The best environmental program you’ve never heard of — and it’s from the government

Author: Greg Fulton - August 22, 2014 - Updated: August 22, 2014


What if I told you that there was a voluntary federal program that has resulted in a savings of 5 billion gallons of fuel, saved $16.8 billion in fuel costs, and reduced carbon monoxide emissions by over 52 million tons since the program’s inception in 2004. You probably wouldn’t believe it.

While we hear stories in the media about government boondoggles, very rarely do we hear about those public programs that do work and may even exceed expectations.

Let me introduce you to the Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay Transport Partnership. As noted on EPA’s website, the program “is a market-driven partnership aimed at helping businesses move goods in the cleanest most efficient way possible.” In the case of this program, the old phrase, “I’m with the federal government and I’m here to help you” actually rings true.

SmartWay has realized an astounding level of success without mandates and with limited funding. Why is this program so successful? First, rather than dictating specific processes and equipment, the EPA acts as a partner with the freight sector. They have helped to identify and provide a menu of options for the freight industry toward becoming more fuel-efficient and reducing emissions. These technologies include idle reduction, aerodynamic technologies, low rolling resistance tires, alternative fuel vehicles and others. Overall, these technologies when applied together can increase fuel savings up to 25 percent or more.

Second, SmartWay recognized that the “one size fits all” concept does not work. Instead of mandating strategies that result in companies doing the minimum, SmartWay, through encouragement of the private sector, the marketing of success stories, and proof that “going green” could even help a company’s bottom line, achieved more success than anyone imagined.

Third, the EPA served as a true partner. The agency independently analyzed different technologies that might reduce emissions and greenhouse gases, and improve fuel efficiency. This provided a proof of concept and allowed companies to better know their return on investment. The EPA then proceeded to educate the freight sector on the value of adopting these strategies. They articulated not only the benefits of being a good environmental steward but also helped to make a business case for the technologies. As further encouragement, the EPA even provided a limited amount of seed money to offset some of the costs associated with these technologies. Finally, EPA made a point of annually recognizing industry leaders in SmartWay, shedding light on these companies’ contributions to environmental sustainability.

In Colorado, there are over 70 trucking fleets and shippers that are SmartWay partners. While this includes a number of large companies, SmartWay is not only for big businesses. One of the greatest success stories in the state involves a small Commerce City trucking company with less than 50 trucks, which in the last five years has reduced its fuel consumption by over 10 percent and its greenhouse gas footprint substantially, despite an increase in miles traveled. In Colorado, SmartWay has not only substantially reduced emissions and fuel use but it has led trucking operators and others to think in a new manner. It has made environmental sustainability less of an abstract concept and more so one that can work and benefit everyone.

Could the SmartWay approach be a model for other federal and state programs? The answer is a resounding yes. While there will always be a role for certain mandates and regulations, SmartWay has proven that a different approach, one which makes a business case, appeals to the best instincts of companies, and provides incentives versus penalties, may result in very successful outcomes.

For SmartWay, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, the best years appear to be ahead. With the program’s success, more transporters and shippers in Colorado will join the partnership. As a result, Colorado will benefit as emissions drop, greenhouse gases are reduced, businesses and consumers save through reduced fuel costs, and our country gets closer to energy independence.

Greg Fulton is president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, which includes 650 companies involved in the trucking industry in Colorado. CMCA has been a member of the SmartWay Partnership since 2007 and received a 2014 EPA SmartWay Affiliate Honoree award for promoting the program.

Greg Fulton

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