Empty Miles could mean full pockets

An estimated 29 million trucks travel the roads of the United States annually, hauling some 10.2 billion tons of goods.  And at any given time, it is estimated that over a quarter of these trucks are empty.  That equates to over 7 million trucks averaging a gas mileage of under 8 mpg on the road each year. Empty.  These empty runs, referred to as deadhead trips in the industry, clearly represent a staggering inefficiency.

In an effort to address this problem, a service called Empty Miles has been developed as a collaboration between the Voluntary Interindustry Commerce Solutions Association (VICS) and GS1 NA, two not-for-profit organizations.  This web-based service allows shippers and truck companies to post information about their routes, including empty routes, helping to match empty routes with goods that need to be shipped.  Collaboration of this type between shipping and trucking companies has been done informally for years, but the launching of the Empty Miles program has facilitated the sharing of information and attracted some of the largest shipping companies in the U.S.  Subscription to the  service costs $1,600, though the creators assert that it will pay for itself quickly.

All-time high diesel prices and increasing pressure on companies to utilize more sustainable practices has driven the need for innovative shipping services, like Empty Miles. This service was conceived by VICS in 2007, when the cost of diesel was crippling many smaller shipping companies. It looks particularly promising in light of looming governmental legislation, such as cap-and-trade or carbon taxes, which would have a serious impact of the economics of diesel-based shipping. The Empty Miles developers assert that filling only one empty lane per week will eliminate 41 tons of carbon dioxide annually and save 3,700 gallons of diesel fuel, which is about 20 barrels of crude oil.  This is the equivalent of 116 million BTUs of energy annually– from one empty route. There are currently over 2,500 empty routes posted on the website, representing a potential energy savings of 290 billion BTUs. In addition to the tremendous energy savings and greenhouse gas emission reduction, saving 3,700 gallons of diesel at $2.70 a gallon amounts to almost $10,000 in savings.

The service is still young, and many companies have been reluctant to join and share route information, which is considered proprietary.  There are currently about 40 subscribers, including Target, Wal-Mart, Kraft, Coca-Cola and UPS.  One subscriber, Macy’s, has filled 70 of its empty routes, and claims to have saved $25,000/route in so-doing (this number is higher than the estimate given above because of the way trucking companies price round-trip routes vs. one-way routes).  The trucking company that has partnered with Macy’s to afford it these savings, Schneider National, reports a diesel fuel savings of 5,554 gallons.  The Empty Miles service has also been endorsed by the EPA SmartWay program, a governmental program aimed at improving energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

As gas prices continue to rise and anticipation of carbon-regulating legislation grows, Empty Miles could mean fuller pockets for many companies with large shipping needs.

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