Leading up to Earth Day and FreightWaves’ Net-Zero Carbon Summit on Friday, FreightWaves asked Keith Wilson, CEO and president of Portland, Oregon-based Titan Freight Systems, about what the company is doing to improve sustainability and why it matters.
Titan Freight operates 45 trucks and 120 trailers throughout Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
FREIGHTWAVES: How did you become interested in trucking and sustainability?
WILSON: “My father started delivering luggage from the airport that would come in a few days later, and that’s how we started in transportation. I started rewriting the story of that small business my father had.
“I took what I knew, merged the company, and went all in on building an LTL carrier that was sustainable and driven on technology.”
FREIGHTWAVES: Why did you start acting on climate change at Titan Freight?
WILSON: “I started seeing it represented in our local world.
“I had one account that failed because he had a sporting goods company in southern Oregon. I asked him what happened. He said, ‘No one’s buying my skis because of no-snow winters, and no one’s buying my fishing gear because in the summer, my area’s filled with smoke.’
“He failed. After two years, he couldn’t do it anymore. At that point I realized, ‘Wow, we really have an extreme situation. It’s the canary in the coal mine.’”
FREIGHTWAVES: In terms of sustainability, what has the company’s progress been like?
WILSON: “We at Titan created some hard rules. We needed a 20% reduction in greenhouse gases or an improvement in miles per gallon. If you use less fuel to provide the same sort of transportation or miles per gallon on your vehicle, you’re reducing GHG, and we failed miserably.
“After that 10-year goal, we got only a 10% reduction. We realized the root cause isn’t miles per gallon or equipment. The root cause was the energy source. It’s fossil fuels.
“We looked to see what’s available and happened to find renewable diesel. It was available in our area, so we went all in and shifted our entire Oregon operations over to it, and on day one, we got a 60% reduction in GHG.”
FREIGHTWAVES: Does Titan Freight plan to purchase electric trucks?
WILSON: “Last week, I had Portland General Electric, a utility in our area, and its entire charging infrastructure team at my facility. We’re adding the first private charging station for heavy-duty trucks.
“We break ground probably in about 90 days. We’ll finish construction by the end of September, and we hope to receive our first electric truck in the fourth quarter of this year. We purchased six heavy-duty electric trucks from Freightliner.
“We want to test, we want to implement, and we want to really show others that this is a viable solution today.
“There’s a lot of apprehension. An electric truck is three and a half times the cost of a diesel engine vehicle. But with fuel being $5 a gallon and the equivalent for electric being only $1 dollar a gallon, we can earn income, reduce emissions and provide that GHG reduction.
“We just added six car chargers at our largest terminal last week. We are offering charging for free to our entire staff, which is a great incentive when fuel prices are $5 a gallon for gasoline.
“Earth Day next year, we’re going to have a huge party at our facility, and everybody’s going to drive an electric truck to show them that they’re real, they’re effective, and they’re ready for prime time.”
FREIGHTWAVES: Why do you think that Earth Day is important for the freight industry?
WILSON: “Earth Day is that critical point that allows us to really reflect on our habits and behavior and what we can do to improve our tomorrows for our children. It’s an important day to reflect on where we’ve come from and where we’re going, and we’re at an inflection point.
“Recently, we had and April storm that dumped 6 inches of snow in Portland — the first time in 100 years we had a significant snowstorm in Spring. I’m thinking, ‘We’re experiencing climate events that we haven’t really experienced.’
“The governor just released the previous week that she notified six counties they’re in drought emergency. Our snowpack is the second lowest on record. In the last five years, we’ve experienced the two lowest snow packs on record.
“Diesel fuel is the single largest contributor to black soot in the U.S. Black soot comes to rest on our snowpack. It creates a radioactive blanket that artificially melts our snow.
“Then in the late summer when our farmers and agriculture community need that water to finish their crops, they’re stressed with water scarcity. Their livelihood, our really robust rural communities, are being affected.
“But it’s all tied to the energy sources we choose, so we have to race as fast as we can to swap out energy sources.
