The Sustainability of Freight Transport: a Methodological Discussion

The Sustainability of Freight Transport: a Methodological Discussion




This paper questions the conceptualisation of sustainability of freight transport. Based on the concept of service performance, we analyse how sustainability is analysed.


The objective of this paper is to question the conceptualisation of sustainability in the field of freight transport and logistics. Our starting point is the concept of performance of transport and how sustainability issues are introduced into this concept. Our theoretical approach is based on two schools of thought : the economics of services, on the one hand, and conventions theory, on the other.
Traditionnally the performance of freight transport services is evaluated in terms of productivity, using ton-km as an indicator of output. Sustainability is usually introduced as a new constraint, in terms of internalizing external costs. The theoretical and methodological limitations of such an approach are well known.
The heterodox service economics literature develops a more comprehensive framework of performance of services, by distinguishing between output and outcome of a service, and by taking into account the role of service innovation. In this paper, we use these concepts in order to develop a multidimensional framework of freight transport performance.
Based on conventions theory, we then analyse how sustainability is translated into various performance strategies. In this framework, the performance of a service is conceptualized as a convention, and the sustainability of freight transport is not evaluated in terms of standardized indicators, but through the analysis of how actors adjust their performance strategies to the sustainability constraints.
The paper is mainly based on the French case. The result of our analysis is a multidimensional framework distinguishing between direct outputs, indirect outcomes and levers of performance, on the one hand, and different modes of representation of freight transport (the six ?worlds? of conventions analysis), on the other.


Association for European Transport