Issue: We're doing a lot to protect the environment, but the news is full of stories about industry-related pollution. What can we do to get credit for our efforts?

Public opinion polls show that Americans are increasingly concerned about the quality of the environment. At the same time, focus groups indicate that the public questions the trucking industry's commitment to the environment. Clearly, we're not getting our message across.

In reality, trucking has much to be proud of in terms of its efforts to preserve the environment. For example, fleets around the country have made significant financial investments to upgrade their facilities so that the pollution associated with stormwater runoff can be eliminated. And the industry's commitment to cleaner-burning engines and fuel has resulted in trucks that emit 90% less particulates than those produced in 1987. As the second-largest user of retreaded tires - about one million a year - truck fleets save valuable petroleum and energy resources. In addition, pollution prevention efforts have significantly lowered the amount of hazardous waste generated by fleet maintenance operations.

Across the country, fleets are working harder than ever not only to meet federal, state, and local regulations, but to go the extra mile to protect the environment. We need to start telling people about our efforts as an industry, both in our companies and in our communities. We need to define ourselves as a proactive, environmentally responsible industry that takes initiatives beyond basic compliance.

To recognize and publicize the industry's environmental achievements, the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) and Safety-Kleen Corp. established the Environmental Excellence in Trucking Award Program last year. By recognizing outstanding initiatives in trucking operations of all sizes, the program emphasizes the industry-wide commitment to environmental quality.

In 1998, 17 employees in 6 different companies were recognized for their innovative, cost-effective environmental protection initiatives:

* Five employees from Federal Express Corp. were honored for the development and implementation of an aggressive recycling program that diverted more than 6-million lb. of material from the waste stream. By recycling this waste, Federal Express saves over $9-million a year.

* Employees at Allied Systems' Norfolk terminal were recognized for the installation of a state-of-the art truck washing facility. A fully contained system, the new facility not only removes all oil and grease from the washwater, but uses biodegradable soaps in place of harsh chemicals.

* At Baltimore Gas and Electric, employees developed a business plan that focuses on environmental efforts in the Fleet Services Dept. By recycling electrical equipment, the shop saves about $1.4-million per year. In addition, recycling used oil has had a significant impact on disposal costs, which fell from $35,000 in 1991 to only $1,500 in 1997.

* Employees at Cenex Harvest States were honored for the development of a proactive program for the prevention of petroleum fuel spills at customer sites. By installing end-user fuel-level monitoring systems and GPS routing data, fuel handling is minimized, thereby decreasing the potential for spills and saving the company money.

* National Truck Leasing System employees were recognized for the development of a comprehensive environmental certification program called Greenshop, which emphasizes awareness of environmental issues. The company estimates that the Greenshop retread tire-buying program has conserved 3.3-million gallons of oil since 1995.

* In designing its Willington, Conn., terminal, RPS dedicated 59 acres to the town of Willington as a permanent wildlife habitat. RPS employees were recognized for their efforts in developing a wildlife management plan and recruiting students from the community to monitor the wildlife areas.

Winners and finalists were honored because they looked beyond basic government compliance requirements and developed innovative ways to reduce the use of our nation's natural resources, and at the same time improve operating efficiencies.

So the next time someone asks you about trucking's environmental efforts, tell them about one of these programs. Or better yet, let them know what your company is doing. It's time we stood up and took credit for delivering the nation's freight in an environmentally responsible manner.

To obtain an application for the 1999 Environmental Excellence in Trucking Award, call the ATA's Dept. of Environmental Affairs at 703-838-1786. Deadline is June 1. More information about the program is also available on the ATA Web site at www.truckline. com/infocenter/topics/environ.