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Why it pays to be GREEN

Market forces rather than regulatory pressures are prodding Canadian trucking firms into adopting environmentally responsible practices and policies. Such a "carrot-and-stick" approach is squarely foc...


Market forces rather than regulatory pressures are prodding Canadian trucking firms into adopting environmentally responsible practices and policies. Such a “carrot-and-stick” approach is squarely focused on improving productivity and reducing costs. And to achieve these goals, carriers have been actively updating operating processes, investing in new equipment and boosting employee training.

They are more likely to “get with the program” when their largest customers start requesting such improvements rather than responding to yet another round of new government regulations.

“All these industry initiatives are voluntary,” says Lynda Harvey, Ottawa-based senior manager, FleetSmart, National Resources Canada. “Carriers and shippers are deeply involved because they see the benefits. For truckers, fuel cost is typically their second largest expense after drivers’ salaries. By reducing fuel consumption, they are also delivering social benefits such as lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) and particulate matter emissions.”

The reason for the lack of supervision over the sector from Ottawa bureaucrats is the British North America Act. Road transportation is a provincial responsibility so most trucking legislation comes from the provinces and so-called third-level governments including counties and municipalities. Many of them have passed rules limiting engine idling time.

Such a patchwork approach may make life more awkward for carriers trying to introduce green practices. “Truckers across Canada have already run up against different provincial regulations governing weights and measures, load lengths etc.,” says Clarence Woudsma, a planning professor at the University of Waterloo. “The same could happen with conflicting environmental standards as well.”

Still, some federal ministries and agencies play a role. “Transport Canada focuses mainly on safety in all transportation modes under the National Safety Code,” says FleetSmart’s Harvey. “Environment Canada gets involved because its mandate is governing air quality. And Natural Resources Canada is responsible for protecting finite resources such as fuel. So one of our major priorities at FleetSmart is to help carriers, bus lines and transit systems reduce fuel consumption.”

Nevertheless Transport Canada is responsible for setting engine manufacturing specifications as well as related issues including fuel-mileage standards. At its most basic, it involves harmonizing the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards with Canadian needs because our economies and transportation systems are so tightly integrated.

In terms of environmental protection, problems arise since Transport Canada does not require carriers to buy the new engines as they come on the market. “Many carriers who work their rolling stock very hard,” says Woudsma, “have the resources to constantly invest in new equipment to benefit from their greater efficiencies and remain competitive.”

But what happens to the old equipment? “It tends to stick around,” says Woudsma. “Smaller public carriers buy the trucks or companies use them in their private fleets. In some jurisdictions such as California, the government buys up these ‘clunkers’ just to get them off the road. In Canada, this problem is a ‘hard beast to kill.'”

The following mini case histories will show how active many Canadian carriers are in developing viable environmental strategies and practices. Practicality is the prime driver. Even though many of their successful projects echo the 14-point plan cited in the 2006 CTA (Canadian Trucking Alliance) Trucking & A Made-in-Canada Clean Air Act report, none of the profiled carriers mentioned the CTA. The report’s main points included encouraging the use of auxiliary power units (APUs), lowering and controlling truck speed, introducing wide-based tires and eliminating barriers to efficient vehicle designs.

Although their initiatives reduced fuel consumption by running cleaner engines and using less power and energy, none of the carriers mentioned the Kyoto Accord either. They are all too busy running a trucking business.

Shippers are pushing the environmental envelope because they want their product and service suppliers to conform more closely to their own corporate green policies. “Customers are starting to ask us how we are reducing our environmental footprint,” says Brian Death, Vaughan, Ont.-based general manager, J.D. Smith & Sons Ltd. “Some of them are getting very serious about it.”

However, that task is now simpler after the carrier won the first-ever Green Supply Chain Award from the Supply Chain & Logistics Association of Canada (SCL). “It helped us with some recent RFPs,” says Death. “It made it much easier for us to respond to the question, ‘What are you doing to help save the planet?’ It’s also an affirmation of what we have been trying to do for many years.”

According to Death, the firm’s original objectives were entirely business-oriented. “We introduced them as money-saving business projects,” he says, “to help us stay competitive by maintaining our profit margins so we could pass on some of the benefits to customers.”

“One of the first things we did was to install on-board computers in all our cabs. They were tied in to modules to gather data about how well the engines were operating. Before, such data was very hard to access. We wanted to monitor driver performance. As soon as they drive their rigs back into the yard, we hooked them up to computers and download the data immediately into our fleet management system.”

That information enabled J.D. Smith to rack up a double-digit percentage reductions in engine idling time. Equally important, most drivers quickly embraced the new approach. “Many of them would come into the office and ask, ‘How did I do?'” says Death. “We do not provide incentives directly to drivers to reducing idling time although they are indirectly compensated because they all participate in the firm’s profit-sharing plan.”

Glenncoe Transport Ltd. in Prince George, B.C., and its parent Winnipeg-based Bison Transport Inc., both reward drivers for meeting the corporate engine-idling benchmark. (In 2006, Bison was the only Canadian carrier among the 24 carriers that won an EPA SmartWay Environmental Excellence Award.) The fleet-wide figure is now less than 2% of total running time. Besides the bonus, the carrier also credits its driving simulators with teaching employees how to handle on-the-road realities quickly and safely.

