FEATURED STORY OF THE WEEK
Charting the Path to a Sustainable Transportation Sector
The public is warming up to the idea of creating a sustainable transportation sector. Electric vehicles (EVs), alternative fuels, and sustainable materials and infrastructure are now at the forefront of the transportation economy.
This transformation is essential—worldwide, “more than $2 trillion of transport infrastructure investments will be needed each year until 2040 to fuel economic development,” according to McKinsey. In addition to emissions reduction, technological sophistication and resistance to extreme weather events driven by climate change are critical to these changes.
We’re now in a period where all transportation must evolve—all aspects of air, land, and sea—and we are actively developing the means to do it. But sustainability in transportation is about more than environmentalism, scaling, efficiency, and endurance—equity, social inclusivity, and economic opportunities all factor into this transformation as well.
“Transportation costs are the second largest annual household expense in our country,” says the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) within the U.S. Department of Energy. “For the poorest Americans, the financial burden of transportation is disproportionately and unsustainably high.”
In this article, we explore opportunities to develop and implement a more eco-friendly, sustainable transportation sector. We consider the economic, social, and environmental impact of today’s technologies, vehicles, and infrastructure, with predictions for how public and private organizations will transition to a more responsible future.
An Enormous Environmental Footprint
When it comes to the green revolution more broadly, all eyes are on transportation. EERE defines “sustainable transportation” as “low- and zero-emission, energy-efficient, affordable modes of transport, including electric and alternative-fuel vehicles, as well as domestic fuels.” But today, the transportation sector is the biggest contributor of greenhouse gasses among all economic sectors within the U.S., impacting human health within vulnerable communities as well as the environment.
Unfortunately, the damage caused by the transportation sector is on track to increase over the next several years. “The transportation sector is reporting a 0.8 percent annual growth in MtCO2e, with passenger cars accounting for the highest portion,” says McKinsey.
Despite this dire outlook, it also represents a huge opportunity to drive the green transformation of global markets more broadly; a “revolution akin to the size and scope of the first and second Industrial Revolutions,” according to Forrester.
Demand For a Sustainable Transportation Sector
Similarly, growing demand represents both a risk and an opportunity. For example, auto manufacturers are responding to shifting policies and consumer expectations, where younger drivers increasingly prioritize sustainable options.
Indeed, the number of EVs on the road in the U.S. is growing rapidly as new options and better battery technologies emerge. There were roughly 2.81 million registered passenger EVs in 2021, which is projected to grow to 44.18 million in 2030, according to NASDAQ. This applies to light commercial EVs as well, which are growing from roughly 24,000 in 2021 to 3.8 million in 2030.
These changes also will have a positive impact on the job market and economy within the U.S. and other countries. That’s because the production and implementation of EVs, alternative fuels, and other sustainable solutions will create millions of jobs.
Policies, Opportunities, and Drivers for Transformation
New transportation initiatives, which will transform all aspects of the sector, also represent an opportunity to remedy many of the societal ills caused by existing transportation infrastructure. This includes construction that has closed off low-income neighborhoods from access to industry and commerce, for example.
Governments worldwide are investing knowledge, money, and resources in worthwhile sustainable initiatives. In the U.S., the Biden Administration has launched its Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, which invests billions in improving “transportation options for millions of Americans” and reducing “greenhouse emissions through the largest investment in public transit in U.S. history.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation launched its own Reconnecting Communities and Neighborhoods (RCN) program to improve infrastructure for millions of underserved Americans as well. And states like California have launched their own laws to eliminate the use of gasoline vehicles and introduce charging stations, accelerating the adoption of EVs in the state.
Countries in the European Union also are taking steps with their own Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) plan, which assigns roughly $850 billion to transportation initiatives; China has launched a $500 billion stimulus plan to improve infrastructure as well, McKinsey reports.
Meanwhile, federal and local authorities are taking action on creating sustainable infrastructure in the form of strong roads, bridges, rail lines, and airports, prioritizing sustainable sourcing and production in those efforts. These initiatives are driven by the decomposition of aging infrastructure as well as a growing need for structures that are resistant to extreme weather events, which are increasing in frequency due to climate change.
