On Second Thought
with Tom Nightingale
Let’s face it. No one wants to admit they’re not doing enough to help the environment.
So, asking the question, “Is your supply chain sustainable?” might not yield terribly revealing, much less honest answers.
It’s evident, however, that implementing sustainable business practices is becoming a vital part of companies’ DNA.
In addition, sustainability is an overall approach to business for many companies—a way to add value, improve efficiencies and invest in the long-term success of their customers, contract carriers, suppliers, employees and communities.
The reasons for being sustainable are well documented and valid—good for the environment; a platform for developing new, energy-efficient technologies; a strategy to meet consumer expectations that products are responsibly produced and delivered; and, yes, a way to save money.
Which brings us to freight transportation. Not only is freight transportation the cornerstone of the U.S. economy, it’s also one of the fastest-growing sources of transport greenhouse gases. This indispensable part of the supply chain, however, can have a dramatic, positive impact on sustainability.
Shippers and carriers, which are at the epicenter of transportation, can affect sustainability through several actions.
Reduce or eliminate empty backhauls.
According to Environmental Leader
, one truck running empty at typical MPG (miles per gallon) rates wastes 2,400 gallons of fuel each year and produces an extra 26.4 tons of emissions during these empty miles. An estimated 15 to 20 percent of miles traveled by U.S. trucks are empty miles. Pairing up loads with minimal empty miles drives down the net carbon impact.
Maximize trailer space.
Cubing trailers can be achieved through more efficient load planning. With “load-sharing,” two companies share the space in a trailer and benefit from using less fuel for empty miles, which has significant environmental benefits. Also, cube utilization software can be integrated to determine the optimal number of orders that can be properly configured on a trailer.
Consider the use of alternative-fuel vehicles and fuel-monitoring technology.
Hybrids, electric and compressed natural gas (CNG) technologies can dramatically reduce carbon emissions. In addition, the use of fuel-monitoring devices provides drivers with improved visibility to their driving techniques. For instance, engine governors can help control truck speed (there is an optimal speed for fuel efficiency).
Implementing “no-idling” policies conserves fuel and reduces greenhouse gases. Also, some truck stops offer “plug-in” capability so drivers can stay warm or cool, and refrigerated products can maintain their proper temperature.
Engineer new technologies.
In concert with transportation industry suppliers, engineers can identify and test the most energy-efficient technologies. New equipment, such as trailer “tails” that reduce the aerodynamic drag generated at the rear of long-haul trucks, cowls and fairings that round off trucks’ front ends, filler panels that bridge the gaps between a truck’s cabin and the trailer behind, and side skirts that close off the lower portion of trailers, can improve fuel economy. Based on a benchmark of a 6 percent reduction in diesel fuel because of the use of tails, the Energy Department estimates savings of 1.6 billion gallons of fuel a year and a reduction of 14 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Other technologies include low-rolling resistance tires, aero bumpers and different chassis designs.
Consider alternative transportation modes.
Each mode, from parcel and less-than-truckload to truckload and intermodal, not only carries different costs but also affects the environment differently. Did you know, for instance, that intermodal is more fuel efficient than over-the-road trucks? Converting traditional truckload moves to intermodal containers can save upwards of 40 percent on fuel costs. Examine your particular needs to determine what is best for your situation.
Through order consolidation and the establishment of proper order quantities, environmental gains can be achieved. For example, shifting from LTL to a multi-stop truckload strategy, or from LTL to a pool distribution network, can be more fuel efficient.
Other sustainable practices include using more fuel-efficient engines and transmissions, and properly maintaining vehicles (regular oil and filter changes, and tire pressure checks).
How do you know if you’re making a difference? One way is to make sure you’re capturing the right data—are you tracking empty miles, fuel usage and emissions?
In addition, shippers and carriers can join the Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay program. Through this program, shippers address supply chain costs and emissions by integrating freight sustainability strategies into their operations, thereby reducing their carbon footprint. Carriers can use tools the program provides to analyze environmental performance and fuel use, and improve efficiency.
Efficiency is but one of the “spinning plates” shippers and carriers must balance. Cost and customer service obviously are critical, too.
So, is it conceivable to integrate sustainability into your operations without sacrificing any of these key elements?
This is where the expertise of a third-party logistics (3PL) provider comes into play. A 3PL can be the catalyst for a custom transportation strategy that optimizes modes, delivers cost savings, improves customer service and reduces your carbon footprint. A 3PL can help form the foundation companies need to have a good partnership not only with their customers but also with the environment.
By implementing some of the practices stated here, the next time you’re asked if your supply chain is sustainable, you’ll have a healthy, green answer.
Nightingale is president of GENCO Transportation Logistics and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This commentary was published in the August 2014 issue of American Shipper.