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Trucking panel offers advice for sustainability strategies

The challenges and opportunities afforded by implementing “green” fleet strategies were addressed in several technician sessions at the recent 2015 Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) annual meeting—with several speakers indicating that “going green” is may become almost unavoidable down the road in trucking.

“Shippers demand it and consumers demand it,” noted Randy Tumbarello, U.S. maintenance director for Trimac Transportation, who chaired a session entitled Green Trucks, Green Shops, and Green Incentives. “The problem is good intentions are not enough to implement a sustainability program.”

Duane Lippincott, senior project manager for United Parcel Service, in particular stressed that “there is no blanket solution for replacing petroleum” in the trucking world and that making a solid business case for any alternative fuel without relying on tax incentives, grants, and other “financial aid” is critical for long-term success.

“We believe alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) help mitigate risk to the [petroleum] fuel supply, such as weather or terrorism, but they must be able to stand on their own two feet,” he said.

Lippincott also stressed that government legislative efforts designed to spur AFV adoption “constantly change,” which is why he feels they cannot be relied on for long-term fleet investment in alternative fuels.

“It’s also important to develop an ‘exit strategy’ for whatever alternative [fuel] you select,” he added. “You need to have a plan if it doesn’t work for your fleet.”

Yet Erik Neandross, CEO for consulting firm Gladstein, Neandross & Associates, stressed that obtaining tax credits, grants, and such can significantly defray the costs for fleets implementing an AFV program.

“Why is grant funding important? [Alternate fuel] trucks and refueling stations are expensive and that [grant] money helps pay for them,” he said. “And there is funding available at the federal, state, and local level – with more state level funding available today than in the past.”

Altogether, Neandross indicated that some 500 funding programs exist today at all levels of government, yet are being constantly being revised and thus can change on a year to year basis.

Art Trahan, senior technical manager for Ryder System, noted that any switch to alternative fuels needs to involve the entire organization – not just the drivers and technicians who will operate and maintain AFVs directly. That’s why Ryder is making natural gas training mandatory for its entire 6,000-plus maintenance staff – administrative personnel included – this year.

“You have to have awareness by everyone,” he stressed.

Tony Eiermann, manager of asset and value management for Coca-Cola, emphasized that driver training in particular is critical to getting the most out of a fleet sustainability program.

“If you do not operate vehicles properly, you don’t get the benefits,” he explained, highlighting Coca-Cola’s Smart Driver program as an example; part of a broad company-wide sustainability program launched back in 2011.

“Smarter driving promotes safety, reduces equipment wear and tear, and saves fuel,” Eiermann said.

Brett Lindsay, the western regional VP for Clean Energy, noted that “keeping it simple” should be a guiding principle for any and all shop upgrades required for maintaining AFVs.

“A lot of things are changing in this space so you need to do your homework,” he stressed.

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