Today, companies are being judged more and more on their green profile, and eyes are on supply chains for opportunities to shrink carbon footprints. The response from supply chain and logistics carriers has been declarations of investments in new green technologies and alternative fuel vehicles. However, that’s just the surface, just numbers. To really judge a carrier’s green profile you have to dig deeper, beyond their advertisements and press releases.

The real issue isn’t how much a carrier invested in the latest gadgets or how many vehicles they have, but how that carrier operates the business holistically. How does your carrier conduct its operation? What’s the strategy behind the deployments?

For example, UPS recently rolled out 130 new Hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs) in New York, New Jersey and California. Those locations were carefully selected. HEVs aren’t well suited for routes with long interstate miles. We deploy them in urban areas with frequent stops where the brakes get a lot of use, which puts the maximum amount of regenerative electricity back into the batteries.

Alternative fuel technology is still in its infancy in the grand scheme, but the potential is high, and the business imperative is even higher. Increasing our energy independence and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels is crucial to reducing fuel costs and overhead.

Those HEVs I mentioned? They’re expected to save 58,271 gallons of fuel and reduce CO2 emissions by 592 metric tons, the equivalent of removing approximately 32 conventional diesel trucks from the roadways.

But that’s not the whole the story.

UPS takes a “rolling laboratory” approach to this expansion. We are experimenting with many new technologies rather than a commitment to just one. UPS has more than 90,000 vehicles in its fleet, with more than 2,500 alternative fuel vehicles of many types: Hybrid-electric, compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, electric, propane and we are exploring hydraulic-hybrid. There is no silver bullet technology on the horizon that will be the turnkey solution to energy efficiency and carbon reduction.  Some work best in different climates. Others have become financially viable thanks to local and state subsidies. Some have great fuel efficiency numbers but aren’t reliable or need expensive maintenance or repairs.

At UPS, we realize we are part of a larger eco-system. To ensure our technologies have the most impact, we often collaborate closely with our manufacturers to tweak the technology to improve its overall performance in more situations. We also collaborate with others in the industry and public sectors to share investments and research findings.

With all of the pressure faced by businesses to clean up their operations, companies should choose carriers that have a long-term comprehensive approach to carbon reduction. Today, no logistics provider’s fleet is 100 percent alternative fuel vehicles. Even UPS, with more than 200 million miles logged by clean energy and advanced technology vehicles, still has a relatively small fleet percentage wise. The reasons are both economic and technological for the entire industry.

Rather, shippers need to evaluate companies more broadly to encompass how the logistics provider is using and organizing their resources to maximize efficiency across the operation. Deploying green trucks alone is not enough.  A logistics provider must use its vehicles, hybrid or conventional, in a broader context, if it wants to be a sustainable network. That means lowering the miles each vehicle drives; reducing engine idling, and making sure the vehicles are loaded to lower the number of net vehicles on the road. The benefit to a business will be a reduced carbon footprint in their shipping operations.

With this in mind, let’s start evaluating what being green and reducing the carbon footprint means not just on one green vehicle launch but in terms of real progress, testing and movement towards holistic efficiency. There is no one answer, but through multiple options and rigorous testing it is possible to make real progress in reducing the carbon footprint of shipping.

About The Author

Mike Britt

Mike Britt is UPS’ Director of Vehicle Engineering.