Sustainable Solutions for Mobility
Emerging technologies are critical to success in industry transformation. Here we take a look at some of the core technologies and their categories impacting the revolution today.
- Batteries & storage. Batteries are a critical component of the clean energy revolution, powering EVs and other storage solutions. This has led to an increase in research and development, as well as technological improvements that reduce weight and size while boosting capacity.
- Hydrogen & alternative fuels. Hydrogen-powered vehicles have enormous potential, as do other alternative fuel sources, such as compressed natural gas (CNG) and biodiesel. These resources still need development before they can scale, but may soon be good supplements to the growth of EVs.
- Vehicle materials & design. Engineering and the use of new materials can lead to more sustainable production methods as well as improved vehicle design. This has already been seen in Tesla’s all-electric semi-truck, which is more efficient than traditional diesel trucks.
- Digital tools, AI & the cloud. Technology solutions also can be used to reduce fuel consumption, improve safety, and optimize logistics in a way that reduces carbon. This includes advanced GPS tracking systems as well as telematics that measure vehicle performance in order to guide fleets to more efficient operations.
Additional solutions for mobility improvements include autonomous vehicles, smart roads and signals, drones for deliveries, and electric aircraft. In the years ahead, these technologies will continue to mature and become accessible at lower costs as well.
Sustainable Solutions for Infrastructure
Despite these mobility opportunities, none of them are impactful or even viable without infrastructure transformation. For example, “the national demand for an all-EV U.S. vehicle fleet would require over 40% of the power currently generated,” according to Forbes.
Fortunately, the transportation infrastructure is already beginning to make strides toward this goal. Here is a closer look at opportunities for building a more sustainable transportation sector.
- Clean energy production. Wind turbines, solar panels, geothermal power plants, and other clean energy solutions can power critical aspects of transportation infrastructure such as airports, rail stations, and EV battery charging within consumer homes.
- Maritime shipping. The maritime industry is also transitioning to cleaner propulsion systems, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) and fuel cells. Now, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has implemented an ambitious 2050 deadline for ships to reach net-zero emissions from greenhouse gas (GHG) fuels.
- Advanced materials. Sustainable construction materials are here now, including hempcrete and bamboo, which can be used for buildings, bridges, and other aspects of infrastructure. In addition, developments in composite materials are reducing the weight of vehicles such as planes, trains, and ships to improve efficiency.
- Smart cities & digital platforms. As urbanization becomes more common, smart cities are also emerging, with technology solutions that include digital platforms for sharing resources and information. These can link together transportation systems, infrastructure, and mobility solutions such as ride-sharing programs.
Three Predictions for a Responsible Future
Each of these ideas stands alone as an opportunity to improve some aspect of the transportation sector. But none can be implemented alone to drive meaningful results. “It’s critical that stakeholders work together to devise ways to transform infrastructure building to become more sustainable,” as McKinsey describes.
Here we provide three predictions about how the transportation and logistics sector will transition towards a more responsible future with these considerations in mind. There will be:
- greater collaboration between public and private entities, including the sharing of resources and data to devise solutions that are both sustainable and economically sound. Each side will need the other to improve its operational excellence, where integrated workflows require multiple parties to succeed.
- a strong focus on renewable energy sources for powering all aspects of the transportation sector, from electric vehicle charging stations to airborne drones for shipping. Monitoring technological progress, especially around cost, performance, and availability, will help key entities determine when and where to switch over.
- The adoption of digital tools and the cloud to connect disparate parts of the supply chain. This means leveraging advanced data analytics and predictive technologies, improving operational efficiency, and reducing material waste through more economic sourcing. “The need for functionality will only increase as regulations change, alternative fuel sources become more common and autonomous vehicles plans are made,” as Gartner describes.
Transportation is a Multi-Dimensional, Social Responsibility
As exciting new opportunities emerge, we cannot forget the basic principle of transportation: connecting people to other people and resources in affordable, efficient ways that contribute to the common good. With sufficient planning and collaboration, these goals can be achieved while becoming more sustainable.
Partner with Uvation for Digital Transformation
Uvation supports efforts to build a sustainable transportation sector through the optimization of digital capabilities. We provide comprehensive, end-to-end solutions that streamline digital operations and provide the necessary tools for collaborating across partners and internal teams. Contact us directly to learn more.