‘Green’ Factors in Transportation: Empty Miles and Unused Trailer Capacity

‘Green’ is all the rage. I see Green stickers on cars and homes, and eco-friendly logos on t-shirts and clothing. You can’t walk into a store these days without getting bombarded by Green messaging.

Fundamentally, the concept of Green has significant merit. We, as stewards of this planet, have an obligation to the generations to come to leave this planet the way we found it. When I was a kid, my father instilled in us that when you borrow or use something, you should return it in the same or better condition than when you received it. I believe we have to apply this same thinking towards our planet. The ability to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle allows us to maintain and save some of our natural and finite resources.

This is not just a concept to make us feel good about ourselves. It is one that has to have a purpose to drive more effective businesses results, especially in today’s business environment that has been so competitive and challenging over the past couple of years. The key is getting the attention of the CEO and the boardroom. A lot of companies talk about Corporate Responsibility and Green or Sustainability initiatives. But we all know that if there is no commitment from senior leadership and no potential return on investment, little action will be taken to drive change. Statistics show that the majority of companies in North America have taken some steps, large or small, towards becoming Greener. However, it needs to be more than just a blue recycling canister under our desks. More than 50 percent of the companies in our network, for example, have a Green initiative. Some have deployed resources dedicated to the exploration and implementation of new Green processes. Others have not and they have not seen results.

How can we, as transportation professionals, deploy Green concepts within our industry? What are the key attributes associated with being Green in transportation? 

As I looked at transportation, I was very skeptical of the Green buzz a few years back. As someone who’s been in the industry for 20 years and knows what it takes to get something done from a supply chain perspective, the concept seemed way too academic. I wrestled with the tangibility of the whole thing, until I started to think outside current logic.

When you look at the two major controllable factors in transportation, empty miles and unused trailer capacity, you’ll find that data and visibility creates an environment where we can affect the management of those factors. Therefore, how can we at LeanLogistics and our peers in the industry utilize our transportation networks to create an optimization capability that allows carriers, as well as private and dedicated fleets, to operate significantly more effectively by hyper-utilizing those assets across multiple shippers, enabling all parties to realize cost benefits through the elimination of empty miles? This is the question that drives our current Green initiatives.

This is just one example of how the industry can look at Green as a mechanism for positive change. Moving forward I suggest that if you are contemplating a Green initiative you should do the following:

  1. Select partners (carriers, 3PLs, technology providers, suppliers) that are focused in these areas to coincide with the adoption of new processes and policies.
  2. Make a resource commitment to ensure that there is a financial benefit associated with any changes made and continue to make the initiatives core to the business.
  3. Take a longer term look at the paybacks and consider that the leaders in your market will be the ones that can crack the environmental-friendly code.

I think it comes down to this: Becoming more environmentally conscious is an obligation that we have to the generations to come. How we get there really depends on current and future government requirements (legislative and regulatory actions) and the level of financial and resource investment companies will commit to the overall strategy.

Until environmental initiatives get the attention of the boardroom, it will be interesting to see how much more progress can be made.

Chris Timmer is the Senior Vice President Business Development, Strategy and Marketing at LeanLogistics. Chris is responsible for overall strategy, positioning and growth of the LeanLogistics solution. Chris has over 20 years of experience in transportation and logistics management. He regularly speaks at industry events and has been recognized as a leader in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution space. Prior to joining LeanLogistics, Chris held multiple positions with Third-Party Logistics companies, from transportation operations to Supply Chain Management, where he developed solutions for clients in the food products industry.


  1. This article is very relevant, in no time in history of freight has there been greater potential to not just do what we have always done better, but to do things differently with alternatives to standard diesel equipment. There are a coupe points that I take great exception to and feel it is highly relevant to share these counter points given the wide audience that reads these articles. I too was taught by my father to leave the campsite cleaner than it was when I found it. Not just the same condition, but better. The idea that we must wait until the board room “gets it” is analogous to waiting until my a parent understands that a cleaner campsite is better. It is our responsibility as managers to do the hard work of influencing the board room – to be early adopters, understand the risk and to drive the change. Why wait for their understanding? Although some companies are very forward thinking on supply chain, when has supply chain ever been a serious C-level priority in the face of greater strategic market issues? Also, simply doing what we have always done and claiming we are better at it is not enough. Green is really about an industry, it is about government subsidy of alternatives, it’s about a precariously aging and under-maintained national fleet, environmental regulation, creditors that are supporting irrational pricing behaviors and its impact on limited future equipment investment because of forbearance on credit and lease relationships. Simply driving out efficiencies with more continuous moves and better use of empty assets is as old as freight itself and frankly not enough in today’s environment.

    Matt Harding

  2. For some of the most innovative green techniques in supply chain, watch the LTL industry. Our business exists to eliminate supply chain waste by consolidating transportation demand and optimizing freight movement. We sometimes discuss the topic on the Con-way Freight True LTL Blog at http://www.trueltl.com/blog

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