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Corporate Collaboration: Need of the hour for greening the freight sector in India

 Sustainability Outlook spoke to Mr. Parthaa Bosu, India Director and South Asia Liaison, Clean Air Asia’s initiative on green freight and what it means for India.

Why is greening the freight sector important?

The freight sector in India has a significant contribution to the GDP, estimated to be around 4-5% annually. Also, the Indian freight sector has a high dependence on roads with nearly 70% share and all other modes (rail, coastal shipping etc) together accounting for the remaining 30%. This compares very differently to China and the US where roads accounts for just 22% and 37% of the freight transportation respectively.

Moreover, though trucks account for only 5-7% of total vehicles present on the road in India, they have a skewed contribution when it comes to the impact on the environment. These trucks drink up nearly 70% of the transport fuel and contribute 60-65% of the total vehicle emissions.

Apart from the issue of using polluting diesel fuel, which is currently not economized in India, trucks also contribute to road accidents and road safety issues (23-25% of road accidents in India) and hence have a social cost associated with them.

As Clean Air Asia is an organization that works on air quality and focuses on the key drivers that  contribute to air pollution, in a particular city, or state or country, study of  freight becomes very important and thus greening the freight sector becomes necessary.

Could you throw some light on the Clean Air Asia Initiative and its work?

The Asian Development Bank, World Bank and USAID joined hands in 2001 to establish Clean Air Asia as the premier air quality network for Asia with the mission of promoting better air quality and livable cities by translating knowledge to policies and actions that reduce air pollution and  GHG emissions from transport, energy and other sectors.

Clean Air Asia currently has 8 country networks (China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam) and is a UN recognized partnership of more than 250 organizations in 31 countries.

One of the key focus areas of Clean Air Asia has been green freight. Globally, almost 35% of the world’s transport fuel is used by freight. Moreover, in Asia the freight movement is expected to grow from 1 to 8 billion ton-kms between 2000 and 2050. Therefore it becomes important for us to work at in Asia in this domain.

We started the green freight work in China where we conducted studies on methods of improving transport efficiency and realized that with simple interventions such as using better quality tyres, aerodynamics, and other interventions can significantly improve the fuel efficiency (as high as 17-18 %) of the entire fleet. Today green freight, as an initiative has been taken up by the entire Chinese government and it is running as a national program. We still continue to be a part of the advisory in the technical group.

After China, we started our work in India on green freight around 2 years ago and decided to garner government support here as well since that model worked well for us in China. 

We  developed reports and submitted them to the governments, but unfortunately the response and uptake by the government was not very encouraging and we felt that the government is unable to provide the necessary attention to this entire  sector.

Why isn’t government leading the green freight movement in India, unlike other Asian countries?

The reasons could be many. One could be that freight is currently is no one’s baby. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways is supposed to be the nodal body when it comes to operations, but freight also passes through the cities and urban areas, so the Ministry of Urban Development has a very big role to play. The automobile industry which manufactures the vehicles falls under the  Department of Heavy Industries. So there are currently many bodies which are looking at it, but no one is looking at it particularly.

The reasons why freight comes into the picture at all or figures in the news, is either when trucks meet with severe accidents or there is a very high level of pollution and green house gas emissions in a city. Its typically in these situations that the relevant regulatory bodies (Ministry of Environment and Forests, or the Central Pollution Control Board etc) become active to take control measures. Therefore the policy recommendations that need to trickle down or provide directional growth to the freight industry are missing.


If not the government, who can then be instrumental in driving change?

We feel that currently there is a need for corporates who are actually using the freight services to come forward and work towards greening the sector. There are many possible models. Corporates are keen to achieve higher operational efficiency through newer technologies and increased capacity utilization thereby leading to significant cost savings, since fuel accounts for almost 50% of the total cost of transport.

There is a need for corporates to understand and estimate their inefficiencies in freight movement and identify means of improvement. For example, how much fuel can be saved by using special tyres instead of regular tyres etc. A greater impact can be created if corporates collaborate to reduce empty miles, improve the efficiency of their logistics and save costs

For eg: If automobile manufacturers who transport their vehicles to different corners of the country collaborate with peers and share and optimize the use of vehicle carriers, it will be a win-win situation.

Image Credits: Aleksandr Zykov



What are some of the initiatives being undertaken by Clean Air Asia (India) to improve the green quotient of the freight sector in India?

Clean Air Asia is trying to explore how the road freight sector in India can be made more competitive, fuel efficient and with less carbon and air pollutant emissions.

The Green Trucks Toolkit (GTT), a simple to use, excel based series of spreadsheets was developed by Clean Air Asia (formerly Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities). This tool will help a truck operator or fleet manager estimate the current levels of efficiency and evaluate various strategies that improve vehicle efficiencies and/or reduce pollution. This tool is now being modified to suit the Indian vehicle/emission requirements for Indian companies.

Clean Air Asia (India) will soon develop an information platform which will match the supply and demand of goods and trucks to bring about greater efficiency and reduce empty trips (therefore reduce fuel consumption)


In the end, any initiative will work if it has support from the policy makers as well as the users (corporates and logistics operators). 


Mr. Parthaa Bosu is India Director and South Asia Liaison for Clean Air Asia. He has 14 years experience in corporate affairs and corporate communications. He was the former Head of Corporate Communication of the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) where he focused on assessing in-use vehicle emissions.

Image Credits: Aleksandr Zykov





Author: Sustainability Outlook
Industry Term: Green Freight
Organization: Clean Air Asia