By Dave Miller
Jan. 28, 2010
Kermit the Frog, that famous character from the children’s classic “The Muppet Show,” hit the nail on the head with his famous line, “It’s not easy being green.” Those in the transportation industry can certainly attest to that fact, considering the industry must rely almost exclusively on diesel fuel to power the trucks that hit the roads daily to deliver the billions of pounds of goods that keep our economy running. Yet despite this reality, there are opportunities for trucking companies to take proactive, meaningful steps toward reducing their carbon footprint. In fact, by making some relatively simple operational changes, trucking companies can help sustain the environment, while improving efficiency.
While the industry will continue to consume fossil fuels, efforts to reduce environmental impact are under way on many fronts. Today’s heavy-duty commercial trucks are the most efficient in history. That 18-wheel, 80,000-pound tractor-trailer you see moving down the highway is pretty efficient when you measure the energy consumed versus the weight being moved. According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates, by comparison, an average passenger vehicle would have to get about 160 mpg to achieve the same weight-to-energy efficiency as a heavy-duty truck-trailer combination. The transportation industry moves billions of pounds of freight annually and is the economy’s backbone.
Providing that service takes a lot of diesel fuel. Yet forward-thinking trucking companies continue to look for and make incremental changes to their operations that, in small and effective ways, reduce carbon emissions. One of the simplest and most effective: Slow down.
Operational Changes = Healthier Environment (+Fuel Efficiency and Safety)
Turning back the speed governors in trucks by a mere five miles per hour can make a very positive impact on several fronts. By changing maximum speed limits to 65 versus 70 mph, trucking companies can save fuel and improve fuel mileage by up to 5 percent in some cases. All of this, of course, translates into carbon emissions reduction of tens of thousands of tons over previous levels. As a side bonus, slowing down brings along obvious safety benefits such as increasing drivers’ reaction times for braking and response to traffic, road conditions or other driving issues. With today’s crowded roadways, that can make all the difference.
Every driver on the road can make a contribution to sustaining the environment. Trucking companies have identified small changes in driver behavior that can improve fuel economy somewhere between 5 and 10 percent depending on driver skill. Some of these behavior changes include progressively shifting (changing gears as early as possible when accelerating), and avoiding fast starts and hard stops. Companies are stepping up to help reinforce these driver behaviors as well.
Engine Controls and Maintenance
Excessive engine idling means wasted fuel and increased carbon emissions. Today’s modern, computer-controlled truck engines can be set so an engine shuts off automatically, for example, after three minutes of continuous idling. For long-haul drivers who live in their trucks, and depend on the engine for heating and cooling, technologies like on-board auxiliary power units and truck stop electrification (TSE) at truck stops around the country enable truck drivers to enjoy in-cab creature comforts without relying solely on the larger, more fuel-intensive diesel motor.
There are certainly many paths that trucking companies can take with respect to equipment specifications designed to maximize green goals. Some opportunities would include: using low-viscosity engine lubricants that are less resistant to flow and reduce friction and energy loss; monitoring and ensuring proper tire pressure; and installing aerodynamic panels on tractors that reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency. Others may be in a position to purchase new, more efficient and less-polluting engines, or deploy single wide-base tires, which have proven fuel-economy benefits. Every change makes a difference.
Programs like EPA’s SmartWay Transport Partnership are solid resources for trucking companies looking for even more ways to do their part on the green front. SmartWay is a joint initiative between EPA and the freight industry designed to improve energy efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions, and improve energy security. SmartWay helps companies measure their carbon emissions and track progress toward achieving long-term results. It also has a list of recommendations companies can consider to improve progress toward environmental goals - and reduced operating costs.
From mom and pop trucking companies to larger carriers, there is a tremendous opportunity for all to make a difference - right now. So, Kermit might say it’s not easy being green. But maybe we can agree that for trucking companies it’s just a little bit easier than we thought.
Dave is Miller is a 34-year veteran of the freight trucking industry and senior vice president, global policy and economic sustainability for Con-way Inc. In this role, he is responsible for directing all of Con-way’s strategies and programs related to legislative, regulatory, public policy and corporate sustainability affairs at local, state, national and international levels. Miller is a member of American Trucking Associations’ Cross-Border Operations Policy Committee and its Highway Policy Committee.