Despite the current recession in Europe, the demand for freight transports is very strong. The transport sector has become a heavier polluter of the environment in the last two decades due to increased freight transports, especially on road. In Europe, the growth rate is particularly strong regarding freight transports on road, while rail transports are still on a stable, low level (European Communities 2003). This implies direct environmental, negative effects (e.g. increased congestion, emissions of air polluters and accidents), but also indirect effects of carbon dioxide, in terms of global warming. The European Union has stated that continued growth in traffic is not compatible with sustainable development and that the transport sector must decrease emissions of green house gases. There are also several practices causing “excessive” freight truck traffic (e.g. empty running or sub-optimal modal choice), where the most obvious way of minimizing this excessive use is to apply the “Polluter Pays Principle” and internalize its social and environmental cost (McKinnon 1994). This is also discussed among policy makers in the European Union.
There are several challenges how steer the transport pattern into a more sustainable one. The policy side is one thing but at the same time, there are various initiatives and forces on the demand side that should stimulate the market of transport services. The increasing demand for more sustainable freight transports among transport-buying companies, in Sweden but also in other European countries, is a reality for many logistics service providers today. The transport providers are in a situation where certain groups of customers, especially large manufacturing companies (Lammgard, 2007), have a shift in their demand, but at the same time there is an uncertainty among the transport providers of this should affect their products and services sold as the willingness to pay of the customers are highly uncertain. The transport sector is a highly competitive one where the competition on prices is keen. The transport providers now struggle with the challenge of meeting this demand.
There have been various studies studying how the logistics managers in transport buying companies evaluate different aspects when transports are bought. It is not only a transport service to be sold but a function, where the core service is to transport freight from point A to point B in the right time. However, there are other service quality aspects of interest, and among these can the environmental aspects of the transports be positioned. The buying of logistical services are dealt with in classic logistics literature (e.g. Bowersox and Closs 1996; Christopher 1992) but do not normally include the environmental considerations. If environmental aspects are mentioned, it is in the context of reverse logistics, life-cycle assessments, or safety. In reality, environmental concerns are taken into account when freight transports are purchased to a various extent, at least in Sweden where there have been a few Swedish studies (Björklund 2005; Laitila and Westin 2001, Lammgård 2007). One practice established is e.g. the use of environmental evaluation forms (NTM 2005).
This paper examines the existing literature and studies in the fields of logistics and transportation with regards to environmental aspects. The purpose is to identify the challenges facing the transport providers based on changes in the demand concerning environmental aspects, but also the opportunities for these transport providers that are proactive. The policy area is not in focus in this paper, rather a market-driven view of how the market forces can be used in attaining a more sustainable freight transport sector. The experience of research within this area since 2001 will be used in this analysis.