Another successful initiative was using APUs in truck cabs. “Many of our drivers sleep in their cabs at night,” says David Falawka, vice-president, business development for Glenncoe, “so we brought in APUs for personal safety reasons. Since the APUs are connected to a thermostat, they kick in automatically.” According to recent research, APUs burn about one-tenth the energy that idling does.

A more controversial Bison proposal involves a pilot project to introduce so-called Rocky Mountain doubles or twin 53-ft. trailers on Ontario highways. According to Falawka, such tandems are currently used in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. “Our objective,” he says, “is to increase fuel savings by having one tractor pull two trailers.”

That same experiment is under way in Atlantic Canada. It is on a smaller scale over a shorter stretch of highway – the recently upgraded 225-km, four-lane stretch of the Trans Canada Highway between Saint John and Moncton. It is the busiest traffic lane in the province. According to Vernon Seeley, Saint John, N.B.-based manager, technology and specification manager, (Irving Transportation Services) ITS Fleet Management, the use of the double 53-ft. trailer combinations will reduce fuel consumption by an estimated 40%.

“There will be several restrictions,” he says, “including a speed limit cap of 90 km/hour and limitations on tractors types, cargo weights, driver qualifications and weather conditions.”

At the same time, ITS Fleet Management is also investing heavily in advanced equipment a
nd accessories. This includes wide-based tires that could yield 4% to 10% fuel savings while boosting stability through improved wheel adhesion on wet roads. That is because its footprint is about twice the size of the old one’s. “Producing each of these tires requires three gallons less oil than the ones they are replacing,” says Seeley. “And a set of them weighs about 40 lbs. less than the older ones.” Although ITS has also considered switching to nitrogen inflation that could result in a further 2% fuel savings, progress has been slow because few service centres have nitrogen pumps in place.

And under the hood, besides burning EPA-mandated ultra low-sulphur fuels, the truck engines ITS services run much cleaner thanks to the new cooled-EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) technology that recycles exhaust back through the engine to reduce emissions.

Aerodynamic drag has also attracted Seeley’s attention. “We’ve been working closely with OEMs,” he says, “to increase fuel efficiency by reducing tractor air resistance. Redesigning mirrors on a tractor could reduce annual fuel consumption by 900 litres. One day, they will likely be replaced by cameras.”

Seeley is also a big fan of speed limiters on truck engines. Sunbury Transport Ltd., a member of the ITS Group, sets all its engines at 105 km/hour. “Originally, we set it at 100 km/hour,” he says. “But many drivers, for safety reasons, felt uncomfortable at the lower speed so we bumped it up a bit.”

Other carriers have also flipped the switch to activate the speed limiting function. Many trade and industry groups urge their members to use them. They are also actively lobbying government to make it mandatory. But governments have not taken the final step.

“Until it becomes law,” says Woudsma at the University of Waterloo, “some carriers will continue speeding to ensure meeting a delivery window on time. But if engine speed limiters become law, then carriers can explain why they are late. It will also require everyone to plan better or leave earlier to make deadlines.”

Couriers are doing their share as well. In May 2005, Purolator Courier Ltd. rolled out its fleet of hybrid electric (HEV) delivery vehicles. The pick-up and delivery vans use 44% less fuel and emit about 44% fewer smog-creating particulates. “They cost about $30,000 more than the ones they replaced,” says Doug Kube, the firm’s Mississauga-based, director, environment, health and safety. “But they yield an acceptable ROI.”

Since Purolator is Canada’s largest overnight courier company, Kube believes it should be a leader in making the transportation sector more environmentally responsible. Besides participating in various industry committees and councils, the firm is also working with smaller firms to develop new technology and bring such products to markets faster.

Still, he does not feel that is enough. “The government needs to offer more carrots to get more carriers,” says Kube. “That included offering subsidies to reward early adopters for introducing new technology and processes as well as to encourage others to make similar investments as well.”

That’s the idea behind the CTA’s recent enviroTruck proposal to ask governments to offer carriers financial or tax incentives or both so they purchase or lease new trucks with new smog-free engine technology and devices.

However, carriers should not neglect upgrading their fixed assets as well. In 2002 J.D. Smith installed a computer-controlled central system to monitor all the overhead gas heaters in its warehouses. Similarly, to keep the building cool in the summer, it installed a new white roof to reflect the heat as well, increasing the building insulation by 30%.

It also invested $200,000 to switch all overhead light bulbs in three different buildings to fluorescent from incandescent. It reduced J.D. Smith’s energy bill by 40% with a two-year payback period. “Employees now prefer the new system,” says Death. “They say the lighting is more natural.”

Finally, FleetSmart is collaborating with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its Smartways Transportation Partnership. “Working together with the EPA is important,” says Harvey. “It would make more sense for all these environmental initiatives to have the same look, feel and message on both sides of the border.”

Veteran writer Ken Mark has covered supply chain management since it was called distribution and has documented its legitimization as a critical business function. He holds an MBA from York U.


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