FedEx recently announced it will be carbon-neutral by 2040, nearly ten years earlier than what is required by the Paris climate accords. This initiative is impressive given FedEx’s enormous transportation footprint with 84,000 vehicles globally. Also, FedEx plans to largely focus on emissions reductions and not offsets. The company pledges to invest $2 billion towards the low-carbon transition for electrifying its enormous fleet, sustainable energy and carbon sequestration.
More than 50 companies have vowed to be carbon-neutral by 2040, and FedEx is one of the latest to join the list due to concern by shareholders, employees and consumers about climate change.
By 2040, FedEx plans to fully transition its global parcel pickup and delivery fleet to zero-emissions and electric vehicles (EVs). This plan follows other timelines in the works, such as California’s announcement to phase out the sale of gasoline-powered cars and dramatically reduce fossil fuel use by 2035.
GM says it is also creating an electric future and is looking to capture the market opportunity of this transition. The automaker plans to phase out gas and diesel-powered vehicles by 2035. One long-term option for Fedex could be the scaling up of GM’s BrightDrop, which offers electric vehicles for commercial delivery companies.
“Our need for reliable, sustainable transportation has never been more important,” said FedEx Express executive Richard Smith in a public statement. "BrightDrop is a perfect example of the innovations we are adopting to transform our company as time-definite express transportation continues to grow. With this new suite of products, we will help improve the safety, security and timeliness of FedEx Express deliveries while reducing our environmental impact and protecting the well-being of our couriers."
FedEx’s carbon-neutral plan will kick into gear quickly, but critics are concerned it isn’t fast enough. By 2025, EVs will account for at least half of FedEx’s global fleet purchases and 100 percent of fleet purchases by 2040. Although there are plans to ramp up the use of EVs, older vehicles could remain on the road for years, spewing pollution.
Also, EVs may not be running on fully renewable sources by 2040 and could still rely indirectly on natural gas. Although EVs may not directly produce emissions, the power plants required to produce the electricity could depend on fossil fuels such as natural gas, the burning of which results in the emitting of greenhouse gases.
FedEx operates the largest global air fleet, with more than 650 aircraft. Its carbon-neutral plan involves investing in alternative aviation fuels and boost efficiency.
FedEx’s 2040 goal to be carbon-neutral compliments an earlier sustainability commitment to reduce aircraft emissions 30 percent by 2020. The company has begun using Boeing 777F aircraft, which use 18 percent less fuel compared to MD11 freighters yet have greater payload capacity.
FedEx plans to continue making its 5,000 facilities eco-friendly through increased efficiency and the expanded use of renewable energy. Some of this plan is already underway: One regional headquarters for FedEx Express is housed in a groundbreaking building in the Netherlands. Not only is the building carbon-neutral, but it’s actually energy positive. It has a heat and power plant fueled by recycled biological waste that sends heat to nearby buildings. Further, there are more than 20 FedEx Express buildings spanning the globe that are LEED- Platinum certified.
Although this is an impressive start, FedEx has a long way to go when considering the scale and reach of its facilities and the need to scale up renewable energy production to power its fleet.
A $100 million gift from FedEx will help fund the Yale Center for Natural Carbon Capture to support and refine natural carbon sequestration solutions. The goal of the project is to enhance the Earth’s ability to store carbon.
“Researchers will develop methods that build on natural carbon storage systems, including biological ecosystems and the geological carbon cycle, improving, where possible, how quickly carbon can be absorbed, how much can be contained and how long it can be stored,” FedEx said in a statement.
FedEx has already made some good strides towards a more sustainable future, and the recent announcement to be carbon-neutral by 2040 shows a commitment for the long haul. “While we’ve made great strides in reducing our environmental impact, we have to do more,” says Chief sustainability officer, Mitch Jackson. “The long-term health of our industry is directly linked to the health of the planet, but this effort is about more than the bottom line – it’s the right thing to do.”
Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.