Eliminating air pollution – 50th years of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Sustainability • Published on July 7, 2020
Fifty years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established with a mission to protect human health and the environment. It works to ensure Americans have clean air, land, and water; reduce environmental risks; pass federal protection laws; maintain environmental stewardship integral to US policies concerning natural resources, human health, economic growth, energy transportation, agriculture, industry and international trade; and so much more.
As we all know, the freight industry has a significant impact upon the environment and we wanted to learn more about what the EPA is doing to make progress in reducing carbon emissions. Cheryl Bynum, Senior National Program Director, SmartWay at the EPA, participated in our video series The Business of Carbon Emissions, to share with us exactly what the EPA is doing to reduce air pollution from transportation.
To help us take a deeper dive into the EPA, and more specifically, its groundbreaking SmartWay Program, we wanted to learn more from Cheryl about the following:
- What is the EPA doing to reduce air pollution from transportation?
- What is the SmartWay Program and how is it helping reduce the carbon footprint for businesses which participate?
- How are businesses able to achieve a reduction of air pollution when they are part of SmartWay?
- How did the SmartWay Program start?
- Which achievements and milestones is the EPA most proud of?
- Why do businesses join SmartWay and what are they getting out of it?
- What kind of technologies and strategies are your partners using to improve efficiency and reduce carbon emissions?
- Is there a place on the EPA or SmartWay website where businesses can learn more about some of the SmartWay strategies?
- Key trends for this year and beyond that might help the freight industry continue to improve freight sustainability?
Cheryl provides insights as to how the EPA cut about 70% of air emissions since it began in 1970, and, more specifically, how SmartWay has helped the supply chain. She also provides a peek at key trends for the future which may help the freight industry continue to improve sustainability.
Watch the video or read the transcription below
Jennifer Wong: Hi everyone. My name is Jennifer. I lead sustainability at Convoy. This is our business of carbon emissions interview series where we’re interviewing business leaders to highlight stories, research, and innovations to show that reducing carbons is not only good for the environment but also good for business. Today we have Cheryl Bynum, senior national program manager for the Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay program where she directs the US government’s partnerships to innovate the freight industry. Welcome Cheryl.
Cheryl Bynum: Thank you. Thank you so much, Jennifer.
Jennifer: And to kick things off, I did want to say just congratulations. I know that this is the 50th year anniversary for the Environmental Protection Agency.
Can you share what the EPA is doing to reduce air pollution from transportation?
Cheryl: The EPA has a large initiative program, like I mentioned, it’s kind of got three parts. One part are our national emission standards or new vehicle center fuels. A second part are our incentive programs where we help fund clean diesel projects like through our National Diesel Emissions Reduction Act Program. And the third is our partnerships like our ports initiation and SmartWay. And these efforts together [2:00] have cut since the EPA started in 1970, about 70% of air emissions.
Jennifer: That’s really amazing, and I know that you’re leading the SmartWay program under the EPA and Convoy has been a partner within that program for about five years now since the very beginning of our business. I think early on we recognized that it’s an important partnership that we want to invest in to be able to align to our mission of reducing waste or eliminating waste completely in the freight industry. So, I guess the first question was what is the EPA doing to reduce air pollution from transportation? And the second question is around explaining the SmartWay program and how it helps reduce the carbon footprint for businesses that participate.
Cheryl: SmartWay is market and data driven. And its goal is to help businesses move freight more sustainably. And the companies that participate commit to assess and track their emissions and their fuel use so they can improve their environmental performance over time.
Jennifer: And how does that work? Can you explain more on the mechanisms of how businesses are able to achieve that reduction of air pollution when they’re part of the program?
