Empty running - a thing of the past?

October 29, 2014 by Kirsty Adams
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We look at how Returnloads.net is enabling hauliers to cut cost by helping to eliminate empty running.

According to research from the Centre For Sustainable Road Freight, it is estimated that HGV operations currently account for around 6% of all UK CO² emissions. When you consider that almost a third of heavy goods vehicles on our roads are empty, the environmental impact is frightening, but so too is the inefficiencies afforded to transport companies themselves.

Defra figures from 2012 show that for every kilometre it travels, an empty articulated 33 tonne+ lorry creates 0.69872kg of CO². Driving from Land’s End to John O’Groats in an empty lorry would emit around one tonne of carbon dioxide – comparable to boiling a kettle 20,000 times or driving 3,000 miles in an average petrol car. It’s no surprise, then, that some of the country’s top researchers and industry leaders have joined forces to improve road freight efficiency and reduce its environmental impact through the formation of The Centre For Sustainable Road Freight.

Drive for change

But the real drive for change and the reduction in empty journeys needs to also come from smaller fleet operators too. There are signs that operators are beginning to look at new and inventive ways to tackle empty running and saving themselves a fortune in the process.
Take Returnloads.net, which is as much an online logistics community as it is a haulage exchange website. With between 3,000-4,000 loads and vehicles available on the site each day, it’s estimated that Returnloads.net could save upwards of 50m empty running miles each year. Not only is there a very real prospect of making a collective difference to the environment, the cost savings being made are immense.

It is estimated that as many as 70% of traffic offices that rely on back-loading to try and fill the gaps in their operations still use the traditional method of employing somebody to make countless phone-calls to try and arrange transportation. Jack Richards & Son was one such company prior to 2012, but now places 200 loads and finds 100 loads per month using the resource. Mark White, transport manager at Jack Richards, comments: “Returnloads.net helps our traffic office work far smarter and greener by looking on the site for a backload as opposed to calling companies randomly; we would literally be making hundreds of these calls every day.”

The founder of returnloads.net, Richard Newbold says: “The site was born out of my own frustrations of running a busy traffic office, but is now as much about saving the environment as it is about delivering tangible business benefits to the members.” Currently, a significant percentage of the membership fees go straight back into further development  of the site. In fact, returnloads is one of the most inexpensive haulage exchanges where members can sign-up and start benefiting from as little as £29.50 per month. It seems committed to keeping monthly subscriptions low for members whilst at the same time improving the user experience by adding new functionalities on a month-by-month basis.
Of course, it depends how you use the site, but for those placing a couple of hundred loads a month the savings could be as much as £100,000 per year. Take Barronwood Distribution Ltd, which has eight separate branches across the UK, where the savings have been immense.

Barronwood’s Stuart McMillan, comments: “We can place as many as 500 loads per week onto the site. It’s almost impossible to quantify the exact savings and reduction in empty journeys as a result, but we used to call thousands of haulage companies over the phone before returnloads.net became available to us.” Of course, back-loading is not without its challenges. It is an exceptionally simple concept, but many businesses still don’t know about how easy it is to connect with third parties online. As a member-based community, everybody is committed to reducing empty running by working together, with around 50% of members both placing and finding loads on a daily basis. 

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