I’m no “tree hugger,” nor a believer of impending climatic disaster.

Indeed, I have major doubts about many of Mr. Gore’s “the sky is falling” pronouncements. But we can most certainly reduce long-known harmful emissions as we improve logistics efficiency.

Currently, in most instances, those reductions can be achieved with better logistics management techniques, tools and decisions. Logistics practices and methods that improve productivity, operating efficiency, customer service and profitability while also generating positive environmental contributions as a byproduct are truly what get me excited. Remember the message in the old standard: accentuate the positive!

Sustainable logistics in total are mindful of a million-piece jigsaw puzzle in which the parts are in a continuous state of change. Indeed, there will never be a final static puzzle in place. However, if we concentrate on continually improving those individual parts of the logistical process, there will be constant and ongoing bottom-line contributions as well as byproduct environmental contributions, which add up to sustainable operations in the future.

In order to reach a future point where it can be documented that your logistics operations are sustainable well into the future, you must start with an operating data base that can capture a level of performance detail that can clearly tell you in great detail where you are today. HEB’s dairy fleet’s data base, which shows how by changing to a certain tractor steering axle tread pattern the entire tractor fleet’s fuel mileage can be raised by .2 mpg, is an excellent example of what I mean.

As for those million pieces, let’s look at just one small piece: fleet tire management. It starts with the correct tire for the application, be it over-the-road, long-haul steering or drive axles or trailers, or local delivery route truck steering and drive axle applications. This is actually the easy part, and most dairy and ice cream fleets get this done fairly well.

However, the hard part is when it comes to operating practices, such as continuously maintaining proper tire-inflation levels, and proactively managing tire-wear patterns, as they occur, in 100% of the fleet over the life of the tires. Traditionally, most U.S. dairy and ice cream fleets probably retread original tires once, moving them from steer axles to drive axle locations. Fleets with good tire management programs can plan to do a second cap on most carcasses, moving the second recap to a delivery route truck drive axle or delivery route trailer position. 

However, a “sustainable” tire management program as commonly done in Europe for many years requires a level of in-depth and consistent operating data capture and tire management considerably beyond most current U.S. dairy fleet practices. Tires are tracked by position (left tractor steer axle, inside right dual drive axle, etc.) by miles in each position, by tread wear patterns in each position, number of tire failures and causes, and documentation of scheduled inflation checks. Based on wear patterns, tractor and truck front ends are aligned and tires balanced as needed, and trailer tandems are also aligned as needed.

The objective of this enhanced level of fleet tire management is to maintain the original tire carcass in such a condition that, after two recaps, the carcass can still be returned to the original tire manufacturer who will actually remanufacture the original carcass, returning it to a new tire equivalent condition. These “new tires” are restarted in the original steering axle position and eventually repeat the two additional recaps as well.  The cost of the remanufactured new tire will be less than 60% of the original tire cost. 

Most dairy fleets tire carcass life cycle patterns are original position plus one or two recaps and positions. This enhanced level of tire management, which enables an original carcass through two normal tire carcass life cycles of six positions a remanufacture and four recaps, reduces new tire purchases by approximately 50%.

Enhanced fleet tire management won’t just reduce manufacturing resources used along with operating costs and improve performance. It is also clearly another vital building block in a sustainable logistics program.