"Our industry knows which choice makes the most sense."

There's still time to decide whether regulators will set the environmental agenda for years to come, or if we as an industry will chart our own course - one that's focused on greater environmental care in every aspect of our operations. While the ultimate path we take is yet to be determined, one fact is certain: Suppliers and customers alike will devote a great amount of time and resources to environmental issues in the years ahead.

There is no doubt that as an industry we have greatly reduced the detrimental effects freight transportation has on the world around us. Today's diesel engines are 80% cleaner than their predecessors of ten years ago. Leaking underground storage tanks have been replaced. Stormwater run-off is being contained and treated.

The progress we have made is commendable, despite how costly it was to implement the systems or facility upgrades. But these advances and others were driven by government intervention. The task ahead is immense and complex. We understand the many ways a heavy-duty truck affects our environment.

Ten percent of a truck's effect on the environment comes about when it is manufactured. Eighty percent of its effect takes place during its operation hauling freight. And the final effects come about when it is scrapped.

Vehicle manufacturers must work more closely with fleet owners to address every phase of the life cycle. It starts with the design and development of new materials, alternative fuels, and alternative powertrains, and continues through to the recycling of the entire vehicle at the end of its useful life.

Just as we have banned toxic substances from our manufacturing processes, we must also work with customers to identify - and do away with - similar products used when a truck is in service. Our manufacturing facilities must further reduce the use of natural resources and the effects on the local area. And we must continually maintain a balance between the growing requirements of customers and the basic requirements of our planet.

Will a proactive approach to environmental care drive vehicle costs up? Yes, but the ultimate price will be lower than the cost of mandatory compliance with government-imposed rules and regulations. A look back at FMVSS-121 should be enough to convince us of that.

Our industry knows which choice makes the most sense, both morally and economically. We're no strangers to dealing with difficult issues. We also know that those companies that dedicate resources to meet the environmental challenge head-on will have a definite competitive advantage in the decades ahead. That story's been told in other industries, and we would be wise to learn from their experience.

In a recent address at the ATA Environmental Excellence Awards luncheon, Dr. Gerald Kauvur, U.S. Air Force principal deputy assistant secretary for installation and environment, put it into perspective. According to ATA's figures, he said, approximately $2,200 per truck is spent annually on compliance with governmental environmental regulations. That equates to the average net profit per truck after taxes. So, in essence, every dollar saved by reducing environmental costs could go directly to the bottom line.

The truck of tomorrow will be more environmentally friendly. The regulators will see to it if we don't. Today, however, we have the opportunity to get ahead of the environmental curve and stay there.

It's smart business. And it's also our responsibility.