Cheryl: EPA collects SmartWay partner data annually and then we quality check it. And then we publish the information in the form of performance ranges that are specific to a type of shipping. For example, refrigerated carriers versus flatbed carriers. And we do it that way because different technologies and strategies save different amounts of fuels based on the application. So, it’s kind of apples to apples and plus, that’s really how shippers procure their freight, they have different shipping needs. And then the companies that ship or receive freight can use these carrier environmental performance scores to select the greener carriers. And these [4:00] are really carriers that have invested in cleaner technologies or strategies to help themselves become more sustainable. And when shippers select those carriers, they’re able to reduce their own carbon footprint and improve the efficiency and the sustainability of their freight supply chains. And then once companies benchmark themselves, they work with SmartWay to help improve their environmental performance over time.
Jennifer: I think that benchmarking is so critical. I think a lot of businesses today, they just don’t know how well they’re reporting. So that visibility and data collection is so critical to be able to make progress. And I know that the EPA has been around for 50 years, and the SmartWay program has been one of the most engaged programs under the agency. I think it’s about 17 years now. Could you share more about the SmartWay program started?
Cheryl: We started in 2004 and we actually started with 15, what we call charter partners, and these included the American Trucking Association. And at that time, the trucking industry itself and some of their very best customers really wanted to bolster the public image of trucking. They were also concerned about protecting the health of, say, their drivers and other freight workers. And of course, for EPA’s part we were very interested in achieving clean air for folks to breathe, for families. And so today, from those 15 charter partners, we own over 3,700 companies across the U.S. and Canada. And we’re actually a role model for other pilot efforts that have started up in Mexico and in Asia, and even in Latin America.
Jennifer: That’s really incredible and I know that there has been a lot of big achievements and milestones for the SmartWay program. Could you maybe share just a couple of the highlights that you’re most proud of?
Cheryl: Well, [6:00] I’d have to say SmartWay’s largest achievements have really been those emission reductions and the fuel savings that our partners have achieved. Since SmartWay started, our SmartWay partners have conserved over 280 million barrels of oil and in doing so, the ugly oxides of nitrogen that contribute to smog or particulate, and carbon dioxide, which you know, is a significant greenhouse gas. These emissions and air pollutants really help protect the environment and they keep Americans healthy. So, in addition to those clean air benefits, the program has also spurred the adoption of advanced technologies and strategies through the technical assistance, the training, the education, and outreach that we offer to businesses.
Jennifer: That’s pretty incredible. And why do businesses join SmartWay? What are they getting out of it? Because I think one that that we ant to bring awareness to is that reducing carbon emissions is not only good for the environment, but its’ also god for business as well.
Cheryl: That’s true. And you know, each business really does have its own sustainability story. But some of the things that businesses have told us is that SmartWay fills a data gap because it really gives companies a way to exchange environmental performance information in a way that they feel is credible and trustworthy. Another thing we’ve heard from our partners is that it actually helps improve relationships between carriers and shippers. Because when you have that increased visibility, the carrier and the shipper can each understand, appreciate, and support one another’s transportation needs and goals. Another thing that we found out is that SmartWay helps companies include freight transportation in their corporate sustainability reporting. And this is really important because it helps demonstrate their commitment to [8:00] sustainability with their customers, with their investors, and even with their own employees. And then we’ve also learned that customers of ours, partners, really appreciate the information that SmartWay provides. We sort of serve as a clearing house for information, and also through webinars and events like this one. We provide peer to peer learning opportunities. So, our partners appreciate that. Another thing that we’ve been told by our partners is that there’s a lot of global reporting platforms out there and SmartWay works really hard to align ourselves with these global partners, so our partners appreciate that because it helps reduce duplication, and it really streamlines the reporting efforts. And I think one of the most attractive features of SmartWay is that it generates positive attention for companies that are really trying to do the right thing. The SmartWay scores, the high performers list, our annual excellence award, these all bring visibility to the sustainability efforts that companies are making
Jennifer: That’s really fantastic. And one question that I have to ask because, Convoy, we are a kind of technology company introducing innovation into the freight industry. Could you share what kinds of technologies and strategies your partners are using to improve efficiency and reduce carbon emissions?
