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For government and industry to work effectively towards environmental goals it is important to have targets based on appropriate data and workable ways for companies to measure progress. Heriot-Watt research has helped the UK government achieve better carbon audit data and companies chart the carbon-intensity of their freight operations. A practical tool developed by its researchers is now used by over 85 firms.

Heriot-Watt has researched the environmental impacts of logistics activities involved in moving, storing and handling goods since the early 1990s. Prof Alan McKinnon wrote the first study to carbon-footprint the UK freight transport system in a 2007 report for the Commission for Integrated Transport, an independent government advisory body.

During this work, Prof McKinnon discovered that the figures quoted for carbon dioxide emissions in several government publications were much higher than those calculated using data from the Government’s own Continuing Survey of Road Goods Transport (CSRGT). After investigating the discrepancies with colleague Dr Maja Piecyk, the researchers recommended that the Government use data derived from the CSRGT, not laboratory test data, in the official method to carbon footprint road-freight operations. This recommendation was duly adopted.

The discovery that decarbonisation of road freight would be less difficult than anticipated helped spur industry’s efforts. The Freight Transport Association (FTA), which represents providers and users, established a Logistics Carbon Reduction Scheme. Working closely with the FTA, the researchers derived a target for reducing the carbon intensity of freight transport between 2010 and 2015. Subsequently endorsed by the UK government, this is thought to be the world’s first industry-government target of its kind.

Heriot-Watt has also developed a software tool for companies to work out how they can meet this target. The tool is available free of charge and is widely used across the UK.