Sustainable Goods Movement: Environmental Implications of Trucks, Trains, Ships, and Planes

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Consumers today have a hard time avoiding products manufactured and transported overseas, as economic globalization moves more goods from factories to major markets throughout the world. For example, in 2005, imports and exports represented approximately 25% of the U.S. economy, up from 15% in 1990.1 Increased goods movements to and from international markets generate increased domestic freight transport, as products are shipped to and from a nation’s ports within a domestic freight transportation infrastructure that includes trucks, trains, ships, and planes.

Freight’s increasing economic role implies a proportional increase in energy use and emissions from freight transport modes, contributing significantly to global, regional, and local air pollution problems. Global and domestic trends suggest that freight transportation will become even more important, an emerging leviathan threatening both climate change mitigation and air quality goals across other sectors.

Regulators, environmental managers, and decision-makers need to better understand these trends to address problems of emissions, climate change, and energy conservation associated with goods movement. This article considers emerging environmental issues that affect global freight movement and identifies some of the challenges to improve freight mobility and sustainability.

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