Earth Day 2014: It’s Time for Green Trucking

The good news: corporations are taking sustainability seriously. According to the United Nations’ Global Corporate Sustainability Report 2013, a larger percentage of corporations took specific actions to improve sustainability in 20 management practices, including:

  • Management systems: 66 percent
  • Consumption and responsible use: 65 percent
  • Cleaner and safer production: 62 percent
  • Supplier policy: 61 percent
  • Three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle): 59 percent
  • Impact assessment: 51 percent
  • Supply-chain arrangements: 31 percent

The bad news: Some corporations don’t see trucking as a sustainable form of transportation. Unilever plans to reduce truck mileage and use rail or ships in order to reach its goal of 40 percent improvement in CO₂ efficiency by 2020. Kraft Foods eliminated 60 million miles from its global transportation network from 2005 through 2010 and hopes to cut another 50 million miles by 2015. But both companies also offer hope to the trucking industry: They both plan to keep utilizing truck fleets, but will use trucks with lower emissions.

Trucking is getting greener

Kraft Foods began using diesel-electric hybrid delivery trucks in 2009. Walmart recently redesigned the long-distance truck as we know it. The Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience Concept Truck has a fuel-flexible, air-cooled microturbine-powered series hybrid electric drivetrain; a trailer made of carbon fiber (10 times stronger then steel and lighter than fiberglass) that saves around 4,000 pounds; and a streamlined style that provides 20 percent aerodynamic improvement and a 10 percent fuel reduction.

It’s not just the heavy hitters who are going green. Heavy Duty Trucking’s list of Top 50 Green Fleets may list big companies like Coca Cola, which has the largest hybrid electric commercial truck fleet in North America, and Frito Lay, which boasts the largest all-electric delivery fleet and one of the largest natural gas Class 7/8 fleets, but it also highlights smaller companies, like the Department of Sanitation in DeKalb County, GA, which recently constructed a facility that converts landfill gas to produce 2.3 million diesel gallon equivalents of CNG annually and plans to power its garbage trucks using the very trash they haul to the landfill.

Some lower-tech solutions helped companies make the Top 50 list, too. Celadon Trucking of Indianapolis, Ind., invested in trailer side skirts, truck side skirts, cab extenders, aero bumpers, aero mirrors, roof caps, battery operated APUs, SmartWay-certified tires and more. Gordon Trucking (Pacific, Wash.) recycles all waste oil, coolant, batteries, metals, tires, and other items and reuses the fuel from removed filters. FedEx Freight educated its drivers on fuel-efficient driving habits, like progressive shifting, cruise control and idle reduction.

These simple measures can have a huge impact. Verizon, which has more than 35,000 on-road vehicles, saved more than 200,000 gallons of fuel in 2012 by just reducing idling. Unilever saved miles, too, by backhauling (using other companies’ trucks during their return legs, when they are typically empty). Its backhauling arrangement with partners in Hungary and China has reduced vehicle distances by 50,000 km and saved the company 10 percent in distribution costs.

Sustainability benefits the bottom line

Some of the cost savings associated with sustainability programs are obvious. According to Environmental Impact Initiative, an environmental “think-and-do tank,” fuel-efficiency technologies can reduce consumption by as much as 20 percent. The same technologies, which include aerodynamics, fuel-efficient tires, and idle-reduction programs, also save money by reducing maintenance costs on engines and tires.

Green initiatives can make money for companies, too. Carriers that reduce emission may qualify for government incentives. They can become certified for programs like the U.S. EPA’s SmartWay and Responsible Care, all of which can boost their revenues, especially as consumers demand more transparency and sustainability in supply chains. Being green can also set companies above competitors. “We knew we had a substantial carbon footprint,” saidBob Heniff, CEO ofHeniff Transportation Systems, one of the 20 largest tanker companies in the country, “and the best way to differentiate ourselves from our competitors would be to market ourselves as an environmentally friendly company.”

Keep the big picture in mind

Though reduced cost and profits are great, they are not the real reason to go green.

The newest report from the United Nations’ expert Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that we can mitigate more severe natural disasters, but only if we limit the increase in global warming to a maximum of two degrees Celsius.

“The scientific message is clear: to avoid dangerous disturbances to the climate system,” climate researcher Ottmar Edenhofer said, “we can’t go on as we have done before.” The panel stated that in order to secure a livable future, we need a minimum 40 percent reduction in CO₂ by 2050.

It’s this challenge and this hope for a tenable future that have made Earth Day the biggest civic observance in the world. Over one billion people now participate in Earth Day activities on April 22. It’s a fact worth stating again: More than a billion people recognize the need to protect the planet. Another fact: Consumers demand environmentally friendly products and services. And another: Corporations recognize the need for sustainable practices.

Some trucking companies will be able to celebrate this year’s Earth Day in recognition of their progress. Others, it is hoped, will begin to take the steps that will lead them to a sustainable future for their company, and for the world.

Chandler Magann is the president of heavy-haul trucking company Next Exit Logistics. Contact him via the company’s website or at nextexitlogistics@gmail.com.

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