November 2008 | Commentary | Viewpoint

Green Transportation: On the Road to Sustainability

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In the past, transportation efficiency concerns primarily focused on areas such as route optimization, capacity planning, and partner collaboration. Today, efforts to improve service and reduce costs include an additional element: environmental impact.

As new and aggressive social, environmental, and political pressures evolve, shippers and carriers must adopt and act upon "green" opportunities. Failure to do so will make it substantially more difficult for companies to operate in this new era of environmental awareness and social responsibility.

THE CHALLENGES

Transportation companies and shippers seeking to minimize their environmental impact have no shortage of issues to address, including biofuels, noise reduction, air quality, safety, competition, efficiency, costs, and growth.

The incredible rise in fuel costs, which could increase even more as tensions between the United States and Russia grow, is already changing our behavior. New, more efficient engines are getting mixed reviews, and biofuels may not be as efficient as once hoped.

Many transportation leaders caution that the cost of modifying equipment to use biofuel is prohibitive, and that moving aggressively toward becoming green could drive operating costs sky high, reduce services, and potentially drive carriers out of business.

GETTING BEHIND GREEN

One organization that has been on top of the green initiative is UPS. The carrier operates the industry's largest private alternative fuel fleet, which includes more than 2,000 compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, propane, electric, and hybrid electric vehicles.

Since 2000, UPS's alternative fuel fleet has traveled more than 144 million miles in the United States, Germany, France, Canada, Mexico, and Brazil. The carrier recently ordered additional green vehicles expected to reduce emissions by 20 percent and improve fuel economy by 10 percent compared to the cleanest diesel engines available today.

While UPS proves that green initiatives are achievable, how can a company without UPS's resources, extensive budget, and established infrastructure accomplish the same goals? Smaller organizations operating their own fleets can get there, but they have to plot a progressive roadmap in order to achieve sustainable results.

HOW TO GET THERE

To get started on the road to sustainability, define short- and long-term opportunities for change. Identify "quick hits" to save money that can be fed into the pending costs of larger initiatives. View potential opportunities from a broad perspective rather than in silos to limit the chance that initiatives conflict or overlap.

Another approach is to use carriers that are part of SmartWay, an innovative program developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A voluntary partnership between shippers, carriers, intermediaries, and the EPA, SmartWay establishes incentives for improving fuel efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Today, shippers and carriers affiliated with such programs prove they are responsible green citizens within the industry and their communities.

Becoming green is possible, and your company's efforts can achieve the benefits of cost savings, loyal customers, and a cleaner environment. So start today—green is here to stay.

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