Cheryl: So, carriers, for example, can use SmartWay verified technologies and products to help understand which products and devices provide the most fuel savings and emission reductions. And the kind of technologies and products that we verify include aerodynamic devices for tractors, and for trailers, more fuel-efficient tires and retreaded tire products, emission control devices, idle reduction devices. [10:00] We even have SmartWay designation for tractor and trailer models that are the most fuel efficient of their product type. And then shippers and carriers can benefit from adopting greener practices like logistics management, assess and track operation miles from the road and at distribution facilities. And together, these efforts can help cut unnecessary miles from the supply chain, which is actually one of the very most efficient ways to reduce fuel consumption, cut carbon emissions, and reduce air emissions while saving our partners money. Other strategies they can use are improved truck and tire maintenance, for example, just getting your tires inflated saves fuel, more productive trailers and trailer loading, lower weight, lower volume packaging, and more fuel-efficient driving techniques. The U.S. EPA and our Canadian partner, Natural Resources Canada, invested in an online tuition driver training course for example. And it’s important to note that many of these strategies are very low cost or even no costs. And while industry leaders then make a strong commitment to SmartWay, this can serve as a strong motivator for the rest of the business community to also adopt these practices and strategies.
Jennifer: That’s great. And how does someone kind of dive into a lot of these learnings? Is there a place on the EPA’s website or the SmartWay website where a business could learn a little bit more about some of the strategies that you shared?
Cheryl: Sure, if you go to the main SmartWay website, we have resources for partners, and we have technology fact sheets. And of course, we have webinars that are accessible form our homepage. And we also have [12:00] case studies and partner profiles.
Jennifer: Great, that’s very helpful. And as we wrap up, I just have one more question. Could you share the key trends for this year and perhaps beyond that might help the freight industry continue to improve freight sustainability?
Cheryl: Sure, well, you know, many of the trends that we see disrupting personal mobility, they’re actually also disrupting the freight industry. So, for example, digitization, which you mentioned, that’s a really significant trend, a new class eight truck over the road truck for example, it contains over 100 million lines of code. And more cloud and electronic based technology is being designated right into vehicles from telematics that help fleets keep track of their vehicles while they’re in use, to digital load boards and platforms to help improve logistics software that enable some level one and level two automation. And those can include those things like assisted braking and parking, or lane assist, or adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning. And going forward, I really expect increased automation, more vehicle to vehicle, vehicle to infrastructure connectivity, to the use of sensors and GPS and LIDAR and cameras. And those are going to support things like platooning applications that can further reduce aerodynamic drag, improve traffic flow and efficiency, and even improve safety. And this will continue as we increase our use of big data, predictive analytics, and even artificial intelligence. So, digitization is the first major trend. A second major trend I see is actually the emergence of electrification in freight. And you know, we’re already seeing increased electrification in stop and go vehicles like delivery vehicles, and vocational fans [14:00], and smaller weight trucks. I believe this trend is going to continue as the cost and size in batteries continues to decrease and as the availability of electric recharging facilities increases. And you’re going to see more and more truck manufacturers announce electric semi-truck pilot demonstrations. and you’re even seeing trailer manufacturers moving to things like electrified refrigeration units for trailers. Other modes like rail, air, and warehouse equipment are also moving toward increased electrification and fuel cell. A third major trend is going to be the emergence of new modes to support these broader consumer changes that we’re seeing like e-commerce and the availability of e-technology that enables new business models. So, for example, this will enable things like increased direct to consumer and distributed delivery. And we may see delivery by different modes altogether like drone delivery, delivery by personal vehicle. And the increased use of drop off and pick off centers for freight, we’re likely to see the average length of haul of trucks decrease even more. As shared services, optimized routing, and even load sharing among carriers increases and this will become because it’s being supported by e-platforms that are capable of shifting freight very rapidly to optimize routes and also improve the asset utilization of companies. And I expect that we’ll see fully autonomous trucks at some point in the future, in line haul operation, for example. And I’d say the final trend that I see a large trend is freight is actually the continued incremental improvement of both vehicles and fuels, vehicles will continue to become more streamlined and more aerodynamic, power trains will continue to become more efficient [16:00] and fuels will continue to become less carbon intensive, whether that’s through lower carbon electric grids or electric vehicles, or more renewable liquid fuels. And when you step back a little bit from the freight industry, I also expect to see continued interest in this type of environmental, social, and governance reporting as businesses, and as governments, and as the public increasingly looks to curtail climate change and manage growth sustainably. And I have to tell you, Jennifer, companies that are able to leverage these trends and opportunities to decouple growth from resource consumption and from environmental impacts are actually going to be the best positioned companies to navigate this future. And SmartWay aims to be there to help them, so we can together reach our shared goals for sustainability.
