Goods Movement Life Cycle Assessment for Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goals

Matthew J. Nahlik, Andrew T. Kaehr, Mikhail Chester, Arpad Horvath, Michael N. Taptich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


The formation of effective policies to reduce emissions from goods movement should consider local and remote life cycle effects as well as barriers for mode shifting. Using uni- and multimodal freight movements by truck, rail, and ocean-going vessel (OGV) associated with California, a life cycle assessment (LCA) is developed to estimate the local and remote emissions that occur from freight activity inside and associated with the state. Long-run average per tonne-kilometer results show that OGVs emit the fewest emissions, followed by rail, then trucks, and that the inclusion of life cycle processes can increase impacts by up to 32% for energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 4,200% for conventional air pollutants. Efforts to reduce emissions through mode shifting should recognize that infrastructure and market configurations may be inimical to mode substitution. A uni- and multimodal shipping emissions assessment is developed for intrastate and California-associated freight movements to illustrate the life cycle impacts of typical trips for certain types of goods. When targeting GHG reductions in California, it should be recognized that heavy-duty trucks are responsible for 99% of intrastate goods movement emissions. An assessment of future freight truck technology improvements is performed to estimate the effectiveness of strategies to meet 2050 GHG reduction goals. Whereas aggressive improvements in fuel economy coupled with alternative vehicles and fuels can significantly reduce GHG emissions, to meet 2050 goals will likely require zero carbon emission vehicle technology. The value of using LCA in GHG reduction policy for transportation systems is explored.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)317-328
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Industrial Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016


  • Air pollution
  • Freight transportation
  • Goods movement
  • Greenhouse gas policy
  • Industrial ecology
  • Life cycle assessment (LCA)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • General Social Sciences


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