Everyone is in favor of clean air, clean water and a healthy environment, at least in theory. But when it comes to making changes that carry a price we have to pay, sometimes the reality isn't as appealing.

Accepting the need to change is the first step in learning to live with this new reality. Although it may not be widely acknowledged by the general public yet, trucking is well down that road to acceptance. Some of this change has been mandated — diesel engine emissions, for example. But much of it has been voluntary, part of a changing management perspective that sees green initiatives as potentially good for business as well as society.

Large corporations and smaller local businesses were among the first to realize that their trucking operations could play a highly visible role in helping them build a green image that would resonate with consumers.

While a manufacturer might make major environmental contributions by changing production processes to produce less waste while consuming less energy and water, those changes are largely invisible to the people buying their products. But put hybrid or alternative fueled trucks on the road, or fit your tractors and trailers with the latest aerodynamic designs, and you're advertising your green credentials to that general audience every time you deliver your products.

On the for-hire side, carriers know they're helping to rehabilitate trucking's image when the motoring public sees their trucks traveling at 62 mph to save fuel, or parked in rest stops with the engines shut down.

Some of the subtler changes may not be readily apparent to those outside the industry. Low-rolling resistance tires probably aren't something most people would recognize, nor would you expect the public to grant fleets environmental credibility for installing APUs, enforcing anti-idling rules, training drivers to conserve fuel, replacing older diesels with much cleaner new ones, switching to biodiesel blends, optimizing loads, and dozens of other green initiatives undertaken by fleets. What will impress the public, though, are the large numbers being rolled up by trucking when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and dangerous air pollutants.

So trucking has come a long way in a short time and is well on its way to becoming a great example of the environmental improvements that are possible when an industry is open to change. But before we get black and blue patting ourselves on the back, we need to take one more step, perhaps the most important one.

Now that fleets have launched a substantial number of green initiatives, it's time to take stock. You need to quantitatively measure their impact on your business, to objectively judge how each one is performing compared to initial expectations. Good intentions won't pay your bills, and unless you can find the business justification in your green efforts, you won't be able to maintain them for very long, no less expand them in the future. And that will benefit no one.

As one fleet about to adopt hybrid delivery trucks put it, “We have to be profitable, too. We're going to be as green as we can be and still sustain that effort. We don't want to be a one-hit wonder.”

E-mail: jmele@fleetowner.com

Web site: fleetowner.com