Climate Impact

The climate impact on the freight transportation industry is immense for a number of reasons. Unlike other industries, there is no silver-bullet technology that provides zero-carbon transportation. There will be a mix of various different propulsion technologies and all need to become more cost-efficient and reliable.


Furthermore, climate resilience in a globalized network can only be achieved if all parties work together. But the transformation time for the sector is short due to the lifetime of transport assets such as maritime vessels, aircrafts, or related fueling infrastructure. In this section, you'll find the most important topics, trends, and terms to have on your radar for decarbonizing freight transportation.

Climate costs

  •  Carbon price schemes are going to extend their scope

  • A fair price is projected to be at 180€ per ton

  • Taxing global freight emissions above a 1.5°C trajectory at this price would equal 574bn € additional costs by 2030

  • Offsetting all freight emissions by reforestation requires the entire landmass of Africa and Asia combined


  • Environmental zones limit access for emission-intense vessels and vehicles (ports, cities, coastal areas)

  • The IMO and national governments already established environmental protection zones 

  • Manufacturers face high penalties if products are not in accordance with climate targets (e.g., automotive sector)

  • Reporting standards on climate risk will increase significantly (e.g., EU Taxonomy for sustainable finance)

Economic risks

  • Indirect economic effects are even bigger than direct carbon pricing

  • Changing asset depreciation of carbon-intense vessels, vehicles, and transport infrastructure

  • Accruals for disaster control (sea-level rise etc.)

  • The cost of capital is likely to increase due to public awareness and investor's risk policies




Sustainability refers to meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the needs of future generations. The concept of sustainability is based on three pillars: environmental, economic and social sustainability. Organizations increasingly pay attention to their impact on sustainability aspects. Customers, partners, employees, regulators and investors drive voluntary as well as mandatory reporting on this matter. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is a globally recognized institution for setting standards on a comparable and comprehensive sustainability reporting. Source: United Nations

Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)

In 2015, the United Nations member states adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure peace and prosperity worldwide. The goals recognize the interconnection and equal importance of environmental, economic and social sustainability. That means that ending poverty and other deprivations must go side by side with actions that reduce inequality, improve health and education, and accelerate economic growth while fighting climate change and protecting our oceans and forests. Source: United Nations

Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement is the first-ever universal, legally binding global commitment on climate change. It was adopted by 196 parties at the 21st annual Conference of Parties (COP21), the annual meeting of all nations forming the United Nations Framework on Climate Change in 2015. Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial times with a goal of not exceeding 1.5°C. Source: United Nations

EU Emission Trading Scheme

The EU emissions trading system (EU ETS) is a carbon market operating in all EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. It limits emissions from more than 11,000 heavy energy-using installations such as power stations, industrial plants or airlines covering around 40% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. Working on the ‘cap and trade’ principle, the EU ETS sets a cap on the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions by the system. Within this cap, companies receive or buy emission allowances, which can then be traded with one another as needed. This gives an incentive for companies to reduce emissions and eventually sell allowances. Overall, the EU ETS is a major pillar of EU energy policy and has been found to be an effective tool in reducing emissions cost-effectively. The transportation industry is not yet covered under the umbrella of the EU ETS, but this will potentially change as part of the implementation of the EU Green Deal. Source: European Commission


Greenhouse Gases

Gases that retain heat in the atmosphere are called greenhouse gases. They refer to a sum of seven gases that can be classified in 4 groups: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and fluorinated gases. Carbon dioxide accounts for over 80% of greenhouse gases and is therefore the most commonly referred to greenhouse gas (GHG). Greenhouse gases that lead to global warming are mainly caused by burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas in energy-consuming industrial processes or the mobility sector. Source: EPA

Carbon dioxide (CO2)

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the primary greenhouse gas emitted through human activities. Although it is naturally present in the atmosphere as part of the earth’s carbon cycle, human activities alter the carbon cycle by adding more CO2 to the atmosphere while decreasing the number of natural sinks, like forest or soils, that remove and store CO2. Source : EPA

Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e)

A common way to compare greenhouse gases is the carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). It is a metric based on each greenhouse gas’ global-warming potential (GWP) that converts amounts of other gases to the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide with the same GWP. For example, methane has a GWP of 25, meaning that its GWP is 25 times as high as that of CO2. In comparison, nitrous oxide has a GWP of 298 and sulfur oxides even of 14,800 to 22,800. Source: European Comission, Brander & Davis (2012)

