Trucks at Work

Green ... and smart

Our efforts not only reduce our carbon footprint but also help us remain competitive in the marketplace.” -Steve Matheys, executive vice president of global commercial services for trucking enterprise Schneider National

That singular comment by Steve Matheys about Green Bay, WI-based Schneider National‘s ongoing participation in a bevy of “green” efforts (enabling the carrier to bag its third consecutive “environmental excellence award” from the Environmental Protection Agency this year) really gets to the heart of things. In short, while going green is great for reducing air pollution, allowing climate change, and all that, it‘s also becoming a key way for truckers to save money - LOTS of money.

Schneider is but one of many text book examples in trucking today. This year, the carrier voluntarily slowed its fleet down to 60 mph. While this effort reduced the carrier‘s emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) - a greenhouse gas that may be accelerating climate change - by 83.25 million pounds annually (the equivalent of taking 7,259 cars off the country‘s highways), it‘s saving Schneider some 3.75 million gallons of diesel fuel per year. If we peg diesel at $4 a gallon (and it‘s higher than that across much the U.S. now) we‘re talking about saving $15 million a year.

Can you say “cha-ching”?

Then look at Celadon Trucking Services Inc. - a wholly-owned subsidiary of Indianapolis-based Celadon Group. Now, they are a big fleet - approximately 3,000 trucks and 8,000 trailers - and that is nowhere NEAR typical in this industry, yet despite adding 520 trucks since they joined the EPA‘s “SmartWay” program in 2005, they‘ve actually IMPROVED fuel efficiency by 25% and cut CO2 emissions by 40%. Not too shabby.

“In a challenging operating environment, we have invested heavily in our business to reduce fuel consumption and air pollutants,” said Steve Russell, Celadon‘s chairman and CEO. Those efforts run a wide gamut, I might add, including:

--Installation of auxiliary air heaters on trucks to eliminate the engine‘s need to idle in cold weather;

--Equipping trucks and trailers with the most fuel efficient tires available on the market;

--Accelerating new truck purchases planned for the next two years, all of which include EPA-compliant engines in SmartWay-certified trucks;

--Recalibrating new engines to produce less than 30 grams of nitrogen oxide (NOx) at idle;

--Shortening trailer to tractor gaps to minimize aerodynamic drag;

--Use of synthetic lubricants in all transmissions and differentials to minimize friction;

--Reduction in maximum road speed for the entire fleet.

None of these things, however, are done by Celadon just for the “green” of it. I interviewed Paul Will, Celadon‘s vice chairman and CFO, last year about how fleets need to calculate a solid return on investment for any “green” effort they undertake.

“Globally speaking, fuel costs are driving big changes to equipment specifications today,” he told me. “While specs improving fuel economy may cost more, that cost is outweighed by long-term fuel savings. That‘s why we‘re going with aluminum vs. steel wheels and fuel tank skirts on our trucks, for example: we‘re adding aerodynamic improvements where we can.”

That‘s also why Celadon is moving to Navistar's ProStar and Freightliner's Cascadia tractors, as well. “That‘s because the both offer much more fuel-efficient, aerodynamic designs compared to previous models we used to use, the 9400 and Columbia, respectively,” he explained

It‘s also the fundamental reasoning underpinning the EPA‘s SmartWay Transport Partnership program, launched back in 2004 - make sure “green” efforts saves “greenbacks” where possible for carriers and shippers alike. Today, over 1,000 businesses and organizations from the freight sector - from Fortune 500 companies down to family-owned businesses (yes, that includes owner-operators folks) - are conserving almost 600 million gallons of diesel fuel per year, while eliminating an estimated 6.8 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming. Yet it‘s salient to note that those fuel conservation efforts are saving the trucking industry at least $2.5 billion in annual fuel and maintenance costs. That‘s BILLION, with a big “B.”

By 2012, the EPA hopes the SmartWay program - with full trucking industry participation - can achieve annual fuel savings of 3.3 billion to 6.6 billion gallons of diesel fuel, eliminating 33 million to 66 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions and up to 200,000 tons of NOx emissions. For the trucking industry, though - on track to spend $135 billion on fuel this year alone - those savings are nothing to sniff at.

I mean, even the really simple stuff is generating big savings. United Parcel Service, for example, went back and optimized its delivery routes in 2007 to specifically minimize left-hand turns - an extraordinarily change that saved the company 3 million gallons of fuel a year. “Not only is UPS contributing to this country‘s energy independence, UPS is proving that businesses can save green by going green,” noted Stephen L. Johnson, the EPA‘s Administrator.

“As the industry continues to evolve, it becomes increasingly important for companies to adapt - providing customers with the added peace of mind that they are doing what‘s best for the environment,” said Tom Escott, president of Schneider Logistics. “It‘s one more way we can ensure we‘re all doing our part to conserve and preserve our environment for future generations.”

More importantly, left unsaid in Tom‘s comments above is that doing all these environmentally wonderful things is saving fleets large and small a lot of money - and that green stuff is getting awful tight in these days of financial and economic upheaval.