Saving fuel doesn't always mean higher mpg. Sometimes it's about being more organized and having the patience to identify inefficiencies. Evans Network of Companies is doing exactly that with its Eco-Match program, which aligns imports and exports for more efficient transportation.

Evans's East Coast drayage operation handles about 10,000 containers each week. Most of them are unmatched. That means an import container will come in, Evans will make the delivery, and the container will head back to port empty. To combat the inefficiency, Gerard Coyle, vice president of environmental and sustainability operations, launched Eco-Match.

"Our original concept was to start looking at importers and exporters, and approach some shippers to see where we might make a match," Coyle says.

He might find one company importing cans of soup, and a company a few miles away exporting lumber. With a few phone calls, he can set up the obvious arrangement where a truck drops off soup, picks up lumber and saves an entire round trip.

"Even if you match only 25% of containers, you can save about 5 billion pounds of CO2," said Coyle, mentioning nothing of the amount of fuel money that saves.

After two and a half years, Evans only manages to match about 10% of containers. According to Coyle, the process is still fairly low-tech at this point, with him finding the matches manually. Software is in the future, but that actually isn't the main hurdle.

The simplicity of load matching is complicated by the realities of the container shipping industry. Each steamship line owns its own containers, and lines can be pretty picky about where their containers are and who uses them. If Maersk is importing the soup and Hapag-Lloyd is exporting the lumber, an arrangement may be a no-go despite proximity.

However, a good bit of ground has been gained since he started. Recently, Kraft approached Coyle to help single out inefficiencies in its system. He's also set to begin serving on the Environmental Protection Agency's Mobile Sources Technical Advisory Committee.

This kind of attention could be a harbinger for more sweeping changes toward efficient operation.

"I think it's a case of we've-always-done-it-this-way syndrome," says Coyle, who believes it's just a matter of time before they get enough people interested that the industry mindset starts changing.

From the December 2011 issue of HDT.