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Going Green For Greenbacks

The genesis of "going green" for APPS Transport Group was not something borne out of the post-Al Gore-induced panic about global warming, nor was it forced upon it by government decree. For the Brampt...

The genesis of “going green” for APPS Transport Group was not something borne out of the post-Al Gore-induced panic about global warming, nor was it forced upon it by government decree. For the Brampton-based carrier, it wasn’t about saving the planet either -it was just good business sense.

“When saving money through using less natural resources became more in vogue and started to be called ‘green,’ speed limiting trucks came to light as more of a green issue than a sensible business issue,” says APPS president, Rob McDonald. APPS first decided to limit its trucks to 100 km/h about 10 years ago, well before any talk about the mandatory use of speed limiters. The move by APPS could well be used as a catalyst for carriers to measure any future success from limiting speed on their trucks. As for APPS, the company has reaped considerable rewards since limiting the speed of its fleet.

“(With) a single truck, over the course of a year, you can cut down on fuel and maintenance costs by going from 110km/h to 100 km/h by about $7,000 a year,” he says, adding that that total can increase depending on the current cost of fuel.

McDonald said that while initially there was some grumbling from drivers about being speed limited, eventually he got them on board. “It took a while, but I think once they realized that it was profoundly a safety issue and a smart thing all around, they slowly came around,” he says. “Regardless of what other impact it (speed limiting) has, we’d rather have the fleet operating efficiently than blasting down the highway throwing money out the window.”

In recent years, since green practices have become almost trendy, the green initiatives already in place at APPS were just expanded on, which is all part of the carrier’s goal of becoming a zero-emission fleet by 2010. McDonald says that the company hopes to achieve that goal through a variety of means.

For one, APPS is slowly converting its fleet to automated transmissions for better fuel efficiency and is also investing in the new zero particulate emission technology for new trucks.

As well, when APPS completed its last truck purchase in December, it opted for 10 new Volvo tractors using the more expensive Environmental Protection Agencyapproved engines -the latest in reduced emission engines and the final step before zero emissions in 2010.

“The trucks were marginally more expensive, but fuel economy was actually a little better and the drivers love them,” McDonald says.

His fleet has also been outfitted with a secondary oil filtering system by Puradyn. The system spins the oil in a housing, heats it, takes the moisture out, and eliminates virtually all the soot and particulate matter as well. Though not a new technology, APPS has reaped solid rewards from the “It made a lot of sense from an environmental standpoint,” McDonald says.

Though APPS has a relatively small fleet with about 75 tractors, where possible, McDonald says the company tries to use intermodal instead of trucks. As freight forwarders by nature, the company doesn’t put a lot of miles on its trucks either, meaning they last a lot longer, which has yet another environmental spin-off by sending less “junked” trucks to the scrap yard. “I think the biggest single contributor to greenhouse gas reductions and cost savings has been converting a lot of our customers from road to rail,” McDonald said.

He notes that rail uses about 20% less fossil fuels than a truck and having fewer trucks on the road also eliminates excess traffic.

“The concept there is -and this is something we’ve tried to impress on our customers as well -is that you’re not only taking advantage of the benefits of being an intermodal user, you’re contributing to our environmental wellbeing as well,” he says, adding that APPS has been working in an intermodal capacity for about 10 years now.

APPS’s in-house maintenance crews also work to keep trucks in top operating condition to reduce emissions. So while the company spends more on maintenance, it also saves on fuel consumption and, in turn, reduces pollution. A simple issue like tire pressure can have a significant impact on fuel usage, he notes.

The company has also taken steps to reduce its fuel consumption through small components like aerodynamic wind deflectors which help reduce wind drag so the trucks burn less fuel.

In an effort to reduce idling time, APPS trucks have been programmed to automatically shut down after five minutes and all drivers are taught to never leave a truck idling. According to Canadian Centre for Pollution Prevention (CCPP), only about 7% of trucks in Canada use these types of anti-idling devices. In a recent study conducted by the CCPP, reducing idling time by 550 hours over a four-month period saved 2,201 litres of fuel, 6.16 tonnes of GHG emissions, and 1.64 kg of particulate matter.

When the next generation trucks come out in 2010, producing virtually zero NOx emissions, it should be enough to push APPS into the elite group of zero-emission fleets, McDonald says. Though not all of APPS’s equipment will turn over by 2010, by 2015 the biggest part of the fleet will be converted and by 2017 the conversion will be complete.

McDonald has found ways to go green around the office as well, starting by managing the company’s waste output.

“It’s embarrassing to say (but) we used to put wood, plastic, metal and just whatever other garbage in our dumpster… and we were actually emptying it two, three, four times a week.”

He says it’s never a good idea to throw wood in bin, because it takes up a lot of space and it isn’t really “landfill material” anyway. In response to this discovery, APPS began a waste screening program and has reduced the weekly garbage pick-ups to one a week, which McDonald says is “huge” for the company.

McDonald is currently working on a method to process things like scrap steel and aluminum, but hasn’t come up with a solution yet.

The staff is also using reusable consumables wherever possible -from reusing pallets and packing materials, to reusing photocopy paper, to working with clients that use totes for packing freight.

Air flush toilets are the norm around the office these days, and the thermostats on the docks have been set back to avoid heating the outside in the winter or cooling it in the summer. Even something as simple as getting staff to stop printing off e-mails and store things electronically instead has had a big impact on the company’s paper consumption.

“I don’t think there’s anything that you can do which is environmentally positive that isn’t a good business decision,” McDonald says.

Though McDonald shies away from the term “ambassador” to describe the company’s role in leading the green charge, the industry has certainly taken notice of its efforts. In early 2008, APPS was named a finalist in the GLOBE Foundations annual Corporate Award for Environmental Excellence. The award recognizes shippers, carriers or other transportation service providers that have made an outstanding commitment to sustainable practices. The Ontario Trucking Association also recognized APPS for its decision not to pre-buy ahead of the 2007 engine launch.

But even those awards, prestigious as they are, don’t seem to have been an influence on McDonald’s green choices. He’s unflinching in his stance that a good environmental decision will always have been made as a good business decision first. And ever the nonconformist, McDonald is quite content to save the planet quietly and on his own terms -without getting pressured to change just because it’s popular.

“We sort of do our own thing here. I don’t predicate a lot of our business decisions on what other people are doing,” he says. “If we can convince other people to change the way they do business, to operate smarter and better, then that’s great, but that isn’t the plan. Overall, I think the whole world is saying, ‘Look, if we want to stay here, we’d better smarten up.'”

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