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Good Jobs, Green Jobs: Moving Freight More Efficiently

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A couple weeks ago, I noted that we can reduce fuel consumption from the average new commercial truck by 40 percent in 2025. Improving the efficiency of these vehicles is a key component of our overall Half the Oil plan. But one of the reasons why reducing fuel from medium- and heavy-duty vehicles is so important is because they are strongly integrated into American commerce—everything you buy ends up on a truck at some point along the way.

In February, I moderated a panel at the Good Jobs Green Jobs conference here in Washington, DC. Good Jobs Green Jobs looks at how reducing the environmental impacts of daily activities can provide socioeconomic benefits as well as environmental ones. Our panel looked at how we move goods today and the opportunities available to do so more efficiently.

Greening our ports

Our country’s ports represent a key commercial hub. International trade (both of goods produced in the United States and then exported as well as those goods imported into the U.S.) is a significant chunk of freight activity, and at its heart are the ports. Nearly 80 percent of international trade travels by container ship. Susan Montaverde of the American Association of Port Authorities talked to us about a number of ongoing activities in ports today that are helping to “green” operations at our ports, including onsite renewable power, improving the efficiency of buildings, and conservation/restoration of coastal wetlands. Efficiency steps like the electrification of port operations by drayage trucks can help reduce not just global warming emissions but also the significant criteria pollutants that impact local communities around ports.

More efficient trucks

While making ports operate more efficiently can help reduce environmental impacts at these crucial coastal hubs, improving freight across the country requires more efficient vehicles transporting goods between the various hubs and warehouses and stores where the bulk of our commercial activity takes place.

Glen Kedzie of the American Trucking Associations helped to explain why the industry is focused on reducing fuel usage. The tripling of diesel prices over the past decade-plus helped to align the trucking industry with the first-ever fuel economy standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks. A well-crafted second phase of standards will continue to reduce the sensitivity of the trucking industry to dramatic fuel price swings. From the tens of thousands of owner-operators to Wal-Mart’s massive fleet, the commercial trucking industry has many different interconnections with commerce, so it’s important that they fill that point-to-point niche efficiently well into the future.

One of the best ways to make tractor-trailers more efficient is to make the trailer more efficient. Mitch Greenberg of Smart Truck Systems works for a small business that is trying to do just that. Playing off the classic trucking film Smokey and the Bandit, he showed how cars like the Bandit’s Trans Am have improved in efficiency over the past 35 years more than the tractor-trailer and opportunities for rectifying that. By reducing aerodynamic drag on the trailer and reducing the rolling resistance of tires on the road, you can reduce the amount of energy necessary to pull a trailer, even when it’s fully loaded with goods.

Moving freight forward

As part of our clean vehicles work, we have focused in a number of ways on moving freight more efficiently. Thanks to folks like Susan Montaverde, Mitch Greenberg, and Glen Kedzie who are working to make that happen, there are opportunities to provide both economic and environmental benefits as we reduce emissions and improve efficiency in this sector. “Good Jobs, Green Jobs” isn’t just a catchy slogan—it can be a foundation for how to think about a smarter transportation future that benefits all Americans.

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Posted in: Vehicles Tags: , , , , ,

About the author: Dave Cooke is a vehicles analyst in the Clean Vehicles Program, specializing in both light- and heavy-duty fuel economy. He conducts research on fuel efficiency technologies and the implications for oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions across the transportation sector. See Dave's full bio.

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