Benefits of fuel-efficient driving can’t be denied

by Al Goodhall

Earning a living doing what I love to do means burning 1,200 to 1,500 liters of diesel per week. Those actions pose a direct existential threat to my grandchildren’s future.

This is a contradiction I’ve been contemplating for some time. One of the guiding principles of my life is to do no harm, directly or indirectly. I’ve spent a good deal of energy coming to terms with the tension that exists between my actions and my intention, because I accept the scientific research that climate collapse is imminent if we continue down our current path of dependence and expansion of fossil fuels as our primary source
of energy.

Climate change is a toxic topic within the trucking community. It is divisive. As a result, we have very few meaningful conversations about the role we play as individual drivers in terms of the impact our actions have on future generations.

The discussion of climate science is a complex one. The Industrial Revolution and the resulting carbon economy has been a path to a better future for all of us. But just because fossil fuels have been the foundation of our growth to date doesn’t mean they can continue to sustain and support that growth.

That is what the scientific research tells us. That research is clearly outlined in the Special Report on Global Warming (SR15) published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on Oct. 8, 2018.

Canada’s latest greenhouse gas emissions data, recently published in the National Inventory Report, highlights transportation as one of the dominant factors in the continued growth of Canadian carbon emissions. This I also accept. You have the freedom to reject this research and the more than 6,000 scientific references that support it. I recognize that as your choice. There is no reason we can’t agree to disagree.

If we disagree, do we share any common ground? I think we do on a number of fronts. First and foremost is the shared joy of driving and trucking for a living. Second is the fact that we are all highly interdependent in an increasingly globalized world, so trucking is not going away.

Another thing we all have in common as drivers is the fact that we have a choice as to how we drive, and that affects the amount of fuel we consume. It is on this point of fuel consumption where we are able to find common ground that is meaningful and measurable, especially to the individual driver.

It has been a number of years since I made a conscious decision to aggressively limit the amount of fuel I burn. This is a skill you can develop. Just like driving, the actual doing is a lesson in itself. Let’s face it; as drivers, sometimes we just want to go. There is no fuel efficiency in that action, but it sure makes you feel good.

For me, the key to fuel efficiency was the development of a large reservoir of patience. Now I’m able to consistently achieve 10-20% fuel efficiency performance above the fleet average. I work within an employee-only fleet that is spec’d universally from the same OEM. Actions and attitudes at the individual level matter.

The impact of 10-20% fuel savings branches out in many directions. It supports my point of view that although fuel reduction is not the answer to reaching emissions targets, it is a big part of the solution. But it is on the economic side where fuel savings is the easiest to measure.

Based on my experience and following my own measurements, a 10-20% savings equates to $8,000 to $16,000 per highway tractor per year. That’s using an Ontario average of $1.16 per liter of diesel at the time of writing. So, a 10-truck fleet is presented with an $80,000 to $160,000 potential in savings.

This is where I remind you that all of the fuel not burned and all of the money saved is a result of the decision made by the individual driver to act.

But it goes deeper than just measuring the savings. We need leaders to motivate and educate the individual, then use the resulting savings appropriately. There is a time investment needed to be made by drivers, so compensation should be offered.

We make much of carbon taxes but must recognize that need as we transition to a sustainable ecology and economy. Finally, a portion of those dollars saved buffer company profits, providing returns for investors as well as dollars to reinvest in equipment that becomes increasingly less dependent on fossil fuels.

Let’s also think about the image we want to put forward. Today’s young people are demonstrating in the public squares around the world on a weekly basis asking the adults in their lives to act in a responsible manner.

That’s what we need to do.

By doing so we create a win-win-win-win. A win for ourselves. A win for the environment. A win for the economy. A win for society as a whole.

Change comes from each of us choosing to act. That’s something we should always bear in mind.

This story has been updated to correct the math used to calculate a 10-truck fleet’s savings.

Al Goodhall has been a professional longhaul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his blog at www.truckingacross You can follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall

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