Transport emissions

Transport emissions refer to all pollutants (greenhouse gases and particulate matter) that are emitted in conjunction with freight and passenger transportation. Transport accounts for more than one quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union. Road transport makes up the greatest share with 62% of freight transport emissions, followed by maritime (27%) and aviation (6%). In general, maritime and rail transportation are seen as greenest transport modes, while aviation and road transport have higher relative greenhouse gas emissions per distance traveled. Sources: EEA (1), EEA (2)

Scope 1, 2, 3

Emissions are divided into three parts by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol depending on their source. Scope 1 includes all direct greenhouse gas emissions from sources owned or controlled by the organization. Scope 2 comprises the indirect GHG emissions that result from electricity, steam and heat purchased and used by the organization. Scope 3 covers all other indirect GHG emissions resulting from upstream and downstream business activities such as transportation that are not directly owned or controlled by the reporting entity. Scope 3 emissions usually make up the greatest share of the organization’s carbon footprint. Especially scope 3 emissions are difficult to calculate and allocate correctly due to global supply chain networks with many different stakeholders. Reports from Smart Freight Centre, the Carbon Disclosure Project and Science-based targets initiative give practical guidance on how to account for scope 3 emissions. Sources: Greenhouse Gas Protocol, Smart Freight Centre (Registration required ), Science-based targets

Carbon footprint

The carbon footprint is a measure of the total amount of emissions that is caused by an activity or organization or is accumulated over the life stages of a product. The measurement includes all direct and indirect emissions (Scope I-III) to account for completeness and accuracy. Similarly, the terms corporate footprint, product footprint and transport footprint have established. Source: Wiedmann, Minx (2007)

Carbon intensity

Carbon intensity is the level of CO2 emissions per unit of a specific activity or an industrial production process. It is used to compare the environmental impact of different activities or of the same activity in different execution variations. A well-known example of a carbon intensity measure is grams of CO2 per kilowatt per hour of energy produced that is used to compare different means of energy production such as coal, gas and wind. Carbon intensities can also be used to analyze the environmental impact of companies or supply chains. The measurement is often expanded to CO2 equivalents to embed all greenhouse gases into the analysis and referred to the transport volume in tonne-kilometre or twenty-foot-equivalent units (TEU). Source: Hoffmann, Busch (2008)

Rebound effect

Increased efficiencies in the usage of energy, raw material and water enhance sustainability, but also reduce product, process or service costs, which can in turn raise consumption due to lower selling prices. Hence, original savings are partly or even fully cancelled out due to increasing demand. This phenomenon is known as the rebound effect.
Source: UBA


Decarbonization means reducing, and ultimately eliminating CO2 from recurring activities that are powered or enabled by burning fossil fuels. The goal is to decrease the carbon intensity to net zero. This requires a switch to fully renewable energy sources or active capturing of the equivalent amount of emissions from the atmosphere. Source: ISE

Negative emissions

The term negative emissions is used by climate scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as practices or technologies that remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Two main types of negative emissions are distinguished: enhancing existing natural processes that remove CO2 from the atmosphere (e.g. afforestation and reforestation or the increase of other ‘carbon sinks’) or using technological solutions that capture CO2 directly from the ambient air. Commonly used synonyms of negative emissions are carbon dioxide removal or greenhouse gas removal. The term removal can be confusing in this context as only the chemical state of carbon-dioxide molecules change. Source: IPCC

Black carbon

Black carbon is the most strongly light-absorbing component of particulate matter. It is formed by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels and biomass and is emitted in form of fine particles. Climatic influences of black carbon are its strong absorption of light, both directly and indirectly through the reduction of snow and ice reflectivity, leading to increased temperatures and accelerated ice and snow melt. After carbon dioxide, black carbon has the second biggest impact on climate forcing in the atmosphere. Black carbon typically remains in the atmosphere only for days to weeks, until it returns to the earth’s surface through rain. Sources: EPA, CCA Coalition

Emission factors

An emission factor is a representative value intended to estimate the amount of pollutant released to the atmosphere based on an underlying activity. Emission factors are usually expressed as the weight of pollutant divided by a unit weight, distance, volume, or duration of the related activity (e.g. kg of CO2 emitted per kWh of natural gas). In most cases , emission factors are averages of all available data of sufficient quality and assumed to represent long-term averages for all facilities in the source category. Widely used transport emission factors are released by the GLEC Framework and Clean Cargo Working Group. Source: EPA

Net zero emissions

The term net zero emissions refers to an achievement of a balance between CO2 sources and sinks, meaning that the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere must equal the amount that is removed. The underlying implication of this ‘carbon neutrality’ is that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere would slowly decline until CO2 emissions from human-related activities can be redistributed and absorbed by the land biosphere and the oceans. This would result in a near-constant global temperature over many centuries and hence an end to global warming. Source: IPCC

