High transportation and shipping costs got you down?

Despite what you may think, times like these are perfect times to reassess your shipping and transportation practices.  High fuel costs, increased freight rates combined with the demand for shorter delivery times and reduced inventories can lead you to a new way of thinking. There are ways to green your transportation and shipping practices by improving fuel and operational efficiencies, which in turn will also save you money.

Fuel prices cannot be controlled, but transportation costs can be cut by eliminating waste.  For example, according to the National Private Truck Council Benchmarking Survey, approximately 25% of trucker miles are driven empty without cargo on return trips instead of being filled with another company’s outbound transport.  Backhauling, using an empty truck’s return route to carry cargo, has long been used by recyclers, for example, since the cost of transportation often outweighs the value of the cargo. There’s no reason why any business cannot use backhauling as a shipping strategy for deliveries that are not very time sensitive.

What else can a small business do? 

The EPA has joined forces with the freight sector to create the SmartWay Transport program that provides financial incentives and low-cost loans to businesses wanting to purchase or lease high-efficiency trucks.  The program also provides business tools for improving energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions. According to SmartWay, the most effective steps a trucker can take to improve fuel efficiency are:
•    Reducing idling – Depending on the vehicle, idling (which gets you zero miles to the gallon) wastes one-half to one full gallon of fuel per hour. The best rule of thumb when it comes to idling is: if you stop for more than 10 seconds, turn off the vehicle.
•    Lowering driving speed – Reducing highway speed by 5 mph can cut fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions by over 7%.
•    Improving aerodynamics– Aerodynamic drag accounts for most truck energy losses at highway speeds.  Reducing drag improves fuel efficiency. Methods include use of fairings as well as cab extenders to minimize the gap between tractor and trailer.  For example, ATdynamics, manufacturers of TrailerTails®, Trailer skirts and hub cap covers that improve the tractor-trailer aerodynamics with an add-on, rear-mounted rear drag reduction device that make trucks significantly more fuel-efficient.
•    Maintaining/replacing tires– Specifying single wide-base tires on trucks can result in fuel savings of 2% or more.  Automatic tire inflation systems can improve fuel economy by almost 1% and extend tire life by more than 8%.
•    Using low-friction lubricants
•    Conducting diver training

SmartWay and other sources also provide best practices for third-party shipping:
•    Avoid expediting/air freight whenever possible – Aside from being expensive, air transport consumes far more fuel per mile traveled. It is estimated that the energy costs associated with a product rise from 6% to 28% when shipping moves from ground to air.
•    Consolidate shipments – This can reduce fuel use as well as overall packaging for pallets, containers, etc.. and can lead to lower shipping costs.
•   Implement a no-idle policy for carriers when loading – won’t save you money, but its the right thing to do.
•   Use more environmentally friendly rail/intermodal shipments – making use of rail in your shipping, such as train-to-truck, will often save you money as well as reduce carbon emissions.
•    Buy local whenever possible to reduce the need for shipping altogether!

Whether you use a third-party shipper or have your own fleet, all these tactics will reduce your carbon footprint and save you money.  What are you waiting for?

Photo by Mark Brannan at sxc.hu

About the Author

Jennifer Kaplan writes regularly about sustainable food and wine, the intersection of food and marketing and food politics for EatDrinkBetter.com and is the author of Greening Your Small Business (November 2009, Penguin Group (USA)). She was been named one of The 16 Women You Must Follow on Twitter for Green Business. She has four kids, a dog, a hamster and an MBA - find her on .