When it comes to trucking's overall environmental impact, an enormous gap exists between public perception and reality. The public sees trucks as toxic, smoke- spewing petroleum gluttons clogging our roads, wasting our resources and fouling our air for the profit of a few. It's an old, stubborn image that refuses to go away.
Those who run trucking businesses know that's just not the way it is these days.
Start with air quality. Strict emissions regulations have severely cut the two most dangerous components coming out of diesel exhaust stacks, and by 2010 those emissions will be nearly immeasurable. And when it comes to the major greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, the higher efficiency of diesels means they're inherently greener than the gasoline engines powering all those automobiles.
But trucking's positive story goes well beyond government-mandated changes to diesel emissions. This is an industry were profits are measured in single digits, often low single digits. It knows that conservation and efficiency are the keys to staying on the positive side of the profit ledger.
That means fuel economy is a major focus for any well-run fleet. Concern over getting the most out of fuel purchases means smart fleets leave no stone unturned in their search. Not only has the industry pushed for more aerodynamic truck design, but fleets spend a good deal of effort spec'ing equipment to maximize fuel economy.
And that commitment doesn't end once they take delivery of the trucks. While driving around in a hybrid car may make consumers feel good, how many routinely check maintenance items like tire pressure to make sure they get the fuel savings promised by that technology? Or take the time to learn about and practice fuel-efficient driving techniques? Or carefully track the fuel economy of every vehicle they own to quickly identify and fix problems before they waste too much fuel?
Perhaps the most invisible aspect of trucking's green side is the huge gains made in its overall efficiency over the last 20 years or so. Most people outside of trucking would be astonished to hear just how high utilization rates are for most carriers these days, and just how few empty miles their trucks rack up in the course of a year.
Even things truckers take as common-sense, everyday business practices have significant environmental advantages that are often overlooked. Take retread tires, for example. Think about how much energy is saved and how many other natural resources are conserved every time a fleet retreads a tire.
And best of all, these positive environmental actions are achieved while providing the most efficient distribution of goods in the world, supporting both our strong economy and comfortable lifestyles.
Could trucking do more? Of course. And with voluntary initiatives like Wal-Mart's fleet fuel economy project, it will. But in the meantime, the industry as a whole needs to educate the public that trucking is not only interested in the environment, but has known for a long time that conservation — the key to being green — is a valuable business strategy, one that it fully embraces.