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Partnership Between Environmental Defense Fund and FedEx Continues to Bear Low-Emission Fruit

Posted Sep 22 2008 10:21am

New Approaches to Old Problems

Nearly a decade has passed since the Environmental Defense Fund, one of my favorite American charities, began its broad effort to reform the courier and freight industry. Contributing significantly to air pollution, smog and global warming, the hundreds of thousands of vehicles in use every day around the world to deliver goods on demand constitute a superb opportunity to engage the problem head on and collaborate with the courier and shipping services to help them improve their bottom lines and embrace sustainability at the same time.

While United Parcel Service, UPS, has engaged in its own laudable innovations with respect to hybrid-electric delivery vans, hydrogen fuel and enhanced route planning to reduce engine idling, Federal Express, FedEx, has been the true leader.

Roughly 5 years ago, FedEx agreed to a revolutionary partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund with a very simple goal: prove that hybrid-electric engines can work in the heavy-duty, stop-and-go daily operations of a typical FedEx delivery van just as well as dirty old diesel systems which FedEx uses every day. To call the initiative a success is an understatement!

Having surpassed the impressive milestone of 2 million miles traveled, the FedEx hybrid-electric operating model has proved itself day after day and the shipping leader is on track to have 170 of the rugged yet low-emission vehicles on the road by the end of this calendar year, operating in more than a dozen North American cities with a parallel program in western Europe ramping up.

I commend the leadership of FedEx for having an open mind about low-emission delivery vehicles at a time when petroleum diesel fuel cost less than $2 per gallon but this success story hardly ends with the impressive achievements of 2008. You see, the personnel structure of FedEx is tightly integrated. It is one of the reasons that the company consistently wins awards as one of the most admired employers in the world.

When delivery drivers who participated in the proving process for the hybrid-electric vans learned that they wouldn’t have to change their daily practices one iota yet would consume roughly half the volume of fuel per day that they had on the standard vehicle, they rejoiced and sent a clear message up through the management chain that they wanted to see FedEx embrace low-emission business practices wherever possible.

People Power Impresses Corporate Power Structure

The clamoring from the labor base of the company for a greater corporate posture toward environmental sustainability has led not only to the expansion of the hybrid-electric delivery van fleet but two other key innovations as well.

That’s right. FedEx is on track not only to have well over 100 diesel-electric delivery vans on the road but the shipping leader also has begun an important initiative to utilize hybrid-electric gasoline vehicles in North America. Long considered standard in Europe, the inclusion of a specially-designed hybrid gas model for the North American marketplace will give FedEx another distinction and competitive edge. For this reason, when I need to ship documents and parcels of high importance, FedEx is the only service I use.

Reducing fuel consumption, while vital, is only one side of the savings which FedEx has embraced. It also is a leader in covering the rooftop of no fewer than two of its freight sorting facilities with photovoltaic arrays. Oh yes, FedEx now has the largest corporate installation of solar generating capacity in the state of California with no plans to stop there.

Naturally, if we really wish to stave off the worst impacts of global warming, everyone must pitch in and do more. FedEx and its rivals have a long way to go. Nevertheless, the year 2008 has shown that it not only is possible but profitable for leading service providers from around the world to go green and as a consumer of such services, you can help commend companies such as FedEx for acting responsibly by voting with your wallet. I do and exhort you to follow my lead.

Fomenting the Triple Bottom Line

Corbett Kroehler

 

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