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Special Feature: Greener wheels

Freight companies discuss fleet efficiency measures

By Lauren Kramer
June 01, 2010

The transportation industry has certainly felt the push to go green over the past few years. Several companies have made changes to their operations, saving money through fuel-saving strategies and netting new clients by virtue of their earth-friendly measures.

"We're always looking for ways to save money, and with our environmental changes it's no different - we look for those that will help our bottom line," says Mitch England, director of fuel for C.R. England, a Salt Lake City trucking carrier.

Most of the refrigerated carrier's clients are in the food industry, with seafood constituting 100 loads per week. Seafood customers include Trident Seafoods, Rich Products Corp. and Gorton's.

Last October C.R. England won a 2009 SmartWay Excellence Award, which recognizes freight industry leaders that have made significant contributions to protecting the environment through their partnerships with SmartWay, a program of the Environmental Protection Agency.

As part of its green efforts, C.R. England leases trucks for three years instead of buying its own fleet.

"Our studies show that the mile-per-gallon degradation in the fourth year is huge, so we turn our trucks every three years to get the best fuel economy possible," England says. The company insists on trucks with an electric heater that allows the engine to stay warm even when the truck is turned off, reducing idling time. Wind efficiency is another strong focus for C.R. England.

"We've equipped some of our trailers with a side skirt, which improves aerodynamics and helps save fuel. And we changed our speed settings last year from 72 mph to a maximum of 62," England says. "When we saw diesel prices go up to 
almost $5 per gallon, we had to make a concerted effort to save fuel, and dropping speed certainly helps."

To determine which fuel-saving techniques are most effective, C.R. England employs a fuel-testing program and runs controlled tests. "We run these programs on trucks side by side, controlling the variables as much as possible," England says. "This helps us determine 
what changes to make; for example, side skirts, different engines, tires and trailers. If we like the result, we purchase a limited amount and see if it works in the real world."

The fuel-economy changes have saved the company money, and those savings have been passed on to customers, who pay separately for fuel and for transportation rates.

"It's hard to know if our environmental changes have netted us new clients, but I think as we move forward, they will," England says.

"We use our commitment to SmartWay in our sales presentations and talk about the initiatives we're taking to save fuel. It's a big focus for us and I think it's helped us to at least maintain the business we have, and possibly to get new business."

At Lynden Transport, many proposal requests the company receives include sections on environmental stewardship.

"If we didn't have any evidence of environmental stewardship to offer them it would have lost us business by now," says Steve Schultz, Lynden's director of health, safety and environment. "We want to do it for the environment, it makes sense economically and there's demand from our customers as well."

In September 2008 the company became the first Alaska-based trucking company to qualify for 
the EPA's SmartWay Transport Partnership, receiving the agency's highest score 
of 1.25 or "outstanding" 
in the Shipper Index Factor, which assesses fuel, fleet 
efficiency and environmental performance.

Lynden Transport made several changes to increase its fuel efficiency. It reduced its truck highway speed from 65 to 60 mph, switched to super single tires on its 
tractors to reduce weight and increase fuel economy and added more aerodynamic packages to its 
trucks, including side fairings and molded mirrors to reduce drag.

"We're also hauling double trailers to eliminate a tractor," says Schultz. "We're currently trying to figure out how much we've saved by making these changes, but it's quite complicated to work out."

For some companies, connection with the SmartWay program is a mandate. "One client, Pioneer Electronics, told us that if we didn't become a SmartWay partner, they wouldn't ship with us," says Schultz.

To date, the fuel efficiency changes have added costs for Lynden Transport, "but hopefully in the long run we'll see more and more savings," Schultz says. "It's a long process, but we're making the investment now and hoping to have an environmental impact."


 Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British Columbia 



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