Viewpoint: 1st steps toward reducing fleet’s carbon emissions

Invest in emissions-reducing technologies and incentivize drivers

By Daniel Burrows

The transportation industry is taking a hard look at its sustainability practices, as customers, partners, investors and other stakeholders demand more accountability for reducing emissions.   

Daniel Burrows, founder and CEO of TruckLabs

The transport sector is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and there is a growing demand for freight transport. But unlike passenger vehicles and delivery vans, electric solutions are still in the incubation stage for long-haul trucking. A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted that long-haul trucks are “expected to be harder to electrify absent technological breakthroughs” and that “rapid, large-scale deployment of improved low-carbon technology is a critical component” for meeting climate change mitigation by 2030. Rising fuel costs nationwide have heightened the need for fleets to reduce their fuel use.

How can we transform fleets to be more sustainable now without compromising service and profits? By making smaller investments in your people and technologies, fleet owners can start making significant progress toward their sustainability and fuel-saving goals today — while preparing for an EV future.

Invest in emissions-reducing technologies

When it comes to reducing your fleet’s emissions, you have to start by taking a holistic view of your trucks — the cab, the tires, the trailer and even the empty spaces around the vehicle. 

There is a wealth of new emission-reducing technologies available today that ensure proper tire pressure, reduce rolling friction, improve aerodynamics and cut energy use in the cab. These technologies improve efficiency for all fuel types — including electric when it becomes widely available in long-haul trucking. 

Although many of these technologies have proven to be beneficial, the upfront cost can be tough to overcome for many fleets, particularly for small to midsized ones. It’s important to remember that no change is too small when it comes to reducing your business’ carbon footprint and achieving fuel savings. With fuel serving as one of the highest costs facing fleets today, any amount of fuel saved can make a significant impact on your bottom line.

Having a plan in place for your fleet to make these technological upgrades on a few trucks at a time and then scaling those improvements over a matter of years can make these investments much more attainable. Installing these technologies, even on a small scale, often come with a marked reduction in fuel costs and a quick return on investment — driving a decrease in carbon emissions within the first 10 months.

“It’s important to remember that no change is too small when it comes to reducing your business’ carbon footprint and achieving fuel savings.”

Daniel Burrows

Collaborate with your drivers and incentivize 

Industry experts say that a driver can have as much as a 30% impact on fuel efficiency — making that driver a key player in your organization’s sustainability strategy. From driving slower to utilizing cruise control and minimizing braking, there are a whole host of ways drivers can maximize their fuel efficiency and, in turn, reduce their carbon emissions, according to the American Truck Business Services

In addition to sharing best driving practices with their staff, many fleets are also adopting new in-cab technologies to help coach and incentivize drivers to improve fuel efficiency. By providing fair measurement and feedback on fuel-impacting factors such as load, weather and traffic, these innovations provide drivers with personalized and achievable goals.

By tapping on the expertise of your team, you’ll be positioned to maximize your organization’s environmental impact.

Support green legislation in transportation

Truck manufacturers today are facing delays due to chip shortages and other factors as they work to develop more efficient vehicles. Modernizing your existing fleet allows you to optimize your fuel efficiency without having to wait for new trucks to be built.

Yet, for many fleets, investing in truck modernization can feel out of reach and unaffordable. With cost serving as a barrier for diesel fleets, it’s worth noting that legislation could lighten the financial load.

Economic incentives have played a role in environmental protection and pollution control at a broad level. There is a $7,500 federal tax credit, for instance, for electric passenger vehicles that’s been available since 2008. It’s long past due to consider financial incentives to help the trucking industry become greener.

One recent proposal is a bipartisan bill called the Supporting Trucking Efficiency and Emission Reductions (STEER) Act. Introduced by U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., the proposal would establish a voucher program to assist truckers in purchasing and installing fuel-efficient technologies on Class 8 trucks — helping to ease the financial burden on fleet owner-operators.

With federal incentives, fleets will be able to recover a large portion of the cost per unit, shortening the time it takes to get a return on their investment. The vouchers also will give fleets options to choose how best to lower emissions without mandates.

The conversion to electric for long-haul trucks is expected to take at least another decade because the technology is still immature and expensive. But in the wake of rising diesel prices and increasing demand for “greener” practices, fleets can’t afford to wait for more sustainable solutions. By harnessing the resources available to fleets today — including emissions-reducing technologies and green legislation in transportation — and by taking small steps, fleets can begin to see substantial improvements in their carbon emissions levels and their bottom line in just a few short years.

Daniel Burrows is the founder and CEO of TruckLabs, a trucking tech company that utilizes a team of hardware engineers, software developers and data scientists to innovate products and design software to help fleets be more efficient and profitable.

Contributed Content

Note: FreightWaves occasionally publishes commentary from industry sources with expertise, information and opinion on current transportation topics. The opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of FreightWaves. Submissions to FreightWaves are subject to editing.