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People, planet, prosperity: Working together towards a sustainable future
Innovation Issue 35: Fall 2021

What drives sustainable change in Canadian trucking?


What drives sustainable change in Canadian trucking?

An aerial view of a farmer's field and a parking lot.

When it comes to greening the Canadian trucking industry, Ryerson researchers have found that competition to attract new drivers is what is helping to propel small and medium-sized companies towards sustainability, while anti-competitive activity is a barrier to progress.

As part of her graduate studies, Ted Rogers School of Management alumna Nina Jovanovic and her supervisor, global management studies professor Hossein Zolfagharinia, explored the state of environmental sustainability in the Canadian trucking industry. 

They examined practices and initiatives undertaken by several small and medium-sized companies based in Ontario, where much of the country’s trucking industry is based. They investigated what sustainable activities had been adopted, and analyzed the factors that can motivate or impede undertaking environmental initiatives – the first time such research has been conducted about Canada.  

To help green the Canadian trucking industry, the researchers developed recommendations, particularly for policies and government initiatives that could support more companies in becoming more sustainable. They identified an opportunity for governments to play a role in greening the Canadian trucking industry through education, incentives and enforcement. During the interviews that alumna Jovanovic conducted during her research, many of the companies highlighted a lack of governmental initiatives and incentives for businesses of their size. There was also interest in educational and benchmarking resources. “Some of the trucking companies, they wanted to implement green initiatives but they didn’t know where to start,” she said. They additionally identified action items for policy-makers that included mandating environmental performance reporting in the industry. 

“What we observed is there’s huge room for improvement, meaning that the policy-makers, the government, they can take actions and they can contribute to this particular sector, and contributing to this sector can translate into a big savings, a big improvement in terms of emissions reduction,” said professor Zolfagharinia. 

The researchers found that fleet modernization, the biggest sustainability improvement activity, is not occurring because of a drive to be more environmentally friendly. Instead, companies are investing in new trucks to help with driver recruitment. Other findings included the lack of widespread use of alternative fuel, but when it is in use, compressed natural gas is considered the best option for Canada’s harsh climate. Another interesting highlight was that one of the companies interviewed was working with a Toronto startup to develop AI software to optimize routes in real time, considering traffic, weather and even border crossing wait lines. 

One unexpected research finding during their field interviews were anecdotal reports of anti-competitive activity in the trucking industry being identified as a barrier to small and medium-sized companies pursuing sustainable initiatives. “These things are happening in the industry. It could be a big barrier because it’s a highly competitive market, it’s highly fragmented,” said professor Zolfagharinia, adding that it makes it harder for companies who are trying to follow the rules. “This means for other companies, they cannot have enough investments in adoption of those green initiatives.” To address the anti-competitive activities, they suggest that more enforcement of already existing legislation would help to level the playing field and would remove barriers that are limiting trucking companies’ ability to implement sustainable initiatives.

Their research and recommendations were published in the top-tier journal, Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment (external link) .

Contributing to this sector can translate into a big savings, a big improvement in terms of emissions reduction.


This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.