The National Academies

NCFRP 27 [Final]

Promoting Environmental Goals in Freight Transportation through Industry Benchmarking

  Project Data
Funds: $300,000
Research Agency: ICF
Principal Investigator: Larry O'Rourke
Effective Date: 12/16/2009
Completion Date: 1/31/2012
Comments: Published as NCFRP Report 21.

The freight sector is increasingly recognized as a major source of air pollution. As such, public agencies are rapidly developing policies and programs to reduce related emissions and are challenged to maximize the environmental benefits of public investments. The private sector, including shippers and carriers, is also working to decrease emissions and meet expectations. In addition to complex, resource-intensive freight emissions models and studies currently undertaken by public agencies, many think that other tools are needed. Public agencies and private industry often use performance measurements to guide their resource allocation decisions for operations, asset management, capital investment, planning, and policy development. It has been suggested that more attention should be given to using benchmarking tools to set and achieve environmental performance targets. Setting targets generally entails balancing competing objectives and dealing with political implications. Performance targets would be set on sound and defensible bases and with the concurrence of key decisionmakers and stakeholders. Benchmarking presents an efficient approach to reducing freight emissions and impacts because it can accelerate improvements by eliminating the trial and error process. “Benchmarking is simply the process of measuring the performance of one’s company against the best in the same or another industry” (William Stevenson, Productions/Operations Management, 1996). A prerequisite for an efficient benchmark tool in the freight context would require different measures for different modes. For example, in the freight gateway context, the individual modal operator must be able to recognize and feel responsible for the performance on which the enterprise (gateway) is being measured. This is not possible if truck haulage is placed in the same category as rail haulage or ship emissions. Therefore, the benchmarking exercise would have to include modal, intermodal, and supply chain considerations.  Research is required to develop guidance for systematically developing emissions benchmarking programs that will serve both public and private objectives by examining the pros and cons of emissions benchmarking and analyzing the potential efficacy of benchmarking as a complement to other emissions reduction strategies.

The objective of this research is to develop a handbook to (1) identify and evaluate approaches that can be used by public and private entities to estimate, monitor, and reduce freight emissions and impacts across the supply chain; (2) examine how benchmarking can be used in the freight and logistics industry to promote environmental performance; and (3) create a framework to apply environmental benchmarking for addressing air quality impacts.
(1). Review existing environmental benchmarking practices and standards (e.g., SmartWay, local, national, and international), as well as best practices in freight, logistics, and other industries that are relevant to environmental benchmarking. This task should include a review of material from NCHRP Project 08-70, “Target-Setting Methods and Data Management to Support Performance-Based Resource Allocation by Transportation Agencies,” and NCFRP Project 16, “Representing Freight in Air Quality and Greenhouse Gas Models.”(2). Develop a glossary of key environmental benchmarking terms including such properties as geographical coverage, freight mode, overall supply chain, public and private environmental goals, and metrics. The glossary will be used to develop the framework to be developed in Task 3. (3). Building on Tasks 1 and 2, examine how benchmarking can be used to promote environmental goals. Develop a general framework for environmental benchmarking. The emphasis should be on the benchmarking process, not the setting of performance targets; however, the framework could include best-in-class values. Describe how this framework can be applied to freight systems within specific geographical scales (e.g., local, regional, and corridors) and how this framework can be applied for supply chains, freight modes, and facilities. The framework shall address operational as well as technological and policy strategies. The framework should also include specific metrics, sources of data, and underlying models. Identify and discuss data gaps.  (4). Describe how industry benchmarking has been an economically efficient and practical tool for improving industry in areas such as safety and quality. Discuss how an individual company or public agency could benefit by comparing its environmental performance with that of others in the same or different industry. Explain how environmental benchmarking outputs are appropriate for decisionmaking by senior management and public officials.   
(5). Seven months after contract approval, prepare a list of 8 to 10 potential case studies, private and public, for Task 6, that span different geographic locations and applications identified in Task 3. (6). Conduct a panel conference call to discuss the results of Tasks 3 through 5. The panel will select 3 to 5 case studies for in-depth analysis in Task 7. Prepare a draft invitation list for the Task 8 webinar for panel review and approval. (7). Conduct panel-approved case studies using readily available information as verified through industry interviews. The case studies should discuss the applicability, outcomes, benefits, challenges, and implications of applying the benchmarking framework. Also, discuss the environmental performance measures and metrics used. (8). Conduct a webinar to obtain user feedback.  (9). Develop a handbook that (1) identifies and evaluates approaches that can be used by public and private entities to estimate, monitor, and reduce freight emissions and impacts across the supply chain; (2) examines how benchmarking can be used in the freight and logistics industry to promote environmental performance; and (3) creates a framework to apply environmental benchmarking to addressing air quality impacts. In addition, prepare a final report that provides the background material collected during the research that was used as input to the handbook.
Status: Published as NCFCRP Report 21, Handbook on Applying Environmental Benchmarking in Freight Transportation.  The report is also available electronically at http://www.trb.org/Main/Blurbs/168324.aspx.

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