CO2 price

A CO2 price is a price that companies have to pay for the emission of CO2, either in form of a carbon tax or tradeable emission certificates. Carbon pricing is seen as the most efficient way for nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and is applied European-wide for several industries through the EU emissions trading system (ETS). Germany and several other countries launched additional national pricing mechanisms for the transportation sector with a fixed price that gradually increases over time. Source: Worldbank


Methane (CH4) accounts for around 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. Human activities emitting methane include the raising of livestock, leaks from natural gas systems or waste management in form of landfills. Its comparative impact on global warming is 25 times bigger than CO2. Source: EPA

Sulfur oxides (SOx)

Sulfur oxides compound of sulfur and oxygen molecules and are predominantly found in form of sulfur dioxide (SO2). It is mostly produced from combustion of fossil fuels. SO2 concentrations are especially relevant in the maritime shipping industry. Since 1 January 2020, sulphur emissions from fuel oil used by maritime vessels is regulated to not surpass 0.50% m/m (mass by mass) globally by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Ships sailing in a Sulphur Emission Control Area (SECA) cannot use fuels with more than 0.1% of sulphur. Source: European Commission, IMO

Nitrogen oxides (NOx)

Nitrogen oxides refer to a binary compound of nitrogen and oxygen, or a mixture of such compounds. In the context of environmental damage, nitrous oxide (N2O) is known for an having a global-warming potential that is almost 300 times greater than that of CO2. It makes up about 6% of all greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, mostly emitted through agricultural soil management activities. The greatest problem with N2O is that its molecules stay in the atmosphere for an average of 114 years before being destroyed through chemical reactions or removed by a sink. For the maritime shipping industry, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) introduced NOx Emission Control Areas (NECAs) in the North Sea and Baltic Sea. These will apply to vessels built after the start of 2021 and reduce the amount of NOx emitted by operations of the vessels to thresholds determined by the engine's speed Sources: IMO (1), IACCSEA

Fluorinated Gases (HFC/HFO)

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), and nitrogen trifluoride (HFCs) are synthetic, powerful greenhouse gases that are emitted from a variety of industrial processes. Unlike most other greenhouse gases, fluorinated gases have no natural source, but exclusively come from human-related activities. The vast majority is emitted through their use as refrigerants, for example in air conditioning systems in vehicles and buildings. Fluorinated gases have very high global warming potentials of up to 22,800 and are the most potent and longest lasting type of greenhouse gases emitted by human activities. Their reduction especially in cold chain transports (food, pharmaceuticals etc.) is very important. Source: EFCTC

Logistics site emissions

Logistic sites play a connecting role within transport chains. The term ‘logistic site’ refers to all sites combining different transport legs such as warehouses, cross-docking sites or terminals. Although often being forgotten when referring to an ecological assessment of logistic activities, logistic site emissions equal around one quarter of the logistics transport emissions. Source: Fraunhofer IML

Carbon offsetting and compensation

Carbon offsetting (or compensation) means paying a third party to cut or absorb an equivalent amount of emissions from a dedicated activity (e.g., transport) that set emissions free. It is important to precisely measure or calculate the amount of emissions that is compensated for. Typical carbon offsetting projects are investments in reforestation or renewable energies and are often located in developing countries. Carbon offsetting is an important part of many organizations’ sustainability programs, but is also becoming increasingly popular for individuals, e.g. to compensate for personal activities such as flight travels. Source: Britannica

Well-to-wheel vs. well-to-tank vs. tank-to-wheel

Also referred as direct and indirect emissions, differentiates between the origin of the energy used for propulsion in transport activities. Well-to-tank (WTT): Emissions caused by the provisioning of the primary propulsion energy. Emissions caused by transforming primary energy (sunlight, biomass, oil, coal, nuclear etc.) to consumable energy for vessels or vehicles (diesel, kerosine, hydrogen). Tank-to-wheel (TTW): Emissions caused by converting the vehicle or vessel fuel to propulsion, e.g., burning diesel. Well-to-wheel (WTW): holistic approach, which considers both, well-to-tank as well as tank-to-wheel emissions, and therefore increases the comparability of fossil and renewable fuels, e.g., considering the origin of electricity for battery-electric-vehicles to reflect the share of coal or fossil gas on the local electricity-grid. Source: European Commission

