Oh the word games and buzzwords we seem unable to do without. In only a few short years, we’ve gone from “green logistics” to “sustainable logistics.”

Oh the word games and buzzwords we seem unable to do without. In only a few short years, we’ve gone from “green logistics” to “sustainable logistics.” Now, at the dawn of this new decade, it seems we are to strive for “greener logistics.” Greener than what? Don’t ask, because I’m not sure either.

I will share some of the things that will help your company meet, comply with and possibly exceed the logistical environmental challenges of both today and those to come. By the way, regardless of the latest buzzwords, I believe the term “sustainable distribution or logistics” is the best description of our goal. Economically sustainable distribution, logistics and manufacturing are part of the continuously changing bottom-line challenge that must be met for any dairy or ice cream company to be profitable. Also, please remember my mantra: In order to progress and ultimately excel, you must first capture (in measurable terms) what the levels of performance, productivity and consumption were when you started. No excuses, no exceptions.

Achieving and maintaining economically sustainable levels of performance in your distribution, fleet and logistics operations requires access to a wide range of information far beyond the dairy processing industry. Thankfully, in this era of instant worldwide information access, there is a host of resources available.

Reducing greenhouse gases

The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy (www.usdairy.com) should be a “check regularly/join/participate in” part of your resource list. In January 2009, the center announced a dairy industry voluntary goal to reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of a gallon of milk – from farm to retail – by 20% by 2020. The center also has been instrumental in the development, by the Applied Sustainability Center at the University of Arkansas, of a dairy industry “Fluid Milk Carbon Footprint Study.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay (www.epa.gov/smartwaylogistics/index.htm) for trucking fleets is becoming a much more useful and useable tool for dairy fleet specifications, purchasing, finance and operations. In August  2009, Fleet Owner magazine noted that the “E-Smart (Environmentally Sustainable Methods for Achieving Responsible Transportation) initiative launched by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy has become a clearinghouse of sorts for dairy fleets of all sizes to gather information about EPA’s SmartWay and other best practices to make their operations more environmentally sound.”

The “Fluid Milk Footprint Greenhouse Gas Emissions Report” calculated that distribution and transportation accounted for 3% of farm-to-retailer fluid milk GHG emissions. Fuel consumption was, by far, the primary component of that 3%.

As you become more familiar with the components of SmartWay, don’t overlook the use of SmartWay-certified truck and truck tractor components and tires, in particular. Low-rolling-resistance tires have already been tested and performance rated by the EPA.

Retrofitting your fleet

In order to meet sustainable performance goals, many of you (probably for the first time), will be looking to retrofit substantial numbers of your older fleet power units with EPA SmartWay-certified emissions reduction and idle-time reduction technology. This can be a significant step in improving both your bottom line numbers and GHG emissions performance. Don’t overlook the SmartWay clean diesel finance program. Be sure to educate your purchasing and finance people about the availability of these new components and programs.

However, as many of us have intuitively known all along, it’s now back to fleet and distribution-management basics, which may require the purchase and use of new fleet- and driver-management software and technology. Key fleet performance-improvement areas include tire-performance specs and an effective day-by-day tire inspection, maintenance and management program.

Driver-performance management on a consistent daily basis is absolutely mandatory. In order to accomplish and maintain an effective program, you might need to add onboard event recorders in some fleets. Regularly review your fleet’s truck, tractor, refrigerated body, trailer and refrigeration unit specifications and compare them with what is now available. For example, several refrigerated semi-trailer manufacturers have unveiled new add-on trailer side skirts that are said to improve fleet fuel performance by as much as 7% per tractor/semi-trailer unit. Those are indeed substantial reductions. Installed costs are believed to be well under $2,000 per trailer.

At the beginning of this new decade, fleet, distribution and logistics professionals have for the first time real dairy industry GHG emissions performance numbers to measure their companies’ performance. There is a host of new and emerging technologies and techniques to achieve meaningful GHG emissions reductions and sustainable logistics.

It appears dairy logistics management now has access to what it needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is possible to achieve (or exceed) the goal of reducing GHG emissions by 20% by 2020.