In the conversations and interactions that I have with fleet professionals, it’s clear that the industry has a clear appreciation for the importance of improving the environmental impact of their operations. Great efforts have been made to reduce the criteria emissions from diesel trucks. More recently, the industry has been a strong partner in supporting significant progress in fuel efficiency.

This focus first and foremost on the industry’s direct environmental impact has been well placed and has led to significant progress. Increasingly, the industry is expanding its focus to include impacts of its supply chain too.

This trajectory is consistent with progress we have seen in other industries. Kellogg’s, Pepsi, Campbell Soup and General Mills all announced efforts to improve the agriculture practices used to grow some of their most critical products. Cargill pledged last fall to end deforestation across all the commodities in its supply chain.  Walmart, of course, was a trailblazer in supply chain sustainability when it committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 million tons. Trucking, too, is turning to its supply chain for further improvements.

The biggest source of impact in the trucking supply chain is in fuel production. Every fuel source takes resources to produce. As the market provides more unconventional sources of petroleum and diversifies our fuel stock, the impact of the supply chain becomes more important and more relevant.

Electric vehicles are a great example. Although there are no carbon emissions from the vehicle itself, that electricity has to come from somewhere, and that means, most often, power plants that burn fossil fuels. The source of that power matters to the environmental case for these vehicles.

Natural gas trucks, which have lower tailpipe greenhouse emissions than diesel trucks, also have a significant “upstream” footprint that impacts the overall environmental case for these vehicles.  Reducing this upstream impact is one reason why companies like Waste Management are seeking renewable gas to power its fleet.

For folks that want to learn more about the upstream impact of fuel, I recommend a recent report by the BSR Future of Fuels initiative. It highlights the material impacts of a wide range of transportation fuels. 

Improving the environmental performance of the trucking industry is a long-term journey. We’ve made great strides already. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as needed, we will need to increase the productivity of each move, use more efficient equipment, and, eventually, transition to lower-impact fuels.

My personal opinion is that the fuel nut is the most challenging to crack and it is a long-term proposition. Now is the time to start. And the first best step for moving to lower impact fuels is to understand the importance of their supply chain.