June 2010 | Commentary | Checking In

Shading Green

Tags: Green Logistics, Legislation, Public Policy, and Regulations

Keith Biondo is the publisher of Inbound Logistics magazine.

We know the positive arguments for embracing green. This magazine regularly demonstrates how shippers and service providers are developing sustainability practices across their supply chain touchpoints. Reducing fuel, cube, weight, packaging, waste, and power consumption in the supply chain blends the two shades of green—sustainability and profits. You'll find measurable examples of both in this issue.

But the green movement is not without its challenges, especially ones created by those who don't want to let a "serious crisis go to waste" by co-opting it to redistribute wealth. The carbon-offset concept, for example, presents rich companies with a free pass on emissions—just as the medieval church sold indulgences for sins. Offsets do not directly reduce carbon, but they do send carbon dollars to...where? And for what purpose? To nothing that can immediately limit carbon emissions by any significant amount. If EU examples are any guide, the carbon dollars sent and spent accomplish little. Maybe there really are two Americas—those who can afford to be carbon emitters and those who can't. This doesn't strike me as enlightened thinking.

Carbon culpability is driving legislation and EPA regulations. Yes, the Obama administration's cap-and-trade proposal threatens the very fabric of the U.S. manufacturing and transportation industries, and all those workers. But, more importantly, this mind-set will increase costs at every supply chain touch—raising prices on everything, not just for consumers, but for U.S. exporters as well. So, in addition to U.S. labor's wage handicap, we add a carbon handicap to selling U.S.-made products overseas. How is this helping?

Perhaps public policy makers can follow your example. You are solving the sustainability challenge through collaboration and cooperation, and using the profit motive. Because you can't fix what you don't know, you are using carbon calculators to diagnose the scope of the challenge inside your enterprise, and across your carrier and partner operations, to the far reaches of your supply chain activity. You are benchmarking, then measuring the progress of your sustainability actions. You are seeking out sustainable partners that are using new equipment, streamlining packaging, and collaborating to fill empty backhauls. You are sharing strategies and you are investing in technologies that work now to limit your collective footprints.

That's a grass roots, bottom-up approach, not some heavy-handed top-down dictum that presupposes the centralized planner driving all our green activities is infallible.

You can't run a company—and, by extension, a country—on only one shade of green, the purely ideological shade. From a business sense, that obviously wouldn't be sustainable. It's not sustainable as national policy, either.