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5 min read

Driving sustainability: Reducing empty miles in road freight

5 min read

Driving sustainability: Reducing empty miles in road freight

For businesses with goods to move, minimizing empty miles can substantially reduce costs and boost operational efficiency. Mitigating empty miles becomes especially important when businesses pivot from diesel-based freight operations to sustainable road freight. This is because high utilization of assets is a key driver for cost-effective operations – helping to unlock a strong business case for intelligently deployed electric freight today. Of course, sustainable freight is about more than switching fuels – it’s also about ensuring transportation flows are highly reliable and streamlined. 

Transportation needs to be reliable. It needs to be affordable. And then it can be sustainable.

Robert Ziegler Einride GM, Region EMEA

What are empty miles?

Empty miles are the miles covered by a vehicle while it is in transit but not actively engaged in revenue-generating activities – thus putting wear on energy, time, tires, and more. The topic came into focus during the Einride Webinar “Unlock cost-effective electric freight operations” (now available to watch on demand).

Empty miles are undesirable in the transportation and logistics industry because they contribute to inefficiency and increased operating costs. Several factors can lead to empty miles, including:

1. Deadheading: This occurs when a commercial vehicle returns to its point of origin or travels to a new location without carrying any load. Deadheading often happens after a delivery has been made, and the vehicle needs to find a new cargo or return to a distribution center.

2. Inefficient Routing: Poorly planned routes or logistics operations can result in unnecessary empty miles. For example, if a vehicle takes a longer route than necessary or fails to optimize its schedule, it may cover more miles without transporting goods.

3. Lack of Return Cargo: If a vehicle is unable to find a suitable load for the return trip, it may travel empty to its next destination or back to its origin.

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) has found that over the past decade, empty miles have accounted for 15-20% of trucking miles – incurring significant cost. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics says 87 million tonnes of CO2e can be traced to non-revenue – or empty – miles. Similar numbers are observed in the European Union, where some countries are averaging over 30% in their share of empty vehicle kilometers.

Empty miles and sustainability 

Reducing empty miles is a goal in the transportation industry because it improves resource utilization, reduces fuel consumption, and lowers overall operational costs. As for sustainable freight, reducing empty miles becomes even more important if you want to switch to electric vehicles – as Einride’s GM EMEA Robert Ziegler explained during the webinar.

“You can’t swap diesel trucks for electric trucks 1-to-1. Electric vehicles are, at the moment, more expensive than diesel vehicles. So the capital expense at the beginning is more important. But since we’re having much lower running costs on the kilometer than with diesel, that initial investment is then being recuperated. So the total cost of ownership is actually competitive against diesel,” said Robert.

“High utilization is the driver of that. If you run a truck only half of the time – so for example, if you only deliver from a factory to a supermarket chain – then you’re likely to run empty backward,” says Robert. “That has been pretty much the way that the classic transportation system has been operated – that’s why utilization there is very, very low.” 

That is something that needs to change if businesses are to shift to more efficient operations. After all, as Robert explains, switching to sustainable road freight isn’t just about going electric; it’s also about going efficient: “Transportation needs to be reliable. It needs to be affordable. And then it can be sustainable.”

By shipping with Einride, businesses don’t need to worry about capital expenditure, as Einride provides all the necessary infrastructure needed to move the goods – including the digital infrastructure that plays a key role in minimizing empty miles. The solution is provided as a monthly transparently priced subscription for freight capacity as a service

Driver with a pallet in a warehouse

How can businesses sustainably reduce empty miles?

Measures that can help businesses reduce their empty miles include:

  • Backhauling: Planning return trips with cargo to minimize empty miles. Businesses can identify opportunities to pick up additional freight along the return route.

  • Route Optimization: Use advanced routing software to optimize delivery routes and thus minimize empty miles. These can take into account variables such as real-time traffic data and weather conditions to dynamically adjust routes.

  • Collaborative shipping and freight consolidation: Collaborating with other businesses by purchasing freight capacity as a service can significantly reduce empty miles, as shipments can be consolidated. This helps maximize the use of each vehicle.

By shipping with Einride, businesses can leverage all of these benefits. The intelligent freight operating system Einride Saga identifies which routes within the shipper’s transportation network can be electrified today with a strong business case. 

When it’s time to move the goods, digital intelligence again plays a critical role, unlocking advanced route optimization based on real-world factors, leading to higher vehicle uptime (increasing overall equipment efficiency). Additionally, the nature of Einride’s solution means that multiple businesses could leverage the same pool of physical assets – via freight mobility grids – enabling more cost-effective sustainable shipping, thanks to less downtime.

“What we do is we create transparency across the full supply chain so that when a truck leaves from a factory and goes to the grocery retailer’s distribution center, it can then come back with raw materials from the distribution center of their suppliers, that is probably in the same location,” said Robert Ziegler. “So we are creating that visibility through the freight operating system Saga. And through that transparency, we are able to increase utilization of these vehicles.”

Want to learn more? Watch the Einride Webinar – “Unlock cost-effective electric freight operations” for a deep-dive in the topic. Register here.

Einride Webinar on-demand - Unlock cost-effective electric freight operations

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