Sharing: How Lessons Learned in Kindergarten Apply to Freight Transportation

Sharing freight information can help build relationships with others.

Sharing freight information can help build relationships with others.

Leaders in the freight transportation industry may not realize it, but they probably learned an invaluable lesson for success when they were in kindergarten: learning to share is important.

After all, the interconnected world we live in today requires businesses to be accountable not only to shareholders and customers, but to other partners in the supply chain and to the communities living nearby. Whether disclosing the impacts to human health and the environment associated with goods movement, or implementing solutions to mitigate those impacts, sharing information can help build relationships with others, benefiting the overall supply chain.

Benefits of sharing freight information

There are several reasons proactive companies have taken initiative to share information about their environmental performance (and their efforts to improve it!). For example, the air quality of communities located near goods movement facilities can be affected by emissions from ships, trucks, locomotives, and equipment that move freight. Here in Texas, we have 18 ports dotting the Gulf Coast, requiring a vast transport network to move freight to and from these ports, with more than half located in areas that don’t meet health-based standards for ozone. Or, customers and other stakeholders may want assurances on the sustainability of the supply chain delivering consumer products.

When companies are transparent with this information, they can see various benefits, like improved bottom line performance from increased market share or a reduced cost of doing business. For example, communities that are satisfied with a good neighbor company may not oppose permit renewals or facility expansion.

How environmental performance programs can play a role

In recent years, several formal-but-voluntary disclosure programs have emerged to help the freight industry achieve environmental goals and provide a platform to share information. In support, EDF provides strategy ideas in resources like our Green Freight Handbook and a soon-to-be released clean air resource guide that will profile emissions reduction technologies and strategies at ports and terminals. We feel the critical elements of any voluntary program should include:

  • Providing an overall framework for thinking about environmental performance
  • Identifying the relevant metrics for operational and environmental goals
  • Measuring performance initially and at regular intervals to track improvement
  • Sharing the results (and the process to get there) with communities, industry partners, and customers

One of the most well-known of these programs is the EPA SmartWay partnership program. It has helped more than 3,000 organizations modify operations to keep more than 60 million tons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, all while conserving 144 million barrels of oil and saving more than $20 million dollars. Performance data for SmartWay partners is shared publically. EDF has long been a champion of SmartWay, and we’re especially proud of the nearly 200 SmartWay partners that call Texas home.

Other programs that have gained traction in recent years target specific sectors of the freight industry, like the maritime sector. For example, I recently participated in the Green Marine GreenTech conference, where port authorities, terminals, ship owners, and other maritime industry professionals met to discuss how to improve the sustainability of marine transportation. Green Marine is an interesting program because participants self-report their performance across a number of environmental categories, then work with a third-party verifier to assess the company’s processes to achieve the reported performance. The annual meeting provides a forum for knowledge sharing, including lessons learned and best practices, as well as for sharing the annual environmental performance report for all members. A number of U.S. ports have joined the program, including ones EDF has been engaged with on various projects like the Port of Seattle, Port Everglades, and the Port of New Orleans. For years, EDF has encouraged ports and terminals to use environmental metrics to drive improvements in air quality, so we are happy to see progress toward achieving healthy air near these types of facilities.

Sharing information vs. sharing the results

For companies considering a more proactive information sharing policy, we encourage them to remember there is an important distinction between sharing information and simply sharing results. On one end of the spectrum, some companies only share results – the outputs of their efforts. But on the other end, companies are pulling back the curtain to provide not just results, but valuable information –transparency on their goals, the processes employed to reach them, and their results, all explained within appropriate contexts.

I would argue those companies willing to share not just their results, but in-depth information about their efforts, will establish credibility with external stakeholders faster.

EDF encourages those in the freight industry who are making environmental performance a priority to keep up the good work, and for those who are not yet taking those steps, to make the commitment to do so. And remember to share your progress with all of us!

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