Trucking and the Environment


According to United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates, carbon dioxide (CO2) is the primary greenhouse gas (GHG) emitted from human activities. CO2 emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels for electricity generation and transportation are the largest sources of GHG emissions in the United States (Figure 1).

Figure 1. U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector[2]

The combustion of fossil fuels is widespread and is associated with daily activities such as powering appliances, driving vehicles, and heating homes and businesses. As a result, the use of fossil fuels has received significant attention from the sustainability movement. For the transportation sector, the combustion of petroleum-based fuels, such as gasoline and diesel, contribute to GHG emissions. Passenger cars, light-duty trucks (< 8,500 lbs.) and motorcycles account for nearly 60 percent of the GHGs emitted by the transportation sector (Figure 2). Medium- and heavy-duty trucks account for 24 percent of transportation-related GHGs which equates to roughly 6 percent of total U.S. GHGs.

Figure 2. U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the Transportation Sector[3]

For the trucking industry, diesel and gasoline fuels represent one of the largest operational costs, comprising from 25 to 39 percent of motor carriers’ marginal expenses since 2008.[4] Thus, fuel price volatility can cause significant financial uncertainty and risk for carriers and, as a result, fuel management is a leading priority for the trucking industry. Lowering per mile fuel costs can decrease the impact of unstable fuel prices while increasing the competitiveness of individual trucking firms. The trucking industry at large could see improved economic stability as the result of increased fuel efficiency. Such increases could be achieved through a combination of proper driving practices, advances in technology and improved highway conditions.

An opportunity within the sustainability movement therefore exists for the trucking industry. By ensuring proper practices and employing technology to reduce fossil fuel use, motor carriers can make significant contributions to the nation’s sustainability goals while at the same time reducing their fuel costs. The public sector also has the opportunity to advance sustainability goals by helping to improve technology and highway conditions through the support of research and development (R&D) programs, financial incentives, reasonable regulatory practices and infrastructure investment.


[2]U.S. EPA. Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, 1990-2015, (April 2017). Available online:

[3]Ibid (Does not equal 100% due to rounding.)

[4] Torrey, W.F. and D. Murray, American Transportation Research Institute, An Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking: A 2016 Update (2016).