All That's Trucking

The True Meaning of "Sustainability"

September 6, 2011

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We're working on the October issue of HDT, with a cover story focusing on "Sustainability Success Stories," and Senior Editor Tom Berg wants to know: What the heck does this this "sustainability" word mean that has become such a corporate buzzword?
Walmart is one fleet that works hard on turning sustainability into greenbacks, as with this hybrid-electric Freightliner Cascadia project.
Walmart is one fleet that works hard on turning sustainability into greenbacks, as with this hybrid-electric Freightliner Cascadia project.

Good question.

"If you're looking for a buzzword in the logistics industry of late, it doesn't get much buzzier than "sustainability," noted American Shipper magazine in an April article.

In a survey, the magazine found that some shippers are factoring how "green" a carrier or logistics company is when deciding whether to use them to transport goods.

The survey found that more than a third of buyers use vendors' sustainability plans as a tiebreaker or deciding factor in buying decisions. And nearly 70% of carriers with a "proven plan" earned higher rates because of it.

However, less than half of companies surveyed had actively defined "sustainability." Sort of a "we'll-know-it-when-we-see-it" situation.

I first ran across the term years ago when I was writing for the small-farming community. At its most basic, sustainability is the capacity to endure. "Sustainable" agriculture encompassed not only organic farming, but other methods that avoided "using up" resources such as the nutrients in the soil or the supply of clean water.

But sustainability goes beyond protecting the environment. It also includes the concept that these efforts must be "sustainable" not only for the environment, but also be economically sustainable for the farmer, or the corporation, or the government, and socially sustainable for society at large.

The Environmental Protection Agency, in discussing sustainability, says the traditional definition of sustainability "calls for policies and strategies that meet society's present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." And from a business perspective, EPA says, "the goal of sustainability is to increase long-term shareholder and social value, while decreasing industry's use of materials and reducing negative impacts on the environment."

So what does this mean in the everyday world of trucking? In practical terms, "sustainability" could mean improving fuel mileage, which will use fewer natural resources while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It might be using alternative fuels, electric or hybrid vehicles, or implementing idle reduction strategies. On the facilities side, sustainability can mean recycling used waste oil, or using more efficient lighting and HVAC in terminal and maintenance facilities. Some companies have even added solar panels to the tops of terminals or warehouses.

However you define it, you can bet it's not going to go away. As Casey Chroust with the Retail Industry Leaders Association told American Shipper, "Sustainability is going to become a part of how the retail supply chain is operated. We won't be talking about 'green' trucking or a 'green' warehouse. It'll just be trucking and warehousing. It's like e-business. Now it's just business."

The fact is that no matter how you may feel personally about Global Warming or Peak Oil or other "green" topics, implementing sustainability measures at your fleet can bring more "green" to the bottom line.


  1. 1. Tom Kelley [ September 08, 2011 @ 08:47PM ]

    A few years back, I started to write a piece titled, "Sustain-a-Bull -- It Means Nothing & Everything," but more pressing topics intervened at that particular moment. That little bit of snark aside, I've learned some interesting things about conserving energy and minimizing emission from talking with fleets.

    Surprisingly, the pressure to be green frequently comes from points up and down the logistics chain, far distant from the shipper or carrier.

    Also, while the obvious efficiency gains have been well pursued, there are some fairly substantial opportunities available beyond the truck, tractor, or trailer design.

    Granted, I've learned about these strategies from delivery fleets, so they don't all cross over to long-haul truckload carriers, but some elements could, and more importantly, the strategies show that thinking outside the box can bring substantial efficiency gains.


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Deborah Lockridge

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All That's Trucking blog is just that – the editor's take on anything and everything related to trucking, with the help of guest posts from other HDT editors. Author Deborah Lockridge's career as an award-winning trucking journalist started in 1990.


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