Green economics

It's April, and that means the annual celebration of Earth Day is coming up (April 22, to be precise). Intended as a way to raise the environmental awareness of us polluting humans, for many communities that means picking up the trash and exploring ways to recycle more of our waste stream of plastic and glass bottles, paint, wood scraps, etc. Don't think Earth Day applies to your fleet operation?

It's April, and that means the annual celebration of Earth Day is coming up (April 22, to be precise). Intended as a way to raise the ‘environmental awareness’ of us polluting humans, for many communities that means picking up the trash and exploring ways to recycle more of our waste stream of plastic and glass bottles, paint, wood scraps, etc.

Don't think Earth Day applies to your fleet operation? Think again. The transportation industry is at the forefront when it comes to recycling.

Take the roads, for example: 73-million tons of asphalt pavement is reclaimed every year and used again on our highways. Not only does such “cold milling” cut oil use (it's a key ingredient in asphalt), it saves a bundle for the American taxpayer.

Then there are tires. Nearly 26.2 million were retreaded last year in the U.S. and Canada. The lion's share — 18.2 million — were reused by trucks. In this case, trucking is helping the environment and saving money — $2 billion annually, says the Tire Retread Information Bureau.

Used engine oil is another example of a “green” activity that also helps trucking save money. Many companies are using their old engine oil to fuel waste oil heaters for maintenance shops. In addition to disposing of a toxic substance safely, this cuts down on energy use.

I'd like to suggest another area where fleets can save money while going green: construction of freight terminals, maintenance shops and offices. By paying close attention to how you design and build them, you can save money over the life of the facilities.

My favorite example is the headquarters for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), Annapolis, Md. This is a 32,000-sq.-ft. complex built on 31 acres of waterfront property. The first facility to earn a platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Environmental Engineering Design, the Center shows how energy conservation and use of recycled materials can be an economical proposition.

Construction was based on a cradle-to-grave building philosophy that emphasizes the use of materials that are recycled, recyclable, or both. And according to Chuck Foster, CBF's director of fleets and facilities, the building uses two-thirds less energy than a similar-size structure with a more traditional design.

Sensors determine when the outdoor climate is suitable, shutting down the mechanical cooling/heating system and opening motor-operated windows. Active solar features produce a portion of the building's electricity, using photovoltaic panels. About 30% of the building's energy comes from renewable energy sources, with solar hot-water heating further reducing electricity demand. Flushless, composting toilets reduce pollution from human waste and rooftop cisterns capture rainwater for hand washing and fire suppression.

Placing parking under the building and using gravel surfacing for limited parking outside reduces harmful stormwater runoff. Runoff that can't be eliminated is directed through a bioretention stormwater-treatment system designed to handle oil; the runoff is then filtered through a man-made wetland.

Is it a complex design? Yes. Did it require more planning and preparation than the average building of the same size? You bet. Yet by using composting toilets and rainwater catch basins to reduce water use, and relying more heavily on solar energy, the building's day-to-day operational costs are far lower than a comparable facility.

With electricity prices jumping from pennies to dollars per kilowatt, these kinds of green decisions can really help your bottom line.

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