“Lots of people look at sustainability through different lenses,” said American Trucking Associations’ energy and environmental affairs counsel, Glen Kedzie. “Some look at it as addressing climate change, reducing carbon emissions; others are more expansive in their view of it.”
Industry experts at ATA’s Management Conference and Exhibition discussed the methods of addressing sustainability in transportation. Trucking, in particular, has been facing a lot of pressure to step up to environmental governance, according to Kedzie–although he noted that the supply chain needs particular focus.
“It’s not just from trucks,” he said. “You have to look at what happens coming up to the truck level and then after the truck level. The supply chain can be responsible for up to five times the greenhouse gas emissions [as much] than from just one singular source [or] from an individual company.”
Some federal and state regulations are in the works, such as truck-specific regulatory standards created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Kedzie added that trucking companies should be aware of these potential rules that will urge for lower emissions from all commercial vehicles sooner than later.
“We have the EPA Phase 3 rule,” he said. “They will set the carbon metrics so low–without mentioning any technology path, that the only way that you’ll be able to achieve those standards will be to buy a battery-electric, hydrogen fuel cell or renewable diesel vehicle.”
Because the supply chain creates so much of our carbon emissions, investors and environmental organizations have a laser-focus on their operations, Kedzie explained–in fact, 90% of carbon dioxide emissions throughout the entire country are a product of the trucking industry.
“Climate change is a major driver [of this attention],” he said. “But, there [are] a lot of other drivers that are making leads as businesses consider sustainability. The public image is very important to all of us here in this room.”
Kedzie also explained that the industry can indeed make money by becoming more environmentally friendly.
“Profitability can go hand-in-hand with sustainability. There are lots of legal considerations you have to take into account. There’s lots of litigation across the country,” he said.
Still, the trucking industry has made so many progressive changes and has made clear its vital role in the American economy, added Daimler Trucks North America’s vice president of product compliance and regulatory affairs, Sean Waters.
“Heavy-duty trucks make life better,” he said. “Heavy-duty trucks save lives–and this industry has been an unquestioned partner working with the EPA, working with California, on top [of complying with] enforceable emissions regulations for decades.”
This has, indeed, made a difference, Waters added.
“[That effort] has led to cleaner air,” he said. “It led to a reduction in CO2.”
Additionally, younger drivers entering the industry have more progressive expectations when it comes to sustainability, and trucking will have to step up in order to keep them interested–especially given the current truck driver shortage.
“It’s not a passing fad,” said Kedzie. “You’re going to be playing in this space. If you aren’t playing in this space, you will have to play in this space because everyone is wanting fleets to be more accountable.”
Environmental justice is also a primary concern for the Biden administration, which means there will be many more environmentally-aligned regulations in the works–which will be in addition to current investor and consumer pressure, Kedzie said.
“Shippers want to become greener,” he explained. “We have shareholders that are putting on pressure. They want to know where investments are being made. They want to see if those investments account for the use of green fuels and green technologies. We have Wall Street pushing back on us hard. We have lenders pushing back on us hard. We have the insurance industry pushing back on us hard.”
At the end of the day, most carbon emissions are coming from older trucks, and as new trucks are made to be more sustainable, fleets will begin saving more funds on overall fuel consumption, as well, Waters noted.
“Trucks are the backbone of our economy,” he said. The trucks that we build are safer today–cleaner today–than they’ve ever been, and we need to start by recognizing the positive contributions we’ve made before we start talking about the next round of regulations and before we talk about trucks being the problem.”