commercial ship carrying containers

Many of you might relate to this: A while back I was tagged in a photo on social media that had no business seeing the light of day. I knew I had packed on some weight, was losing my hair, and dealing with all the other fun things age brings, but it wasn’t until I saw that photo I realized I needed to make a change. Now, imagine Mother Earth experiencing the same thing. She knows where she used to be, she knows where she is now, and she knows where she is heading if something doesn’t change. Only in this scenario, it’s on all of us to make a difference. 

Applying this concept to the shipping sector’s contributions to environmental challenges, we are able to paint these very pictures. For example, the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted by delivery trucks and tractor-trailers almost doubled between 1990 and 2018. If we keep moving in this direction, it is projected that these figures will increase another 38% by the year 2050

While we are seeing many of the industry’s biggest offenders commit to more sustainable delivery practices, thousands of mom-and-pop businesses are struggling to do the same. With small businesses representing a sizable slice of the shipping sector pie, it is imperative to get them on board in order to create meaningful, lasting change. 

Changes in Motion

As the world economy continues its radical shift towards online shopping and delivery services, the threat being posed to our environment by the shipping sector is greater than ever before. In 2019, Amazon alone sold 4000 items per minute, each of which was shipped to a different corner of the world. Fortunately, companies like Amazon and FedEx have plans in place to go carbon neutral.

Amazon, which now delivers two-thirds of their packages themselves, has placed an order totaling $10 billion for 100,000 electric delivery vans. From the products they sell to the packaging they use, Amazon aims to have no less than 50% of their shipments net zero carbon by 2030. FedEx, the second-largest delivery company in the world, has pledged to go 100% carbon neutral by the year 2040, while UPS and USPS have made smaller but still impactful commitments to change. 

Much like the pallet of toilet paper you just picked up from Costco, one could assume if a massive corporation commissions 100,000 electric delivery vans, they probably received some kind of discount. If $100,000 apiece is the discounted rate, imagine the out-of-pocket cost for a small business owner. 

Realities of the Small Business Realm

In my former career, I worked for an independently owned trucking company about an hour outside of New York City. I have seen first-hand the difficulties small businesses in this sector face on a daily basis, from massive financial overhead to the backbreaking nature of this kind of work. 

When Covid-19 began to shut down businesses in March of 2020, many of these companies did not have the financial means to keep their doors open. Of the 500 thousand trucking companies in the US, 80% are considered to be small businesses totaling 6 trucks or less. Because of the various types of work performed by these operations, the average commercial truck size is four to five times larger than Amazon’s sprinter vans. 

In partnership with Freightliner, the world’s leading commercial truck manufacturer, Daimler Trucks have released a series of electric heavy-duty vehicles. Their 2021 eM2, which resembles your average commercial or rental truck, comes with a whopping $400,000 price tag. This is more than 4 times the average cost of a diesel-powered truck. If a company has a fleet of 6 trucks, going completely carbon neutral would cost them $2.4 million right off the bat. After factoring in tax, interest on financing, and the cost of equipping their facility with charging stations, the cost could easily surpass $3 million. 

Another reality of the eM2 and others like it, is that the average charge only lasts approximately 200 miles. If a company operates just outside of a major city, much of their work will be done within that city. From personal experience in the Metropolitan New York area, I can tell you the 40 miles between the city and our warehouse routinely took 3 to 4 hours during peak driving times. 

While the technology is getting better each year, the excessive cost and short battery life makes it almost impossible for most small businesses to jump on board. Until help is on the way, what could be done in the meantime?

Balancing Act: Negating Carbon Emissions

Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy, but often the last to receive government assistance when needed. If a trucking company operates in one of the 29 states that have yet to even propose offering financial assistance to help them go green, they most likely don’t have a few million dollars lying around. Aside from California, who offers cash incentives as high as $117,000 for purchasing electric or hybrid commercial trucks, real and impactful help is hard to come by. Fortunately, there are ways these small businesses can positively impact climate change through their warehousing operations.

For example, swapping out propane-powered forklifts for electric ones will limit the amount of fossil fuels a trucking company consumes. With many warehouses having ample roof and parking lot space, the addition of solar panels could power an entire operation and possibly produce excess energy that could be contributed back to the grid

By using biodegradable packing materials, a business can help reduce the amount of waste in the world, even if it’s on their customers to dispose of these items properly. By calculating the cost of their carbon footprint through organizations like Carbon Fund, companies can gauge how to offset their yearly emissions and even donate money to make up the difference.

If we are only as strong as our weakest link environmentally speaking, leaving small businesses behind means risking the counteraction of all the good currently being done. 

Remember, impactful change starts from the ground up. When it comes to saving the environment, there is no step too small. Every action we take can become an Earthshot.

As always, stay tuned to Planet Home for more ways in which you can impact change through your everyday actions.