Regulations and frameworks

Greenhouse Gas Protocol

The Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol provides the world’s most widely used GHG accounting frameworks for measuring and managing GHG emissions from private and public sector operations, value chains and mitigation actions. More than 90% of Fortune 500 companies use GHG Protocol directly or indirectly through a program based on GHG Protocol. Source: Greenhouse Gas Protocol

EN 16258

EN 16258 is a European standard that specifies a uniform method for the calculation and declaration of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions for transport services in passenger and freight transport. It was initially published in 2012 following the approach of enabling a broad range of users and allocating emissions to dedicated transports. Source: CEN

DIN SPEC 91224

DIN SPEC 91224 focuses on road transport that lies within the direct or indirect area of responsibility of a company. It supports the practical implementation of inter-company emission balancing in transport on the basis of existing norms, standards and guidelines with the aim of increasing the control capability of individual actors in the supply chain. For this purpose, the use of company-specific data instead of generic default data in standardized formats is intended. This, in turn, enables standardization of inter-company information exchange between all players in the transport chain. The application of DIN SPEC 91224 requires the implementation of EN 16258. Source: Beuth

GLEC Framework

As of today, the GLEC (Global Logistics Emissions Council) framework is one of the most recent and sophisticated methodologies for calculating and reporting logistics emissions. It is globally applicable, and includes multi-modal supply chain calculation methods that can be implemented by shippers, carriers and logistics service providers. The GLEC framework is in accordance with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, EN 16258 as well as the carbon disclosure project. It was published by the Smart Freight Centre, and was developed by a voluntary partnership of companies, industry associations and green freight programs, on the initiative of the Smart Freight Centre. Source: Smart Freight Centre


The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) is the main international convention to prevent pollution of the marine environment by ships. It was adopted in 1973, entered in force in 1978 and was subsequentially updated. The first Annex in 1983 regulates the prevention of pollution by oil, followed by regulations for control of pollution by NOx in bulk in 1987, the prevention of pollution by garbage or sewage from ships in 1998 and 2003, and regulations concerning harmful substances carried at sea in packaged form in 1992. The latest annex added regulations to prevent air pollution from ships. Source. IMO

IMO 2020

IMO 2020 is the abbreviation for a global requirement on marine fuels published by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) that came into force in 2020. It mandates a maximum sulfur content of 0.5% in marine fuels globally and thus replaces the former limit of 3.5%. Source: IMO

ISO 14001

ISO 14001 is a globally accepted and applied standard for environmental management systems. Organizations of all type and size as well as geographical, cultural, social conditions can get certified. However, ISO 14001 does not set absolute requirements for environmental performance. Thus, two organizations with similar activities, but different environmental performance can still both meet the requirements set by ISO 14001. ISO 14001 is particularly common in the chemical industry and the handling of hazardous goods. Source: UBA

ISO 14064

ISO 14064 provides organizations with a complementary set of tools for programs to quantify, report, monitor and verify greenhouse gas emissions. Both regulated and voluntary programs such as emission trading schemes and public reporting are supported by this norm. The standard is divided in three parts that concentrate on the organization level and project level for quantification and reporting of greenhouse gas emissions and its removal as well as guidances for the conduction of validations concerning greenhouse gas assertions. It is more advanced than ISO 14001 so that it is an opportunity for organizations that are already certified by the latter to show further engagement. The norm focuses on the entire activities of an organization in the context of carbon emissions with no special focus on the emissions caused by transportation. Sources: ISO

ISO 14083

ISO 14083 deals with the 'quantification and reporting of greenhouse gas emissions arising from operations of transport chains'. The norm is currently under development and is likely to get published and approved by 2022. The ISO norm is an advancement of the GLEC framework and offers the possibility to get a 3rd party certification for tracking and reporting greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and corresponding activities. Source: ISO

Green Freight Programs

Clean Cargo

Clean Cargo is the cargo shipping industry’s leading buyer-supplier forum for sustainability. Its members represent 85% of global container cargo capacity. Clean Cargo provides a methodology for CO2 emissions calculations that has become a global standard in the ocean container shipping sector. Besides measuring and evaluating performance data, it supports collaborate projects that drive improves sustainability performances and organize bi-annual meetings to share best practices and enhance corporate engagement on public policy. Reference: Clean Cargo


SmartWay is a voluntary public-private program of the US Environmental Protection Agency that aims to support companies in their ways to more sustainable supply chains by measuring, benchmarking and improving freight transportation efficiency. For this purpose, it provides a system that tracks, documents and shares information about fuel use and freight emissions and helps companies in their efforts of improving freight efficiency Reference: EPA

