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Trucking's relationship with environmental justice

March 24, 2021
In the not too distant past, sustainability and environmental justice were not factored into truck making or buying decisions. Lately, however, there has been an increased awareness of the costs and benefits of sustainability.

“My definition of environmental justice is the ability to breathe clean air despite my age, my gender, my ethnicity, social economic status or zip code,” said Nalleli Cobo, who at age nine took on an oil company. Spoiler alert: She won.

Cobo was the subject of an article on the BBC’s website about the impact of an active oil well site in her neighborhood. Her community is mostly populated by low-income families of color, which too often have industrial facilities located in close proximity. Cobo started having health issues at the age of nine as did others in the community. The community organized and began protesting the oil well site, which has since been permanently shut down.

In the not-too-distant past, sustainability and environmental justice were not concepts that factored into the truck making or buying decision. However, during the last several decades there has been an increased awareness of the costs and benefits — although hard to measure — of sustainability. In fact, sustainability is now routinely factored into the evaluation of investment choices.

Today we are moving into the area of environmental justice, recognizing that diesel trucks produce a variety of emissions and carbon dioxide that impact people’s health. Producing the fuels, lubricants and fluids used by the trucks also has the potential to increase health risk to people and the environment. The greatest burden for these issues is being placed on disadvantaged communities.

Quality of life factors of not only the truck operators but the manufacturers and the communities in which the trucks operate all now have relevance to capital investment decision making for trucks. The National Academies for Sciences, Engineering and Medicine published a report on how to measure quality of life metric as they relate to airports. We think those finding are pertinent to truck operations.

For a more in depth discussion on this topic, go to Section 8 of our Guidance Report, Making Sense of Heavy-Duty Hydrogen Fuel Cell Tractors.

Our research concludes that hydrogen as a transportation fuel is seen as one of the main paths to improving quality of life metrics, social and environmental responsibility. Monetizing the many factors tied to social and environmental responsibility, those quality of life factors, is still challenging.

But despite the challenges, we need to address these issues and make strides to advance trucking’s commitment to environmental justice while finding ways to make the business case for it because Cobo is spot on with her definition of environmental justice and I think she offers a clear signal for our actions.

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. He currently 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.

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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