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FlockDirect and Green LTL Shipping

02.11.2020 | By Katherine Stolin | 4 min. read

Want to ship greener? Skip the LTL terminals with carbon neutral FlockDirect

Within the freight industry, companies are finding more and more that sustainable shipping is not only a benefit to the earth, but also to their bottom lines. So what if we told you there was a way to eliminate your shipment’s associated fuel emissions with the click of a button?

You can, and here’s how: Choosing shared truckload (STL) service through FlockDirect™️ instead of using standard less-than truckload (LTL) shipping. But how exactly does this eco-friendly shipping option fight climate change? Let’s take a walk through the environmental impact of the hub-and-spoke LTL system to compare.

Hub-and-spoke shipping, explained

In standard LTL shipping, your freight moves through what is referred to as the “hub-and-spoke distribution model,” which you can picture as a bicycle wheel. Your less-than truckload shipment is picked up from your location and taken to a local satellite terminal, or one of the ends of the “spokes,” where it waits to be grouped with other shipments in order to move on a fuller truck. These freight terminals receive all of the shipments from the immediate area that need to be rerouted to continue their journeys to their final destinations, and possibly taken to yet another terminal or two in between. Each time your freight travels to a new terminal, it’s offloaded, organized with other shipments traveling in the same direction, and stored for however long necessary until its next pickup.

Your freight zig-zags its way along its designated “spoke” from terminal to terminal until it arrives at a hub—the center of the proverbial wheel. There are centralized primary hubs (in metro areas like Chicago and Dallas, for example) as well as regional hubs (such as a Los Angeles hub, which serves the southwestern U.S.), all of which receive LTL freight from their respective terminals and store, reroute, and reload the shipments to transition to their delivery markets. Then the process repeats again, in reverse order, as your shipment winds its way to one or more central or regional hubs in its broad delivery zone, then through local freight terminals (unloading and reloading each time), until it reaches its drop-off location.

Terminals and energy output

Freight can go through a number of terminals on its way to and from centralized hubs. Each time it does, it’s unloaded, stored, and reloaded for the next leg of its journey. This process requires a variety of energy outputs, including (but certainly not limited to) the following:

  • General power needs: Though variables like building size and location make each freight terminal unique, in general, most warehouses use around 6.1 kilowatt hours of electricity per square foot every year. Just the simple need to keep the lights on creates a massive carbon footprint, before a single piece of freight enters the building.
  • Forklift usage: If your shipment is boxed up onto pallets (like most LTL freight), it’ll likely require a forklift to transport it from the truck, across the terminal, into its temporary storage location, then back out again when it’s ready to load onto its next carrier. Forklifts are either powered by electricity or fuel (such as propane, natural gas, etc.). Either configuration results in extra energy consumption — with electric forklifts consuming between 12,900 and 26,000 kWh per year, and engine-powered machines using 6 pounds of gasper hour. Factor in, also, the required oil and/or lubricant, tire replacement, and other maintenance needs, and you’ve got quite the energy hog on your hands.
  • Terminal layout: Often overlooked but equally crucial when considering energy consumption associated with LTL terminals is its floor plan. Factors such as the terminal’s shape, the height (and number) of its racks, and floor plan/routes all contribute to how many miles a cart or forklift has to travel and how much electricity or gas it uses in order to move pallets around the facility.
  • Climate control: Because freight is often stored at terminals as it’s reorganized and rerouted, the facility needs to stay at optimal levels of temperature and humidity. When shipping certain consumer packaged goods, that need becomes even more crucial—especially when refrigeration is required. On average, non-refrigerated warehouses use up 13,400 Btu of natural gas per square foot per year, much of which is related to HVAC systems. Naturally, refrigerated terminals (or sections thereof) require even more energy output to maintain the optimal temperature for fresh goods, averaging an annual consumption of 9,200 Btu and 24.9 kWh per square foot.
  • Staff: Handling and maintaining all of that freight requires a team of people—all of whom need their own means of transportation in order to get to and from their jobs. Commuting hours for workers add up to yet another layer of greenhouse gas emissions output associated with the terminal system. (That said, in rural areas you’ll sometimes find what are called “dark” terminals that aren’t continuously staffed, but rather are run by the drivers themselves.)

Why shared truckload is greener than LTL

CARBON NEUTRAL SHIPPING

If you’re taken aback by the amount of energy that goes into the LTL system, then it’s time to look for shipping methods that will beckon in a new era of supply chain sustainability. Flock Freight® takes a different approach to LTL shipping… that is, the STL approach. Here’s what that means.

Flock Freight is the only logistics provider able to algorithmically pool freight shipments at scale, thanks to our unprecedented technology. Our proprietary algorithms match freight shipments (between four to 22 pallets) from one shipper with freight from other shippers that are moving in the same direction, pooling them into one multi-stop shared truckload. Instead of moving through the inefficient hub-and-spoke model, shared truckloads unload once (upon delivery) and entirely bypass energy-consuming LTL terminals. With our hubless STL approach, Flock Freight eliminates the need for LTL facilities as well as the processes listed above (like climate control, forklift usage, and electricity needs).

But outside of the energy costs coming from the terminals themselves, a large amount of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions stem from freight transportation. Pickup and delivery routes to and from LTL terminals account for 59% of the fuel LTL carriers use. That’s over half of a truck’s fuel! When freight moves in a shared truckload, we completely eliminate that unnecessary mileage by skipping over inefficient pickup and delivery routes.

Sometimes, even optimized shared truckloads go out of route for one reason or another (bad weather, a road obstruction, an unforeseen emergency, etc.). On average, around 20% of shared truckloads travel out of the way. But even factoring this percentage back in, a shared truckload still results in 40% less fuel consumption than standard LTL service.

And lastly, because we ship your items directly via TL service, the risk of damage drops to below 0.01%. This leads to fewer remanufacturing costs and less consumption of natural resources that you’d use to remake your goods.

Want to know how shippers can receive guaranteed shared truckload service? It’s pretty simple: Just book FlockDirect at the point of sale.

Carbon neutral FlockDirect

As of March 1, 2021, Flock Freight decided to make all FlockDirect shipments carbon neutral. To provide carbon neutral shipping, we supplement the emissions savings of FlockDirect shipments with a carbon offset program, in partnership with Carbonfund.org.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Our shared truckload service reduces carbon emissions by conserving fuel, removing the environmental risks of remaking (then reshipping) damaged goods, and eliminating the need for resource-intensive LTL facilities.
  2. We erase the remaining impact of each FlockDirect shipment by supporting Carbonfund.org carbon offset projects. Every time a shipper books FlockDirect, we buy carbon credits that offset the impact of the associated fuel emissions — at no extra cost to the shipper. To see how we calculate shared truckload and carbon neutral emissions savings, read this blog.

Each carbon neutral shipment supports Carbonfund.org’s Truck Stop Electrification Project, which uses an Idleair device to reduce CO2 emissions from freight trucks. With this device, truck drivers can access all of their cab’s electric functions during rest periods without idling their engines. As an added benefit of this project, drivers get better sleep without the noise, vibration, and exhaust fumes of idling.

Whether your business is on the path to Net-Zero, or simply wants to go green, partner with a shipping company (like Flock Freight) that offers simple solutions for mitigating your climate impact.


Faster, safer, greener LTL shipping starts with a simple click. Sign up today.