality which can only be maintained clean-trucks programs (Reis & Macário, 2019). Stringent measures ensure that regulations are adhered to and pollution kept at a minimum. The United Nations also supports the regulation of engine standards which it regards as an important step towards reducing emissions and promoting environmentally sustainable approaches in today’s intermodal transportation industry.

 Normalizing Renewable Energy Standards.

The use of renewable sources of energy in the transportation industry is critical in reducing carbon emissions while championing sustainable standards. The decline of the use of petroleum fuel results in the implementation of sustainable strategies that address greenhouse emissions. Truckers are now encouraged to increase their consumption of biodiesel in their fleets which ultimately results in a significant reduction in pollution.


The recent global economic development has resulted in the deregulation and introduction of intermodal transportation which is now linked to increased emissions. Intermodal transport has emerged as an existential threat to the environment which is why it is essential to pursue environmental sustainability. Novel strategies include levering emerging technology, fuel efficiency, improving packaging, cooperative transportation, streamlining logistics, workforce training, restricting delivery hours, introducing intelligent intermodal transportation systems, government involvement, regulating engine standards and normalizing renewable energy. Their implementation is bound to transform the industry a chart an environmentally sustainable path for its future.

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