New C.H. Robinson tool will help companies measure their carbon footprints

Patrick Kennedy, Star Tribune
·4 min read

Take any company with a large shareholder base, and it has at least one investor asking for reports on their environmental impacts. Now smaller companies also are increasingly interested in providing environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting to their constituents.

C.H. Robinson, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced the development of a new tool, Emissions IQ, that will help companies measure the carbon footprint of their shipping activities across different modes of transportation, including partial loads they might share with other shippers.

In order to cut transportation emissions, companies need to know how to measure them in all modes of transportation from trucking to air and waterways.

Eden Prairie-based C.H. Robinson is one of the largest third-party logistics firms, so it has a wealth of information on global transportation.

"You can only change what you can measure," said Angie Freeman, C.H. Robinson's chief sustainability officer, in a statement. "Even companies committed to sustainability have struggled to capture their emissions across complex, multifaceted supply chains."

By some estimates, 90% of the companies in the S&P 500 Index have corporate ESG reports. Those reports for the largest companies often have measures of their carbon footprints. More companies now want to include the same information.

Emissions IQ was developed by Robinson Labs, the tech incubator within C.H. Robinson. It will help the company's customers of all sizes calculate emissions and provide them with visual representation of their carbon output.

C.H. Robinson partnered with MIT and the EPA to include a standardized way to measure the less-than-truckload shipments that have proliferated in the last year from increased e-commerce activity.

"Even some of the largest shippers in the world have a very difficult time scoring their carbon footprint," said Tim Gagnon, vice president of analytics and data science at C.H. Robinson. "This is going to optimize that, make it more efficient and actionable."

Methodologies on measuring carbon emissions vary but Emission IQ will use the accredited GLEC framework, a globally recognized methodology for measuring greenhouse gas emissions across different transportation modes from the Global Logistics Emissions Council.

Any shipment that goes through C.H. Robinson will now automatically get an emissions score, but companies also can upload the data from their other shipments that don't go through C.H. Robinson into Emissions IQ and get a comprehensive report on their carbon footprint.

So far the tool can be used to measure the carbon footprint of shipments by truck and rail. Later this year, the tool will be able to measure the impact of ocean and air shipments as well as surface transportation in Europe.

The tool allows C.H. Robinson customers to compare their scores against the industry and provides solutions and strategies on how to make their logistics more efficient and sustainable which can lower their carbon dioxide emissions.

C.H. Robinson Chief Executive Bob Biesterfeld said in September 2019 that the company would double its investment rate in technology and spend $1 billion over a five-year span to build on its leadership position in the logistics industry. Emissions IQ is a result of that investment and a product that can also help C.H. Robinson customers achieve their goals.

"The high-priority commitment is to help our customers enhance their outcomes. That would be a key target of this investment " Gagnon said of Emissions IQ. "This topic of sustainability is just growing in importance. We've received that feedback from our customers."

The pilot phase of Emissions IQ helped 125 companies reduce their carbon emissions by a total of 350,00 metric tons of carbon dioxide, C.H. Robinson said.

Bedding manufacturer Tempur Sealy has been using Emissions IQ to achieve its carbon neutrality goals.

"By making our supply chain more efficient, we reduced domestic carbon emissions by nearly 1,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalents and saved over $150,000 in just three months. We're on track to quadruple that this year," said Scott Vollet, Tempur Sealy's executive vice president of global operations, in a statement.

The Emissions IQ pilot project results are "really significant," Freeman said.

"Transportation is about a fifth of all global emissions and we work with about 200,000 different customers and contract carriers," she said. "The potential to make a real impact on carbon emissions globally is enormous."

Patrick Kennedy • 612-673-7926