The role of environmental sustainability in the freight transport mode choice: A systematic literature review with focus on the EU

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Research units

  • Mikkeli University of Applied Sciences


Purpose: Transport is the European Union (EU) sector that produces the second highest amount of greenhouse gas emissions. In its attempts to promote the environmentally sustainable development of transport, the EU has focussed on intermodal transport in particular – but with limited success. It is important to understand how freight transport is selected, which criteria are used and what role environmental sustainability and intermodal transport play in the selection. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to focus on the role of environmental sustainability and intermodal transport in transport mode decisions. The authors look at this issue from the perspective of logistics service providers (LSPs) and buyers, as they are important stakeholders in guiding this process. Design/methodology/approach: To gain a holistic view of the current state of research, the authors have conducted a systematic literature review of the role of environmental sustainability and intermodal transport in transport mode decisions. The authors have further examined the findings concerning requests for quotations (RfQs), tenders and transport contracts, as these are also linked to decisions on transport choice. Findings: The findings from the literature review include the results of descriptive and structured content analysis of the selected articles. They show that the discussion on environmental sustainability and intermodal transport as a sustainable mode, together with the transport mode selection criteria, RfQs/tenders and transport contracts, is still a rather new and emerging topic in the literature. The main focus related to the selection of transport mode has been on utility and cost efficiency, and only recently have issues such as environmental sustainability and intermodal transport started to gain greater attention. The findings also indicate that the theoretical lenses most typically used have been preference models and total cost theories, although the theoretical base has recently become more diversified. Research limitations/implications: There is still a need to extend the theoretical and methodological base, which could then lead to innovative theory building and testing. Such diverse application of methodologies will help in understanding how environmental sustainability can be better linked to mode choice decisions. Practical implications: The findings will be of interest to policy makers and companies opting for environmentally sustainable transport solutions. Social implications: If the EU, shippers and LSPs take a more active stance in promoting environmentally sustainable transformation models, this will have long-lasting societal impacts. Originality/value: It seems that this systematic literature review of the topic is one of the first such attempts in the current body of literature.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)560-602
Number of pages43
JournalInternational Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2017
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

    Research areas

  • Environmental sustainability, Intermodal transport, Request for quotation, Tender, Transport contract, Transport mode selection

ID: 14452041