The same week that gas reached $4 a gallon earlier this month, diesel hit $4.71 a gallon. What does this mean for commercial truckers? It means that it now costs about $1,200 to fill up a tank of gas. At least 935 trucking companies went out of business due to rising fuel prices in the first quarter of 2008 alone, and these numbers have been climbing every quarter for the last five quarters.
Going green has become a matter of necessity for companies whose business involves driving. Consumer shipping businesses like UPS and FedEx may not be the greenest of the green—Climate Counts gives them scores of 39 and 28 out of 100 respectively—but they’ve recently begun deploying innovative strategies that will certainly begin reducing their carbon dioxide emissions and can serve as a model for other commercial shippers trying to stay afloat by using less gas.
Eliminating Left Turns: Trucks can waste a lot of gas idling while waiting for a left turn. At the beginning of 2007, UPS therefore eliminated all left turns from delivery routes, and has so far reduced over 30 million miles from their routes. This has saved 3 million gallons of gas and 32,000 metric tons of CO2—the equivalent of removing 5,300 passenger cars from the road for a year.
Compressed Natural Gas Delivery Trucks: UPS has deployed over 800 delivery trucks across the United States that run on compressed natural gas. While the trucks look just like the diesel-guzzlers in UPS’ fleet, they release 20 percent fewer emissions and improve fuel economy by 10 percent.
Hybrid Electric Trucks: FedEx, in cooperation with Eaton Corp. and Environmental Defense, has begun to incorporate hybrid electric medium-duty trucks into its fleet. There may only be about 200 of them so far, but these vehicles can travel 57 percent farther than other medium-duty trucks per gallon, and create 65 percent fewer emissions and 96 percent less soot.
Fuel-Efficient Tires: More friction on tires means less fuel economy. That’s why FedEx and UPS have begun using wider, “fuel-efficient” tires that create less friction with the road. These tires allow for more miles per gallon of diesel for the truck, thereby reducing emissions and costs.
GPS: It may seem like an easy solution, but companies like UPS and FedEx have seen their driving miles drop precipitously since making GPS standard in every truck. Not only do deliveries arrive on time when drivers don’t get lost—they burn less fuel when they’re not driving around in circles.
Better Planning: Better technology and some simple forward planning have allowed UPS and FedEx to save a lot of gas, as well. They put newer, more fuel-efficient trucks on the longest routes, saving older trucks for shorter drives. They also have systems for where to put the heaviest packages so that they don’t place too large a burden on the trucks; heavy loads are one of the biggest factors contributing to poor fuel efficiency.
The environment may not be at the forefront of shipping companies’ minds as they try to boost their fuel efficiency, but it’s definitely helping.