If You Want Big Emissions Cuts, Look To The 18-Wheelers

Trucking makes up only a small percent of all traffic, but a giant percent of our total emissions. If we want to cut greenhouse gasses quickly, it’s time to revamp our freight fleet. The best part is it wouldn’t be that hard at all.

If You Want Big Emissions Cuts, Look To The 18-Wheelers
Truck via Shutterstock

Transport accounts for a quarter of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with road transport making up 75% of that. Freight, in particular, produces 5.75% of all GHGs.


Climate scientists will tell you all carbon is worth minimizing. But some areas of the economy are more abundant sources of savings than others. A new report looks at Class 8 trucks–which includes fuel-carriers, fire and dump trucks, re-fridgerated vans, and tour buses–and finds they could be a particularly fruitful area. By applying seven relatively cheap and widely available fixes, the study says the U.S. could reduce its GHGs by 624 million metric tons by 2022–or roughly the emissions of Spain and Thailand combined. Talk about low hanging fruit.

The report was published by the Carbon War Room, a non-profit founded by the entrepreneur Richard Branson, and Trimble, a technology provider.

The seven technologies include anti-idling devices, traction and rolling resistance upgrades, automatic cruise control, aerodynamic and transmission alterations, and GPS systems to optimize route planning. According to the report, operators could wring average fuel savings of $26,400 per truck, and get their investment back within 18 months.

The problem, as with other energy efficiency investments, is finding the upfront capital, and proving to financial providers that the savings are bankable. There is also the problem of split-incentives: trucks owners are likely to pay for upgrades, but it’s often the user that pays for fuel, and stands to benefit from savings.

While the report only focuses on Class 8 trucks (there were 3.5 million of these in 2010), it says many smaller vehicles could use the same technologies, and see significant savings. But, Class 8 is likely to produce the most bang-for-buck, as they number only 4% of total vehicles, but produce 20% of emissions. Their CO2 output is also set to grow substantially over the next decade, too–by 29%.

Things like long-haul trucks and tour buses may not be that sexy, comparatively speaking. But, in the short term, they probably represent a better opportunity to cut emissions than coming up with new energy technology. If you don’t believe that dumpers and cement mixers are that important, read the report for yourself. They start to look quite attractive.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.