Grocers: Two routes to reduce CO2 emissions

Sit down for this one: 29.4% of global CO2 emissions come from trucks carrying freight.

And all that freight burns more than 17 million barrels of oil per day.

It also represents more than 80% of the global net increase in diesel consumption over the last 20 yrs, consuming 50% of all diesel produced.

Worst yet, road freight is expected to double by 2050. The current outlook for CO2 from transportation is terrible.

In the US, road freight carries $16.2 trillion of goods each year. Big number, right? That is more than the combined GDP of Germany, Japan, France and the UK.

So what can grocery retailers do?

Grocery Retailers Can Help By Reducing Road Freight Demand

Supporting greener logistics is one part of the solution. Innovators like Tesla, Lion Electric and Nikola play an important role in commercializing electrictrified transportation. But electric freight still requires energy, 79% of which is generated by burning fossil fuels.

Ultimately, the best way to reduce CO2 is to reduce the need for transportation. Plain and simple.

Rethink and Relocalize Food Production

From a climate perspective, the best journey is the one never taken.

That requires grocery retailers to populate their shelves with local products.

Fortunately, new production technologies are making it possible for food to spend little to no time on a truck. In the case of InFarm, lettuce and microgreens are grown in-store using nano-production technology, with food travelling only from store to table.

Vertical farming technology companies like Cubic Farms and Freight Farms will also play a big role, by making it possible to locate food production virtually anywhere; in a city, distribution center or a parking lot.

In Montreal, Canada, one Sobeys-affiliated store is even growing food on their rooftop. And nearby Lufa Farms is growing produce in the world’s largest rooftop commercial greenhouse and delivering it direct to consumers.

Density For the Win!

Let’s dig into the nitty gritty for a moment. The second most effective strategy to cut transportation is for grocery category managers to select denser products.

Have you ever wondered why cereal boxes come almost half empty? Depending on who you ask, you will hear responses that include:

  • The extra space protects the cereal during transportation
  • Larger box equals more product in the consumer’s mind, even if the weight shown on the box doesn’t back up the perception
  • The product settles during transportation

Hogwash? Maybe. Regardless of why that cereal box is half-empty, the extra space comes at a huge environmental cost. From a road freight CO2 perspective, that half-empty box almost doubles the CO2 from transport. It’s common sense, really.

Trucks have a capacity that can be described in terms of weight and volume. Light products like cereal are “volume limited” loads. Heavy products, like bottled water, are “weight limited” loads. The secret to maximizing carbon efficiency is simple - make sure the trucks are full. That means the goods inside the trucks too.

This can be achieved in three major ways:

  1. Increasing density and reducing volume (i.e. remove the air from that cereal box);
  2. optimizing volume and weight capacity (mixing light and heavy loads can help ensure that that the truck is “full” in terms of both weight and volume); and
  3. reducing “deadheads” (legs of the journey where the truck is empty).


Back to Relocalize, we designed our ice package with both the customer and environment in mind. Our goal was to create a better high density format. By making “true cube” shaped ice in a grid format, we were able to increase package density by 48%.

This lower volume per pound translates into more units per truck load. It also means more product on retailers’ shelves and fewer trips to restock product.

In our case, increased product density will reduce CO2 impact of local deliveries by almost 60%, while offering the customer a better premium package.

This is over and above the savings from eliminating the longer-haul trips discussed above. And we plan to extend our technology to more verticals beyond ice by 2023.

Relocalize is not alone in this endeavor. One company that I really love is Boxed Water. Their entire brand is built around sustainable packaging that increases transportation efficiency. Boxed Water can be shipped flat to local refilling stations around the country so that fewer trucks are required to transport the product.

Nothing makes less sense than moving water over large distances on a truck when it is freely available everywhere.

Empowered Customers Demand Sustainable Products

Consumers and retailers need more product options that are designed for transportation efficiency. It is imperative that innovative food product producers and incumbents step up their efforts to find solutions. Not only to address the climate emergency, but because it is also good business.

“While consumer conversations about the climate have ebbed and flowed for decades, 2020 marked a turning point. The combination of escalating climate hazards and a newfound consumer consciousness sparked unprecedented urgency and action around the climate crisis.” —Forester

According to Forester, 8% of highly empowered consumers are looking for brands that reduce environmental impact and 61% are seeking out energy-efficient brands when making purchases.

Now is the time for businesses operating in the food system to future-proof their business, and find ways to reduce their reliance on CO2 intensive road transportation. Step 1 is to support innovative businesses like InFarm, Cubic Farms, Boxed Water and Relocalize who are making products that are better for the customer and planet.

*Comparative analysis based on real-world data shared confidentially by a major US retailer.

Get future of food updates from our team to your inbox.

Join fellow founders, investors, and retailers. GDPR and CCPA compliant.