Jennifer: Thank you. SmartWay has been a huge contributor to the positive impact in reducing air pollution. It’s really an honor to have you join us for this series.
Cheryl: Thank you, Jennifer. It’s been my pleasure.
Q. What is EPA doing to reduce air pollution from transportation?
A. EPA has a comprehensive clean air strategy. It includes national emissions standards for new vehicles and fuels; incentive programs to fund projects that cut diesel emissions from vehicles and nonroad equipment; and partnerships including our national ports initiative and SmartWay. These efforts have cut aggregate emissions of the six most common air pollutants by over 70% since 1970, even as our nation’s gross domestic product, vehicle miles traveled, and population all grew.
Q. Explain the SmartWay program and how it helps reduce the carbon footprint for businesses that participate.
A. SmartWay is a market- and data-driven partnership that helps businesses move goods more sustainably. Companies that participate commit to assess and track their emissions and fuel use and to improve environmental performance over time.
Q. How does SmartWay work?
A. EPA collects SmartWay partner data annually and quality checks it. We publish the information in the form of performance ranges specific to the type of shipping; for example, truckload versus refrigerated. This allows for apples-to-apples comparisons, since not all technologies and strategies offer similar fuel savings when used in different applications.
Companies that ship or receive goods use SmartWay environmental performance scores to identify greener carriers – carriers that have invested in cleaner, more efficient technologies and operational practices – to reduce their own carbon footprints and improve the efficiency and sustainability of their freight supply chains.
Once a company benchmarks itself, it can access SmartWay’s many resources to improve performance.
Q. How did SmartWay start?
A. EPA started SmartWay in 2004, with 15 “Charter Partners” including the American Trucking Association. At that time, the trucking industry and many of its best customers wanted to bolster the public’s image of freight and to protect the health of drivers and other freight workers. For its part, EPA wanted to address emissions from vehicles that remain on the road for decades, and are not subject to our clean air standards for new vehicles.
Today, over 3,700 companies across the US and Canada participate in SmartWay. The program is also a role model for pilot efforts in Mexico, Asia, and Latin America.
Q. What have been the biggest achievements of the SmartWay program over the past fifteen years?
A. SmartWay’s largest achievement has been the fuel savings and emissions reductions of its partners. Since the program’s inception, SmartWay partners conserved over 280 million barrels of oil and saved nearly $37.5 billion in fuel costs. This is equivalent to eliminating annual electricity use in over 18 million homes. It also means more dollars to invest in new technologies, research and jobs.
In saving this fuel, we’ve avoided emitting 134 million tons of air pollution (NOx, PM, and CO2), which helps protect the environment and keep Americans healthy.
The program also spurs the adoption of advanced technologies and strategies, by offering technical assistance, education and outreach.
Q. Why do businesses join SmartWay? What are they getting out of it?
A. Each company has its own sustainability story. Benefits most often mentioned by partners include:
- Fills a data gap by offering standard, credible methods and metrics so businesses can readily exchange environmental performance information
- Builds trust among carriers and shippers with increased transparency and by helping companies better understand and support one other’s transportation needs and goals.
