Going Green

Green practices bring benefits beyond the environment.

By Augie Grasis

Over-the-road trucking has recently come under fire with new regulations for carbon emissions. New studies on the effects of climate change over the last decade have prompted authorities to take measures for reducing the carbon footprint in all industries, including the shipping industry. While the new administration has promised to ease back some of this regulation, the trend toward green practices is still a good idea; though the reason is perhaps less to “save the environment” and more to lower operating costs.

These measures range from green practice recommendations for freight carriers and their drivers, to new regulations designed to minimize the impact of trucks on the environment. For example, in 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency issued a new set of fuel economy regulations that should be fully implemented by 2018. These regulations require fleet-wide modifications for many shipping providers. The performance-based standards grant shipping companies the freedom to combine technologies as they wish to meet the imposed emissions levels. The deadline for full compliance of the new regulations is 2021.

Right now, trucking is far from the green industry the authorities are hoping for, and getting there will not be easy. Every day, thousands of trucks cover countless miles consume massive amounts of fuel and oil, and pollute the air with CO2. The good news is that technological advances in a variety of areas will make some of these goals more achievable. Investors have been flocking to the transportation industry to support new innovation. While the reason for these innovations is not necessarily to make trucking “greener,” the result of some of these ideas will undoubtedly reduce emissions.

Driverless trucks have grabbed the headlines as of late. OTTO, a driverless truck company bought by Uber, has recently made successful maiden voyages on America’s highways. Daimler and Amazon are not far behind. These trucks will operate in driverless mode in the more predictable highway environment, while relying on human drivers on urban streets. The benefits are many: speed and efficiency of driving styles will be more tightly controlled. The trucks can optimize for mileage by not driving as fast because they will likely be able to operate many more hours without restrictions of operator time. Expect to regularly see driverless trucks on the road by 2020, just three short years away!

Real-time tracking is another tech trend that is important for the industry. The startup, Four Kites, is providing a platform for real-time tracking of delivery trucks. There are obvious benefits to tracking and having clear visibility of all rolling assets and associated freight at all times. This more efficient routing of delivery trucks will mean less fuel consumed. Other emerging big data solutions being implemented by freight carriers strive to fill trucks and minimize deadhead return trips. This trend will reduce the fuel consumed to move every pound of freight.

Recent development of engine management systems promises to save even more fuel. Idle Smart manages a tractor’s engine during driver downtime. Instead of idling the engine all night at a truck stop to keep cabin temperature comfortable, Idle Smart manages the engine and its batteries to provide cabin comfort while idling the engine the minimum amount of time, thus saving fuel.

Other innovations are already available today and often provide an attractive payback period in operating cost and reduced emissions. Aerodynamic panels, wide base tires, low viscosity lubricants, exhaust system upgrades, eco flaps, auxiliary power units, speed limitations, liquid natural gas powering or electric forklifts are just some of the changes shipping companies can perform to minimize operating costs and their trucks’ impact on the environment.

Though there is plenty of promising technology en route to reduce emissions, there are simple but effective measures shipping companies and their drivers can take today to protect the environment.

Most drivers can become more efficient by simply focusing on fuel consumption. If drivers reduce the speed by as little as five miles per hour, they can significantly lower their truck’s emissions. Driving slower also decreases the risk for accidents and lowers fuel consumption. Also, by modifying their driving style with fuel efficiency in mind, shifting speeds progressively and taking their time when starting and stopping their trucks, drivers can lower fuel consumption by 5 to 10 percent.

Freight carriers can start by keeping their fleet well maintained to optimize efficiency. More progressive transportation service providers can explore hybrid technology. Every freight company should require less aggressive practices to lower fuel consumption, improve safety and set the stage with the green movement with their drivers.

But there are speed bumps on the road to green shipping. Some environmental regulations add fuel taxes to incentivize lower consumption. Fuel prices and taxes have already risen over the years, and volatility in the world market causes the price to fluctuate. Because of this, companies are seeking more fuel efficient engines, but they have yet to meet performance standards. Biofuels have been rather disappointing in terms of efficiency as well.

Assuming that the problems with fuel-efficient engines and biofuels will be solved, transportation industry leaders warn that equipment modifications to allow the use of biofuel are prohibitively expensive. In fact, everything suggests that aggressive efforts to “go green” bring about increased operating costs, reduce service efficiency, and can cost freight companies profits. Hopefully, the Trump administration will take a second look at biofuels.

Finally, there is a natural conflict between speed and fuel efficiency. Asking a driver to slow down to save fuel means that he covers less distance during his shift. This means slower delivery times, more hours on the road and higher labor costs. Until there are driverless trucks which can operate 20 hours a day at fuel efficient speeds, this problem isn’t going away. Freight companies should make sure their drivers are motivated appropriately and compensation aligns with the company’s “green” goals.

Going green will be a burdensome, costly process for the trucking industry. It is fortunate that many new innovations have the double-benefit of cost savings and emissions reducing. Look for those to occupy the forefront of the freight industry’s efforts in the coming decade.

Augie Grasis is the CEO and founder of FreightorGator, a one-stop online freight exchange that connects less-than-truckload shippers with carriers by providing real-time, transparent quotes from top-rated carriers. Grasis is an established entrepreneur known for industry-changing ideas and orchestrating technology powered shifts in a variety of markets. For more information, visit www.freightorgator.com.