“Green and sustainable logistics” – Oh, what a mind-numbing complexity of new terms, statistics, opinions, inputs, erroneous information and conflicting data along with bottom-line, way-of-life-changing ramifications. The sheer magnitude of this all-encompassing subject is both staggering in scope and impact on the way business will be done in the future.

What is “green”? How many shades of green are there and who determines just how green your logistics operations are? How green must they be to be certified as sustainable and who makes that determination? In some instances, large retailers are already pushing their suppliers to achieve “green manufacturing, packaging and logistics sustainability” for the retailer’s own consumer relations benefit.

Looking a bit farther down the road one can only hope and pray that Congress or the White House don’t become the ones making the green determinations and setting green standards, while also wondering why your industry leaders are not working through IDFA to develop industry guidelines and recommended policy regarding the achievement of a “certified green and sustainable logistics” status and roadmap for dairy and ice cream companies.

“Carbon footprint” measurement, footprint reduction, GHG emissions (greenhouse gases, don’t you know?), CO2 emissions measurement and reduction, last-mile “carbon auditing” – the operational cost impact in manpower, technology, increased knowledge base, measurement, management, mitigation and reporting of these and a host of additional criteria will be overwhelming for the average company.

As I see it, many if not most of these new “green” goals, measurements and standards are still in what I call the “just accept what we tell you because we think these are important, we think these are correct” stage. They really can’t know for certain because there are no proven long-term causal or impact records.

For example, a June 2009 report on the “Measurement of CO2 Emissions from Road Freight Transport in the UK” by Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh stated that in the spring 2008, “the estimated growth of CO2 emissions from HGV (heavy goods vehicles) in the UK between 1990 and 2004-05 was revised downward from 30% to 10%.” So, 14 or 15 years worth of decisions, investments and planning were based on inflated and false premises.

So amid all the “global warming” hue and cry, what is the dairy and ice cream industry to do? As I’ve said many times before – back to fleet and logistics operations basics. Forget about the big picture.

It’s imperative that you start by defining exactly what your company’s current annual baseline is for your current finished product transport and delivery operations. By that I mean define and verify annual physical volumes (gallons, dozens, cases) of product transported or delivered along with gallons of fuel used, miles driven, deliveries made. Such an ongoing daily/weekly/monthly/annual data base will enable you to continually measure units of fuel (energy) used per gallon, dozen or case of product delivered.

Second, plan on adding the same information capture from your inbound raw milk pickup and transport. Third will be to ask for similar energy-per-unit delivered from your packaging, ingredient and third-party finished products (for example, byproducts or ice cream novelty items) suppliers.

I see “green sustainable logistics” in the simplest terms as using less energy (which also means fewer emissions) to deliver finished products to a retail point of purchase while retaining enough profit margin to keep the doors open.

So, you must first identify and carefully define where you are today in a manner that can readily be tracked for current status and measured for progress. Then you begin the search for how to improve performance – back to basics. You start with the low-hanging fruit. My first question would be, are you using a routing system for transportation and delivery operations? If not, that’s probably where to start the process of reducing fuel used per unit delivered.

Eliminate all unnecessary idling in your transport and delivery operations. Begin the migration of your fleets to new unit purchases of clean diesel hybrids and natural gas conversions for select existing units.

While these are merely beginning steps, they represent significant steps to reducing both energy used and emissions generated.