Whether it’s a container of imports heading from Southern California into the heartland of the U.S. or a family vacation to a theme park, it’s the destination that always garners most of the attention.
The return trip, meanwhile, usually is forgettable.
But Blume Global is turning what some in the industry may consider a necessary (and costly) evil into an opportunity to save money and reduce emissions, thanks to its domestic reload and street-turn strategies.
Consider this: The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are responsible for about 40% of the country’s imports, said Glenn Jones, the company’s global vice president of product strategy. Goods coming into those ports travel on trains, planes and trucks from Los Angeles to arrive at their destinations across the country.
But when those containers are returned to LA, they often cross the country empty, wasting money, fuel and cargo space.
Enter Blume Global’s domestic reload strategy.
After a rail container travels from LA to Chicago, Blume Global finds rail freight that needs to go west to fill the container on the return trip. Keeping containers full can save companies money, time and emissions even if the domestic reload only travels part of the distance back to LA, according to Blume Global.
On the trucking side, Blume Global coordinates street-turn logistics around seaports.
Jones said that trucks often go out from a seaport with a full load, drive a short distance taking a couple of hours, drop off that load and then go back to the port with an empty truck to get a new load. Blume Global uses real-time data and a driver app to automatically find an export or domestic load that needs to be transported from the driver’s drop-off location to the port or nearby.
“By providing [a] street turn, the truck goes out full, makes a short, maybe 10-mile move, … loads up an export load and then goes back to the port” with a full load, Jones said. He noted that Blume Global might not be notified that cargo for a street turn is ready for export until midday, but the app can alert drivers when a load becomes available near them.
Jones said the company uses the same street-turn strategy around railroad stations. Trucks leave the station with a full load of freight from a train, deliver it somewhere relatively nearby and pick up a load that needs to go to the railroad station on their way back.
“It’s actually working really well. We’re reducing empty miles by close to 50% now,” Jones said.
Improving truck utilization by reducing empty miles also relieves some of the stress caused by driver shortages, Jones said.
A 2020 Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking by the American Transportation Research Institute said that empty miles in the U.S. increased from 16.6% in 2018 to 20.1% in 2019 due in part to the trend in shorter truck lengths.
In addition to cutting down on empty miles, Blume Global software also supports shipment consolidation and filling containers and trucks with cargo in an order that is efficient for the multistop routes they take, Jones said. The efficiencies gained by optimizing routes can be counteracted if the cargo for the first stop is at the back of the truck.
Blume Global customers are joining in the environmental efforts and asking how they can operate more sustainably, according to Jones.
“It used to be only cost trades” that customers considered when deciding how to move cargo, but it’s not just about costs and on-time arrivals anymore, Jones said. Now Blume Global tracks CO2 emission data and presents that information to customers. If the cost difference isn’t huge, he said, customers will at least consider switching to a less emissions-intensive mode of transportation.
Jones said that sustainability is a growing concern for companies and there are different levels of awareness among people depending on their surroundings.
“There [were] cows everywhere, [and] it wasn’t in the environment I was in when I grew up,” the Texas native said. He moved to Denver and then California, noticing more awareness for environmental issues and learning along the way.
Reducing empty miles through domestic reloads and street turns has great potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in trucking and rail freight, and it ties into the Blume Global’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality, Jones said. He said that sustainability is a high priority for the company internally. It is focusing on carbon emissions and looking into carbon-offsetting tactics such as planting trees that different companies offer, he added.