Jason Mathers: Carbon Slasher

Jason Mathers: Carbon Slasher

Jason Mathers is senior manager, corporate partnerships at the Boston office of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), an environmental advocacy group. He has held this position since 2006.

Responsibilities: Leading partnerships with Fortune 1000 companies to reduce carbon emissions in freight transportation while also reducing freight costs.

Experience: U.S. Navy, USS Normandy, operations specialist, petty officer, second class; global environment program outreach specialist, Union of Concerned Scientists.

Education: BS, environmental science, minor in resource economics, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 1999; MS, economic policy, Suffolk University, 2004.

Before I started working with shippers at EDF, I spent several years working with companies that lease light- and medium-duty vehicles. We wanted them to change the environmental criteria they used when choosing vehicles, and focus more on performance metrics.

When a company leases a 10,000-vehicle fleet, then announces it is operating 100 flex-fuel vehicles or 50 hybrids, it hasn’t changed its environmental performance in the grand scheme. We told companies that switching from 22-mpg trucks to 24-mpg vehicles would be more cost-effective, and make a greater impact on carbon emissions.

People like getting attention for taking exciting steps—such as buying hybrid vehicles. But the secret is that sustainability comes down to efficiencies.

Now that I’m working in logistics, it’s exciting to find so much overlap between efficient logistics management and sustainability best practices. But increasing the amount of product on your trucks by 10 percent will not get your company on the front page of the newspaper.

Freight movements account for about eight percent of total carbon pollution in the United States. Only electrical generation and personal vehicles account for more. EDF decided to focus on logistics because shippers have both the decision-making power and the cost-saving motive to drive sustainability.

They can choose to design distribution networks that allow them to use more efficient transportation modes, such as rail. They can decide whether to collaborate with other companies to load fuller trucks. Those decisions offer real business advantages, and will also lead to significant sustainability benefits.

EDF has been collaborating with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a series of case studies about companies that changed their freight flows to enable cost and carbon savings. The first study, released in February 2013, looked at changes that Ocean Spray made to its distribution in the southeastern United States. Those changes reduced costs and carbon emissions by about 20 percent.

Our efforts in the logistics sector are part of a larger initiative aimed at supply chain sustainability. EDF has an office in Bentonville, Ark., where we work with Walmart on its sustainability programs. EDF is also working with the Sustainability Consortium at the University of Arkansas, and a group of consumer products companies and retailers, to set sustainability guidelines.

Many of those supply chain efforts focus on sourcing. If you’re an apparel manufacturer, where is your cotton grown? How efficient is your manufacturing site in Asia? Those are critical areas, and a lot of good work goes into them. But they are often long-term issues.

In logistics, however, you can do a lot right now, with minimal capital investment. If you find collaboration opportunities that might reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent, for example, that’s also an immediate cost savings. While those kinds of near-term, significant wins are rare in supply chain sustainability, they’re abundant in logistics.

The Big Questions

How do you recharge your batteries?

Spending time with my wife and son, doing everything it takes to entertain a two-year-old. I also like fly fishing and woodworking.

What would be your alter ego dream job?

Brewing good craft beer.

Do you have a guilty pleasure?

I can never say no to a chocolate chip cookie.

Is there something you don’t do especially well but love doing?

I wish I could play a musical instrument. I’m currently dabbling in the mandolin.

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