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Decarbonization: Is it carrot-and-stick or PB&J?

Feb. 22, 2023
As trucking moves to a sustainable future, regulations could be considered the stick, with grants as the carrot. However, the relationship between regulation and efficiency could be more mutually beneficial.

At first blush, I bet you’re wondering what peanut butter and jelly sandwiches have to do with trucking. Maybe you think that is what some truckers have for lunch, so that is the connection. I can’t say with any certainty what truckers have for lunch, but let me tell you about a PB&J sandwich analogy that I learned recently.

I heard it during a recent podcast of mine that featured Michelle Buffington, vehicle program specialist at the California Air Resources Board. While I am sure some folks in trucking will not understand why I had Michelle on my podcast—many in trucking see CARB as a foe, not a friend—I wanted to give her a chance to talk about all the things CARB does.

Many people know about CARB as a regulatory entity. They see CARB as the group that promulgates clean air regulations that many in trucking find burdensome. But CARB also administers grant funding and other market-based incentive programs to help fleets with the cost of cleaner trucks. One such program is the On-Road Heavy-Duty Voucher Incentive.

When I was talking with Michelle, I used the carrot and stick analogy. My point was that the carrot was the grants, and the stick was the regulations. Michelle countered with an analogy of her own and said she sees CARB’s work more like peanut butter and jelly—you need both to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

See also: Collaborating for a zero-emission future

I think that might be an apt analogy. I believe that the trucking industry has been striving to improve freight efficiency for quite some time. Trucking has invested in things like aerodynamic devices, low-rolling resistance tires, and has instituted practices like optimizing routing and electronic engine parameters for fuel economy. The main motivation may be financial—the less fuel you burn, the more money you make.

However, I don’t know if we would have gotten as far along the path to zero emissions without some regulatory push, but I also know that the trucking industry has been making changes in the way it operates for some time.

I doubt there is a person in trucking who wants to go back to the day of trucks belching black smoke. In recent years, most of us have come to understand the impact trucking has on air quality, and we want to do our part to be good stewards of the planet. And to mention the impact a truck has on the driver. Talk to drivers of electric vehicles and they will tell you about how quiet they are—something they see as a big plus. If you don't believe me, check out the videos from  Run on Less – Electric in which drivers share their thoughts on driving EVs.

See also: Rising to the charging challenge

To be clear, I think regulations need to be made based on what is realistically possible. Setting goals that are unattainable for fleets to achieve in a cost-effective manner makes no sense. But some regulations can drive developments and that can be a good thing. Conversely, I think the trucking industry has pushed forward some fuel efficiency technologies without the need for regulations.

Carrot and stick or peanut butter and jelly? I’m not sure which make more sense, but a peanut butter and jelly sandwich sounds better to me than a carrot and stick.

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.

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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