Lean and Green Europe

Lean and Green is an initiative for businesses and authorities to support sustainable transportation available in 5 European countries. It encourages to take measures for improved environmental sustainability that simultaneously yield cost savings. If an organization can show through an action plan that it will be able to reduce its CO2 emissions by 20% in five years, it becomes eligible for the Lean and Green Award. If the objective in the action plan is fulfilled, the organization is certified by a Lean and Green Star. Reference: Lean and Green

Green Freight Asia

Green Freight Asia is a non-profit association of industry players of all size that collaborate with NGOs, governments, and industry companies to reduce CO2 emission and energy consumption by rising energy and fuel efficiency. It offers programs varying from measurement and reporting over carbon offsetting up to labeling and certification. Reference: Green Freight Asia

SAFA - Sustainable Air Freight Alliance

The Sustainable Air Freight Alliance (SAFA) is a collaboration between shippers, freight forwarders and air freight carriers. It concentrates on air freight with the goal of tracking and reducing CO2 emissions and promote responsible freight transport. To do so, buyers and suppliers are invited to build dialogue and leverage collective knowledge and action to establish best practices and share innovations for reducing GHG emissions. The initiative is facilitated by BSR, a global nonprofit organization that has more than 250 member companies in its network. Reference. BSR

EcoTransIT World Initiative

EcoTransIT World Initiative (EWI) aims to continuously develop methodologies for the calculation of emissions in the global logistics sector. The EWI is a consortium of industry stakeholders including freight forwarders, shippers, carriers and research organizations. Its calculation logic is among the most used to analyze greenhouse gas emissions in freight transportation. The methodology developed by Infras, Ifeu and Fraunhofer is accredited by the GLEC framework and meets the requirements of EN 16258 and GHG protocol. Reference: EWI

Smart Freight Centre

The Smart Freight Centre is a global non-profit organization with the aim of guiding the global logistics sector towards zero emissions and efficiency and thus contributing to the Paris Agreement. It connects the multinational organizations by initiating joint projects, fostering information exchange and developing global guidelines to report and reduce emissions. Furthermore, the Smart Freight Centre is advocating for industry-wide uptake and government policy alignment. With the GLEC framework, it has developed a comprehensive framework for greenhouse gas emissions calculation and reporting. Reference: Smart Freight Centre

Climate Reporting and Disclosure

Science Based Targets

Science Based Targets is a global initiative and way to formulate greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for companies and organizations. Science Based Targets aim to limit emissions in line with the Paris Agreement and not to exceed a global temperature increase of 1.5 or 2° celsius. Science Based Targets is a joint initiative of CDP, the UN Global Compact (UNGC), the World Resources Institute (WRI) and WWF. They are defined on the basis of the scientifically calculated remaining carbon budget before reaching the above mentioned temperature thresholds. Science Based Targets reflect the organization’s share of required global emissions reductions and define the amount and speed of emission savings required. Reference: Science Based Targets

Race to Zero

Race To Zero is a global campaign that mobilizes a coalition of net zero initiatives, representing cities, regions, businesses, investors and universities that make up nearly 25% of global CO2 emissions. The Race To Zero initiative is committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest. Reference: UNFCCC


EcoVadis is one of the leading commercial assessment platforms to evaluate the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts of a company. It works as a software-as-a-service platform that rates a company’s sustainability efforts in form of a score from 0 to 100. However, environmental sustainability is only one pillar of the EcoVadis assessment. The main focus is to evaluate CSR from a global perspective, including social sustainability and governance aspects such as employment laws, human rights, or ethics. Many shippers require an EcoVadis assessment from their partners, some also define certain minimum requirements to be fulfilled as part of the assessment. Reference: EcoVadis

Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP)

The CDP is a non-profit organization that operates a global voluntary disclosure program for greenhouse gas emissions and sustainability aspects such as water usage and waste management. The CDP helps companies, cities, states and regions to measure and manage their environmental impact by providing a comprehensive reporting framework. Additionally, the CDP calculates and reports performance scores to incentivize participants to improve their environmental transparency and action. Reference: CDP

SAQ - Self-Assessment Questionnaire of the Responsible Business Alliance

The Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) is a risk-assessment tool developed by the Responsible Business Alliance (RBA). It facilitates organizations to assess inherent risk areas within their supply chain concerning labor, health and safety, environment, and ethics. It is a supplier questionnaire commonly used in the automotive industry. It is part of the industry-wide strategy to successively improve the sustainability performance by identifiying deficits and addressing joint action plans. Reference: RBA

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