- Supports overall efficiency in goods movement, by providing market signals about the fuel-saving value of cleaner technologies and practices.
- Enables companies to include freight transportation in their CSR reporting, and to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability to suppliers, customers, investors, and employees.
- Provides a clearinghouse for information on innovative, cost-saving technologies and strategies, and a platform for peer-to-peer learning.
- Aligns with other global reporting platforms like the WRI GHG protocol and the GLEC framework, to reduce duplication and streamline reporting efforts.
- Generates positive attention for companies that are doing the right thing. The SmartWay scores, our high performer’s list, and our annual Excellence Awards bring visibility to sustainability efforts by companies
Q. What kinds of technologies and strategies do your partners use to improve efficiency and reduce emissions?
A. Carriers can use SmartWay-verified technologies and products to know which products save how much fuel and emissions. Technologies include aerodynamic equipment, idle reduction devices, fuel-efficient tires and retreads, and emission control devices, and SmartWay-designated tractors and trailers for over the road use.
Shippers and carriers can benefit from adopting greener practices like logistics management, reduced empty backhauls, co-loading, shipping direct to customers, increasing the use of rail for certain shipments, and installing software to assess and track operational practices on the road and at distribution facilities. These efforts help to cut unnecessary miles from the supply chain, which is one of the most effective ways to reduce fuel consumption, cut carbon emissions, and reduce air emissions while saving money.
They can also employ improved truck and tire maintenance, more productive trailers and trailer loading, lower-weight and lower-volume packaging, and fuel-efficient driving techniques.
Many of these strategies are no- or low-cost. And, when industry leaders make a strong commitment SmartWay, this can serve as a strong motivator for the rest of the business community.
Q. What key trends for 2020 and beyond might help the freight industry continue to improve freight sustainability?
A. Many of the trends disrupting personal mobility are also disrupting freight. Digitization is a significant trend. A new class 8 OTR truck contains about 100 million lines of code. More cloud- and electronic-based technology is being designed into vehicles, from telematics that help fleets to better maintain and track vehicles in use, to digital load boards and platforms that improve logistics, to software that enables some level 1 and level 2 automation including assisted braking and parking, adaptive cruise control, lane-assist, electronic stability control, blind spot warning, forward warning and crash avoidance. Going forward, we can expect increased automation and more V2V and V2X connectivity through sensors, GPS, cameras, lidar, and radar – which support platooning applications to cut aerodynamic losses, and improve traffic flow and efficiency through monitoring, the use of big data, predictive analytics, and even AI.
A second big trend is the emergence of electrification. We’re already seeing increased electrification in stop-and-go vehicles like delivery and vocational vans and trucks. This trend will increase as the cost and size of batteries decrease, and the availability of electric recharging facilities increases. More truck manufacturers are announcing e-semi-truck demonstrations, and trailer manufacturers are moving toward electrified refrigeration units. Other modes like rail, air and warehouse equipment are also experimenting with electrification and fuel cells.
A third trend is the emergence of new modes to support broader consumer trends like e-commerce, and the availability of e-technology to enable new business models. We might see increased direct to consumer and distributed delivery by drone, personal vehicle, and use of drop-off/pick up centers. We’re likely to see shorter average length of truck haul, as shared services, optimized routes and even load sharing become more common, supported by e-platforms capable of shifting freight quickly to optimize routes and asset utilization. We might see autonomous trucks in line haul operation.
The final trend in freight is the continued incremental improvement of vehicles and fuels. Vehicles will become more streamlined, powertrains more efficient, and fuels less carbon-intensive, whether it’s a lower-carbon power grid for electric vehicles, or more renewables.
I expect to see continued interest in environmental, social and governance reporting, as businesses, governments and the public are increasingly looking to curtail climate change and manage growth sustainably.
Companies that can leverage these trends and opportunities to decouple growth from resource consumption and environmental impacts will be best positioned to navigate this future – and SmartWay aims to help us reach our shared goals for sustainability.