Environmental Sustainability: Burden or Opportunity for Trucking?

Trucks are much cleaner than when I was a kid. As a parent now, I think that is very good news. Compared to a 1988 truck, new trucks have 95% fewer emissions of diesel particulate matter, which leads to asthma and respiratory illness, and nitrogen oxides (NOx), which form ozone.

This is a great accomplishment. Manufacturers invested time and resources to develop and improve new emission control systems. Transportation companies have embraced these new trucks with a recent study noting that more than 1/3rd of registered heavy trucks are equipped with the latest emissions control technology required in new trucks beginning in 2010. While new trucks cost more, trucking fleets are receiving dividends from them. In part because of this progress, the American Lung Association noted recently the “continued reduction of year-round particle pollution across the nation, thanks to cleaner diesel fleets and cleaner power plants.”

As a result of the hard work of the trucking industry and others, some of the most vulnerable Americans are literately breathing a bit easier. Thank you.

So, we’re done right? Unfortunately, no.

Nearly 50 million Americans live in an area with unhealthful year-round levels of particle pollution. We need to further clean up the air in these areas.

The trucking industry also provides a critical opportunity to significantly reduce climate warming emissions and fuel consumption. Today, heavy-duty trucks directly emit nearly 400 million tons of greenhouse gases each year. And freight movement is the largest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption in the United States – despite historic first-ever fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards finalized by the Obama Administration in 2011.

Should tackling these emissions be viewed as a burden or opportunity for trucking? I’ll argue it’s an opportunity.

Consumer-facing companies are increasingly setting emission reductions targets for their supply chain that explicitly include transportation services. General Mills, for example, has a goal to reduce fuel-use by 35% per product. Unilever aims to improve the carbon efficiency of its global logistics network by 40%. HP is driving towards a 20% decrease in product transportation-related GHG emissions intensity.

In the coming years, the transportation companies that deliver products more efficiently and with fewer emissions will be positioned to grow.

Federal fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for heavy trucks will go a long way to ensure transportation companies can buy new trucks that run even cleaner and deliver the emissions performance shippers are seeking. The first phase of the federal program for model years 2014-2018 is off to a great start. A post-2018 phase two program is expected to be announced next year and could drive more significant emissions reductions, fuel consumption reductions and costs savings.

Companies can further their competitiveness by offering services that increase the productivity of each load, leverage intermodal opportunities, and enable multi-shipper collaborations, such as co-loading.

By embracing ever more efficient trucks, maximizing the productivity of each move, and leveraging low-carbon fuels where available, transportation companies will meet the demands of their customers and seize the opportunity for growth presented by the increased focus on corporate social responsibility.

TAGS: Equipment
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