“Renewable diesel is the same cost as fossil diesel for me. Zero modification costs are required to switch, but very few people know about it. In this past 12 months, I have had one regional company that is a leader in sustainability call me six times to go over the benefits. Each time I have explained to the company that there have been no downsides, but change is hard, and they remain apprehensive to shift over to it.
“Earth Day gives us that opportunity to just create that ‘What if?’ What can we do now to tell the story? It’s not hard. It’s low cost. You earn more money, and you don’t have poisons in your workplace.
“Anytime you emit diesel exhaust, you’re emitting diesel pollution and poisons in your workplace. We can hit on all these cylinders at zero effort.”
FREIGHTWAVES: What is the role of the freight and logistics sector in decarbonizing?
WILSON: “As far as its emissions, it’s extraordinary. When you think about diesel exhaust as a whole or diesel emissions as a whole, the heavy-duty fleet consumes 55% of all diesel gallons.
“We cannot not do anything, so let’s focus on the energy source we use and choose to make improvements today.
“If I emit a metric ton of carbon today, that next year it’s still there because carbon lasts 100 years in our atmosphere. Our atmosphere is a finite resource, and we have to treat it as a finite resource.
“Because we physically cannot see this resource becoming depleted, we’re assuming it’ll be there for us tomorrow. It’s just not the case. Transportation has an outsized responsibility and opportunity to be an early and fast actor in addressing the energy source we use.”
FREIGHTWAVES: What additional sustainability strategies is Titan Freight using?
WILSON: “We use electric standup forklifts. Traditionally in the LTL environment, most carriers use sit down propane forklifts. When you look at it, our material handling equipment on our dock is all electric.
“I will tie it right back to competitiveness, and they’ll save money. The electric forklifts I run charge on $3 per day. A propane forklift costs $30 a day to fuel.
“Electric forklifts are going to cost you about 40% more to purchase, but the payback on that is a year and a half. The duty cycle is 10 years. I get 8.5 years of free use on that piece of equipment.
“We sometimes get so caught up on that upfront cost, and if we don’t look at the overall life cycle cost and the emissions reduction, we’re really losing out on profitability and emissions reduction.
“We’ve really reduced all tools that deal or work with any gas power in our maintenance shop. I think we’ve electrified our entire shop operations.
“It’s not just the truck. There are so many ancillary fossil fuel uses that we’ve removed completely. We’re paperless inside our offices. When we transfer any shipment, it’s all electronic. Everybody has a hand-held computer, from the driver to the dock to the delivery person.
“There are all these little things that we can do as well. What about that 1% or 2% — that low-lying fruit that anybody can implement in their operations and find meaningful reductions?”
FREIGHTWAVES: What changes need to be made for the freight industry to decarbonize?
WILSON: “It is an absolute requirement that we have government assistance because the charging networks are going to be critical. You have hundreds of thousands of dispensers for fuel. In turn, we’re going to need hundreds of thousands of dispensers for electricity. In our nation, I can actively say for heavy duty, we have a few.
“We need to make these systems easier for the truck operators to do turnkey operations. These individual trucking company owners have a lot on their plate, especially now.
“We have to make this turnkey operation simple, and government has to get in and help from the bureaucracy standpoint to build-out — to make ready all of those keys because we can’t do it on our own.
“With us [transportation] representing a third of emissions in our country, it has to be a partnership from all parties to make sure that we can do this as responsibly, but more importantly, as quickly as we possibly can.”
FREIGHTWAVES: What will Titan change between now and Earth Day next year?
WILSON: “Fifteen percent of our fleet will be electric, heavy-duty EVs. This next year, things are moving so fast, and we want to be a leader to represent not only to our state, but to the nation that we can do this together.
“We’re going to build these routes up as fast as we can. Our drivers are ready. Our maintenance teams are ready. Our leadership here at Titan is ready. This next year is one of those incredible quantum leaps that we’re going to be taking at Titan.
“We have alternatives today. We don’t have to worry, and we don’t have to stress that electric is the secret. It’s going to come with time.
“This Earth Day has to really be focused on a reduction in rhetoric and a real focus on action because there are alternative energy sources that are available today, and we have to use every single one of them.”