The Call of the Open Road: Adventure, Opportunity, & Guilt
By Joe Carpenter, Director of Sustainability
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is in part the story of a man and his son exploring the United States by motorcycle. Their adventures on the open road struck a chord in me, and I found myself mulling over their story long after I finished the book.
I’ve spent a lot of time traveling around this country; albeit, not by motorcycle. The most extreme case was when I was in my late 20’s. I started a solo road trip in Washington State, where I had been stationed at Ft. Lewis. I drove down the West Coast to San Diego, then across the southern part of the country through Texas, Tennessee, and into Florida. From there I made my way up the east coast until I reached my final destination in Connecticut.
During this trip I stopped at various points visiting people and checking out new areas. I felt like a road warrior – there was this sense of adventure that came from covering large distances. There is so much to see and experience in life and due to modern modes of travel people can really get to see a lot of it.
At the time, I didn’t think twice about jumping into a car or plane and going. Since the trip, however, I have gained a lot of knowledge and perspective regarding sustainability and subsequently find that I’m not as adventurous in that way anymore. At a certain point I feel guilty about all the greenhouse gases (GHG) and other pollutants that I’m producing through travel. So, I ask the question: can I maintain the benefits that modern forms of transportation offer while reducing or eliminating the negative associated impact? And more importantly for the sake of this article, how does this apply to a business?
Situational Awareness and the “Why”
According to the US EPA the transportation sector accounted for 27% of the United States’ national GHG emissions total in 2015. This total is a mixture of different types of vehicles including individual passenger cars, but commercial transportation is a significant portion of the total. Any time an employee travels to work, travels on company business, mails a letter, or ships out a product, your business is creating GHG emissions via transportation.
Can you accurately describe how much transportation your value chain utilizes? Like the other components to a business I’ve discussed in previous Sustainability Conversations – energy, waste, and water – doing a process or value stream mapping exercise can help you to determine how transportation plays into your businesses GHG emissions.
You may not be able to determine with pinpoint accuracy every detail, but for most that is really not the point. The aim is to get a general sense for areas of improvement and to be able to benchmark improvements for any changes made thereafter. For our member businesses, we also offer a web-based program called bSPaRK that calculates GHG emissions produced by the business – enabling them to more effectively see and track areas for improvement in the context of their carbon footprint.
Like any waste reduction or efficiency improvement exercise, there is the potential to save money for the business. It would be hard to justify taking a “sustainable” action without it making fiscal sense as well. I find it critical to stress that looking at a business’s transportation requirements from a carbon (and environmental) standpoint does not detract from the need to validate the fiscal or social impacts as well.
While I don’t advocate you feel guilty like I do about my personal travel, looking at the transportation component of your business will give you better situational awareness as to opportunities and risks associated with climate change. Here at CABA we aim to help our member businesses take targeted action on climate change and prepare them for the transition to a carbon-free economy. We like to highlight both the benefits and challenges in doing this, and subsequently help you understand more fully why they are, or are not, important to you and your business.
What can your business do?
Once you have mapped out how carbon emissions are generated in your value chain you can begin to take action. There are a number of options out there, but here are some general suggestions for your consideration:
- Switch company vehicles over to either hybrids or electric vehicles. Take advantage of any rebates or tax credits available to mitigate the large capital expenditure. Don’t feel as though you need to do it all at once – you can make the transition as your old vehicles become obsolete.
- Optimize your delivery routes. The classic example of this is UPS having their own navigation system that minimizes left turns. You don’t need to go that far, but think about how you can more effectively schedule any driving you do as a company.
- Hold more meetings via phone or a video conference platform. Although I do believe in the need for face-to-face meetings, sometimes a simple conference call will do the trick.
- Provide incentives to employees to take public transportation or carpool to work. An incentive might be something like paying part or all of their monthly public transportation pass or giving people who carpool dedicated parking spaces at the business.
- Work with your logistics/service companies to optimize the number of inbound and outbound shipments to your location. These companies are getting more sophisticated in the way they service you because it costs them money to visit your location multiple times.
- Work with organizations that advocate for better policies, regulations and laws surrounding transportation – i.e fuel efficiency, electric vehicles, etc.
Your business’s transportation needs may not be as alluring as the call to the “open road” for me, but an effective and efficient transportation network is certainly far more vital to your business. Modern day modes of transportation have opened up new markets, allowed for access to previously unavailable resources, better coordination, and all in a much more expedient way. However, they currently come with a cost. How can your business take advantage of the benefits they create, but at the same time divest yourself from the negative aspects? Currently, there is no perfect solution to this, but taking the time to make some informed changes will go a long way.
About the author: Joe Carpenter is the Director of Operations and Sustainability at CABA. Previously, he served as an Officer in the U.S. Army for nearly 10 years, including three combat deployments, and working for a small manufacturing company in a number of capacities. Joe graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree in Management and from Harvard University Extension School with a Master of Liberal Arts degree in Sustainability; among a myriad of other educational experiences. Joe enjoys spending time in nature, working out, playing video games, watching improv comedy shows, and trying to figure out how things can be “done better.”