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Prime Mover Magazine


How green is Australian trucking?

How green is Australian trucking?

The United Nation’s Paris agreement, a global action plan to avoid dangerous climate change, is now in force. But while the Australian Government still scrambles to catch up, industry is already getting the sustainability agenda moving.

The wind of change is blowing in Australia’s trucking scene, but it’s not the re-elected Federal Government that is behind it: While the Turnbull Cabinet is still finding consensus on environmental policy, more and more global businesses and local initiatives are jumping in to drive the nation’s green agenda – be it as part of a coordinated Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) effort or due to a newfound sense of environmental awareness.

While the Australian Government kept everyone guessing on when they would ratify the Paris Agreement, only taking the plunge in mid-November after Donald Trump’s successful presidential bid, industry didn’t wait around. According to Andrew Petersen, CEO of Sustainable Business Australia, a Sydney-based business think tank and advocacy group promoting commercial solutions to environmental challenges, it came as no surprise that industry was already in the process of cleaning up their business practices. “The Paris Agreement is sending a strong and stable political signal that a low carbon economy is now irreversible, irresistible and inevitable,” he said. “One which Australia will need to navigate.”

For private businesses, waiting around for Australia’s Government to state its position on the Agreement and sustainability policies would have meant losing competiveness on the global stage. Alexander Corne, spokesperson for Renault Australia, says it thus fell to industry to push the sustainability agenda. “The Government is giving no support or incentives towards the adoption of zero-emission vehicles, unlike in the UK, the US and in Europe, where governments are giving more support and being more proactive. I believe [in Australia] the main push is coming from suppliers of hardware [and] vehicle manufacturers now.”

With the myriad challenges already facing Australian fleet owners – from succession planning for senior positions and the much-publicised driver shortage through to an ageing truck fleet – he says manufacturers like Renault want to avoid adding to the industry’s to-do list and are increasingly lobbying for environmental responsibility. The reason behind is not pure altruism, though: Due to the country’s heavy reliance on imported vehicles, Australia technically doesn’t have its own emissions standards framework in place. Instead, Australian Design Rule (ADR) 80/03 allows compliance with the existing, yet out-dated, Euro V standard or the equivalent US EPA 2007 or Japanese New Long Term 05 schemes. With most of the developed world having moved on from Euro V and no clear direction as to when a local ADR 80/03 successor will be implemented and what it will look like, OEMs keen to progress are increasingly caught in limbo – forcing them to anticipate the Government’s next move in order to be able to keep up with the rest of the world.

The result is an influx of Euro VI-rated equipment and related green initiatives in the local marketplace that has the potential to kick-start a wider movement with far-reaching positive consequences – both for the planet and the balance sheet, as a recent article in the Harvard Business Review* explained: “Investing in sustainability is not only a risk management tool; it can also drive innovation. Redesigning products to meet environmental standards or social needs offers new business opportunities.”

The trend is not new, but quickly gaining traction since the latest election: Australia’s first Euro-VI truck fleet arrived in late 2014, manufactured by Scania and purchased by TNT Express. MAN’s newest offering – the 560hp TGX D38 – followed in October this year and also touts a Euro VI–compliant engine. A new Euro VI-compliant engine range is also one of the key selling points behind Mercedes-Benz’ latest heavy-duty offering, the Actros range, which promises to bring fuel economy improvements of up to seven per cent over the previous engine range, and reduce AdBlue consumption by 40 per cent. In the lighter segment, Renault just launched its Go Green to Grow Green campaign, where it plants trees to offset the carbon emissions of its Bamboo Green Trafic vans.

Earlier in the year, Castrol announced that its Vecton engine oil range has now been certified as carbon neutral, Volvo revealed its four-years-in-the-making super fuel-efficient concept truck design and Iveco won the 2016 European Transport Prize for Sustainability for its ‘Vision’ concept van – indicating that manufacturers are stepping up their game in response to new sustainability knowledge, technology and opportunities, with or without concrete legislation to back their efforts.

Alexander shares that he has observed a shift from larger companies touting their carbon reduction efforts to small- and medium-sized enterprises expressing an interest. Due to research and implementation costs, however, at present only the most dedicated will pursue the idea, in the absence of regulations. “Those with an appetite for investment in low-emissions technology tend to be the more proactive – more environmentally conscious operators,” he says. “But legislation is a very effective tool for getting the market to move forwards.” Andrew adds, “This new political context will begin to unlock a tremendous potential for business, including the transport sector, to invest in innovation and new technologies to ensure sustainable business solutions flourish.”

The appeal of embracing sustainability for enterprises is clear in an environment where awareness is rising and uptake not yet ubiquitous – companies can set themselves apart by making a statement whilst, ideally, incurring no or few financial or operational disincentives. In the case of Renault’s Trafic vans, Alexander shares that, simply by merit of driving a Bamboo Green Trafic model or displaying the a ‘go green’ decal, businesses are able to make a bold statement about their approach to the environment while the “technological solution is already built into the product.”

However, forging ahead on a corporate level doesn’t always mean the customer is ready to follow. One industry source reported that while its clients are keenly watching developments in the sustainability sphere, as yet it does not seem to be high on their priority list. “In Australia, we have some of our larger corporate clients enquiring about sustainability options. People are interested but they’re not willing at this stage to pay a premium,” the source comments. “We’re technology followers in Australia, when the world changes – the US or EU markets – we tend to follow.”

Regardless of that lag, the underlying issue is now more urgent than ever: Globally, freight transport – including road, rail, sea and air – accounts for approximately seven per cent of global greenhouse emissions, a number sure to swell with the expected quadrupling of the sector between 2010 and 2050. Andrew comments, “Addressing global climate change will require all parts of countries’ economies to become more energy efficient. Freight efficiency will be critical.”

With industry rapidly forging ahead, the Australian Government plans to carry out an in-depth review into the country’s emissions reduction policies in 2017–2018 in line with the Paris Agreement. Beyond that, 2020’s deadline for a five per cent reduction in emissions (from 2000 levels) looms ever closer, set then to be replaced by the tougher reduction target of 26 – 28 per cent (compared to 2005) levels by 2030 – so domestic policy will soon have to catch up to its overseas counterparts.

Until such a time that tough low-emission, carbon-friendly policies are mandated, Alexander sees it to be the industry’s task to guide people towards taking a more active role in reducing their emissions, adding: “While the number of vehicles featuring green technology is so far small, the message is big: Think about emissions.”

As we hurtle towards 2017, the Government and the country’s companies will be considering what measures they can take to reach ever-increasing emissions targets.

Those who have positioned themselves one step ahead of the game are unlikely to rest on their laurels, with rapidly changing innovations in the sustainability sphere opening up new opportunities for greener business practices. With it shaping up to be an exciting decade for efficiency technology, it pays to get ahead of the curve.

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