How they’re managing sustainable transportation practices across the group
If you think optimizing fuel economy and managing emissions across a fleet of 10 trucks is challenging, try doing so for 10 trucking companies.
Okotoks, Alta.-based Mullen Group operates a trucking and logistics segment that is comprised of 10 carriers, as well as an oilfield services segment made up of 16 additional companies, many of which provide trucking services. Each individual company in Mullen Group is granted the autonomy to make decisions that work best for its own operations; but best practices are shared across the group.
This is also how Mullen Group has approached the SmartWay program. Since as far back as 2006, cross-border trucking firms within Mullen Group have been signing on to the SmartWay program, tracking their fuel performance and benchmarking their operations. Now that the program has come to Canada, Mullen Group is looking to get its domestic fleets such as Jay’s Moving & Storage on-board as well.
“It originated with our cross-border fleets, so when you look down the list you’ll look at companies like Mill Creek, Kleysen, Payne Transportation, Tenold and Mullen Trucking being involved. That was kind of the start of our introduction. With the launch of SmartWay Canada by Natural Resources Canada, that opens up the door for some of the other companies within our group,” said Randy Mercer, director of Health, Safety and Environment for Mullen Group.
Getting individual carriers signed on to the SmartWay program can be an onerous process at first, but once they’ve joined, it becomes easier to maintain their SmartWay status, Mercer explained.
“When you first participate in the program, there’s a lot of up-front paperwork and documentation that you have,” he said. “Fleet truck counts, trailer counts, APUs, idle policies – you have to go through the whole gamut. But after the initial application, it’s more of a yearly update, so it’s very time-consuming to start off with the program but after that, it’s mostly maintenance.”
Despite the administrative challenges that joining SmartWay initially incurs, the benefits of belonging to the program are obvious, since SmartWay’s objectives to help fleets manage and improve their fuel economy while transporting goods in the cleanest most efficient way possible are aligned with a carrier’s own goals to reduce costs and improve profitability.
“To get buy-in from our senior leadership has been relatively easy,” Mercer said. “Most people are on-board with it. It’s not a difficult sell.”
The trucking companies in Mullen Group will travel about 250 million kilometres this year, so even a seemingly small reduction in fuel consumption will deliver big savings when extrapolated across the entire business.
Because Mullen Group’s trucking companies run a mix of company-owned and lease/operator-run trucks, it was imperative that owner/operators also supported the program if it was to achieve success. Mercer said they have been receptive to the program and eager to participate because in the end when owner/operators follow best practices in fuel efficiency that helps them save money. “A good part of the SmartWay program is reducing fuel and, of course, that equates to saving cash,” Mercer said.
Mullen Group companies who are part of SmartWay have also found their involvement has resonated with customers. “Absolutely, we use it in our marketing,” said Mercer. “We’ve got a SmartWay logo on our websites throughout our business units. SmartWay is a joint venture between the shipping and transportation communities so there are a lot of big names in the shipping community that participate in this program as well.”
In participating in SmartWay, Mullen’s trucking firms have focused on spec’ing fuel-efficient equipment, properly maintaining it and reducing idle-time. “General maintenance is a big component to a fuel-efficient vehicle, but you also look at other things,” said Mercer. “You look at APU (auxiliary power unit) usage, idle policy. Do you have an idle policy? Do you govern your vehicles’ speed?”
Driver training is another important component of Mullen Group’s SmartWay strategy. By training drivers on defensive driving skills using the Smith System and other available training programs, Mercer said drivers have become safer and more fuel-efficient.
“It doesn’t matter which defensive driving course you teach, progressive shifting is a key to good fuel savings. Backing off the accelerator when approaching a light, maintaining good following distance – all these things are key contributors to brake wear, tire wear and fuel consumption. A good defensive driving program pays incredible dividends back to you. You get a good, defensive driver, plus you’re reducing the maintenance costs on the vehicle and you’re saving fuel.”
Because Mullen Group operates such a diverse fleet – and fleets within the fleet – it allows each company to make its own choices with regards to SmartWay. “We try to give them a lot of latitude to run their own organization the way they see fit and decide which policies they want to jump onto and not paint every company with the same brush and the same colour. They’re all independently run and operated,” Mercer pointed out.
Still, the trucking companies within Mullen Group are happy to share what has worked best for them and which initiatives failed to meet expectations.
“One of the benefits of being such a large organization is that we can share best practices amongst each other and we do that as best we can on a weekly basis,” Mercer said.
Another advantage of belonging to the SmartWay program, and one that’s easy to overlook, is that employees feel good about being associated with a company that’s actively looking to reduce its impact on the environment. “I think it’s important and I think our employees grasp onto it and also think it’s important,” Mercer said. “The more you can think about the future of our planet, the better off we’ll all be in the long run.”