We Aren’t the Only Ones

Dec. 15, 2014

“You cannot talk about energy and sustainability without talking about transportation,” said Julio Ottino, dean of the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University, to kick of Northwestern University Transportation Center’s 60th Anniversary Transportation Summit, where NACFE and CWR Trucking Communications leader, Denise Rondini, joined a great group of leaders.

What struck me about this statement is how it is being applied across all modes of transportation not just trucking. While some folks in trucking are working hard to increase freight efficiency, there are folks in the airline, rail and shipping industries doing the same thing. If trucking wants to continue to play a key role in the transportation of goods, we have to keep making strides to improve our overall efficiency.

Companies like Schneider are doing their part. Chris Lofgren, president and CEO of Schneider speaking at the Summit said, “Sustainability and profitability go hand in hand.” Since 1970 Schneider has been teaching drivers about idle management. “Idle is the highest pollution cycle in the engine and the most inefficient for us because when trucks are idling we are not making deliveries,” he said. He acknowledged that every investment in fuel efficiency drives cost up, but it also results in a mpg gain.

And while we in trucking are making these gains, the folks in the airline industry have their own goals. According to Angela Foster-Rice, managing director of environmental affairs and sustainability at United Airlines, the company has a goal of being carbon neutral by 2020. Currently aviation accounts for two percent of CO2 emissions. She added, “Fuel efficiency does not go far enough to reduce emissions; we are committed to bio-fuels.”

Craig Phillip, former president and CEO of Ingram Barge Co., believes the shipping industry has a great sustainability story. “One barge equals 70 trucks or 16 rail cars.”

Martin O’Neill, product management executive for Global Services and Solutions at GE Transportation, says for the railroad industry a one percent increase in asset utilization leads to a $300,000,000 savings. But given that the average life of a locomotive is 40 years it can be difficult to add technology innovations that will improve operations.

Each mode of transportation faces challenges from aging infrastructure, to attracting qualified people, to congestion and ensuring safety. However, each is striving to improve its efficiency, reduce its carbon footprint and deploy technology that allows them to operate cleaner.

When asked by an audience member which mode of transportation is better, Lofgren said, “Every mode of transportation plays a role in the supply chain based on what is being shipped. It’s not an either/or. How does each mode continue to advance recognizing they’ll play a different role in the supply chain? All of us are trying to make advancements so goods can get moved more efficiently and in an environmentally responsible way.”

Hani Mahmassani, director of Northwestern University Transportation Center, said that data underlies the development of sustainable practices. “Doing the right thing goes hand in hand with doing things right. Sustainability is feasible only if there is economic sustainability as well.”

NACFE and the Carbon War Room through our work on Trucking Efficiency think we have developed a good place for truck fleets to explore freight efficiency options. Our payback calculators allow fleets to determine ROI for various technologies, which will show how the switch to fuel efficient technologies makes economic sense.

About the Author

Michael Roeth | Executive Director

Michael Roeth has worked in the commercial vehicle industry for nearly 30 years, most recently as executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). He serves on the second National Academy of Sciences Committee on Technologies and Approaches for Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicles and has held various positions in engineering, quality, sales, and plant management with Navistar and Behr/Cummins.

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