Fleets Share Progress, Frustrations on the Race to Cut Carbon Emissions

(L-R) Erik Neandross, Craig Harper, Matthew McLelland, Ari Silkey and Debbie Kalish discuss fleet efforts to reach net zero carbon emissions. Photo: GNA/ACT Expo

Fleets will ultimately bear the brunt of efforts to reduce trucking’s impact on the climate crisis. And at the third and final Roundtable Discussion at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo on May 11 in Long Beach, California, four fleets discussed how they’ve tackled the sustainability challenge — and the long road still ahead.

The moderator was Erik Neandross, CEO of Gladstein, Neandross & Associates, the green-transportation consulting company behind ACT Expo. The panel consisted of:

  • Craig Harper, chief sustainability office, J.B. Hunt
  • Ari Silkey, general manager, North American Surface Transportation, Amazon
  • Debbie Kalish, director enterprise sustainability and ESG Initiatives, American Tire Distributors
  • Matt McLelland, vice president, sustainability and innovation, Covenant Logistics

Fleet Sustainability Efforts So Far

“J.B.

Hunt has always been a very efficient company where efficiency and sustainability live together,” Harper said. “We’ve always looked for ways to do more work with fewer trucks. And being able to maximize the fuel mileage from every gallon of diesel was critical to that mission.” Building on its early efforts on sustainability, J.B.

Hunt moved into intermodal — a move which Harper said help reduced the carrier’s emissions by 60%. “Today, we are looking at technology across the board,” he said. “Our J.B. Hunt 360 digital platform matches loads of customers with the capacity of carriers nationwide and has helped fleets run 6 million fewer empty miles since 2020.”

Fleets Share Progress, Frustrations on the Race to Cut Carbon Emissions

“And I get both excited and impatient wondering when the OEMs are going to let us get our hands on a new truck.” — J.B.

Hunt’s Craig Harper Photo: GNA/ACT Expo

Amazon’s Silkey, saying it was his first time at ACT Expo, called out the “exciting energy” on the show floor. “We strongly got behind our climate pledge in 2019 based on the science we saw emerging to reduce greenhouse gases,” he said. “We are now focused on the equipment side of that challenge.

My role in the middle mile surface transportation group is to work aggressively to reduce our carbon footprint. But there is a lot of complexity to drive the technology we need to scale. We don’t have that figured out yet.”

American Tire Distributors hired private consultants to assess the company’s carbon footprint and help determine where it needed to be. “The first step is making your team accountable for reducing emissions,” she said. “We want to lower emissions. But this is going to be a big area of change for us.

We are now using biofuels, and we are looking at a move to battery-electric vehicles. And I’m excited about hydrogen, but I recognize that we still need the technology to support it as a fuel.”

Fleets Share Progress, Frustrations on the Race to Cut Carbon Emissions

“You need to be clear on what your stakeholders are looking for.

If they say GHG is important — it is.” — American Tire Distributors’ Debbie Kalish. Photo: GNA/ACT Expo

“You have to keep expectations real and have a glide path to your goal,” Silkey added. “Today, 50% of Amazon’s operations are at zero carbon — including packaging materials and manufacturing. We were able to do that in eight short years.

So there’s work to be done moving toward our 2040 goal, but I like our path.” J.B. Hunt set a goal to improve its overall fleet fuel mpg average to 19 mph by 2025 — and it’s already surpassed that goal, Harper said. “And we’re planning to have 25% of Hunt’s straight truck fleet being BEVs by 2025.

So I’m hoping the infrastructure we need, and the new trucks we see at this show, come on line much faster than anticipated. There are still a lot of questions out there. But we want to get there as fast as we can.”

Covenant’s McLelland said he spoke to a group recently and asked everyone in the audience what the working definition of sustainability is — and no one knew. “So there is confusion out there,” he said. “But consulting companies can help you figure out where you are, and where you need to go.” Currently, he said, Covenant feels it is premature to set a formal carbon initiative in place. “But we have goals,” he added. “We are working on idle reduction and plan to have a certain percentage of autonomous trucks in our fleet that are autonomous in the future.”




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