How FedEx is Starting Its Shift to Electric Vehicles

How FedEx is Starting Its Shift to Electric Vehicles

"It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?"
- Henry David Thoreau

I have the privilege of speaking again at this year's upcoming 2011 Net Impact Conference. In preparation for this, Net Impact, an international nonprofit organization that seeks to inspire and educate in creating a more sustainable world, interviewed me on some of the actions that FedEx is taking, why we're doing so, and what the attendees should take away from it. The original article follows here:

It's easy to think of ways to reduce your environmental footprint, especially when it comes to getting from Point A to Point B: take the bus or the train, carpool when you need to drive, or bike to work if it's possible. But what are industries like transportation logistics or shipping and distribution to do?

For insight into one company's efforts to address energy and sustainability issues, we spoke with Mitch Jackson, FedEx Vice President of Environmental Affairs and Sustainability and champion for their "Start the Shift" campaign. A speaker at this year's Net Impact Conference, Mitch also gives us a sneak peek into what he will talk about and what he hopes attendees will gain from his session.

Q: What is the goal behind the FedEx "Start the Shift" Campaign?

A: The goal is to open minds regarding what is possible. Transportation, as a whole, is over-reliant upon oil. Seventy percent of oil consumed in the U.S. is used for transportation. Cars and trucks are more than 90 percent reliant on oil-based fuel for their energy. This is a burden on our environment, our economy, our citizens, and our government.

Albert Einstein once said, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." There are solutions to oil reliance, and electrification of transportation is one. It's not a silver bullet that solves the entire conundrum -- nothing really fills that role. It is, however, another solution we can use to help diversify our energy needs, lessen our environmental impact, and compete in the global economy through innovation.

Q: What has FedEx already done as a part of this launch?

A: We joined with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) years ago to call for environmentally-friendly, fuel-efficient commercial vehicles. Our work with EDF and Eaton Corporation resulted in making hybrid electric commercial trucks a reality. We were also the first in the U.S. transportation logistics industry to set a goal to improve the mileage of our FedEx Express vehicles, back in 2008. To date, we've achieved a 15.1 percent improvement in fuel economy since 2005, our baseline year.

On the policy side, we were the first company in the U.S. transportation-logistics industry to push for commercial-vehicle fuel-economy / greenhouse gas legislation, which was ultimately enacted in the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007. We also helped create a set of principles to inform and support this first-ever national greenhouse gas / fuel efficiency program for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles that has just come into effect.

We are also increasing the number of fuel-efficient vehicles in the FedEx transportation fleet, including all-electric and hybrid-electric trucks, and making sure that we have the right (size) vehicles on the right (efficient) routes across the FedEx fleet.

Q: What is next for "Start the Shift"?

A: It is part of our EarthSmart™ program, wherein we look for solutions for a sustainable world. So, we continue to work with electric vehicle manufacturers to improve the technology, and are collaborating on a smart grid project to improve the efficiency of electricity transmission to electric vehicles.

We will keep an eye on how to further facilitate the shift in collaboration with government. Our hope is to see improving solutions, reduced prices and widespread adoption of technologies like this that reduce our dependence on oil and open opportunities for more secure, reliable, environmentally friendly energy options

Q: At the conference, you'll be speaking on a panel with Eaton and EDF, entitled "New Directions: How Partnerships and Passions Produce Expanded Sustainability Initiatives." Can you give us a sneak peek about what your panel will explore?

A: We started working with EDF years ago on the need for a more environmentally-friendly and fuel-efficient commercial vehicle. Eaton supplied the first drivetrain we used to do this. That collaboration showed us that this new technology worked and that, with scale, it had the potential to be viable.

It gave FedEx the confidence to ask that Congress mandate more fuel efficient vehicles in early 2007. It allowed us to be more visionary in looking for opportunities, rather than obsessing solely upon risk. It gets back to discovering what's possible.

Together, I hope we will discuss how these relationships have evolved from those first trucks to a focus upon broader goals in transportation, manufacturing, and commerce, as a whole. Hopefully, it can show that other initiatives like this have the opportunity to be transformational over time, as well.

Q: What do you hope attendees leave with after hearing you speak?

A: A rigid, dogmatic approach to sustainability is a risky proposition -- it's easy to erect so many problems or limitations that no solutions seem possible. Using that old baseball metaphor, I hope that attendees learn that we can't just always "swing for the fences." We have to look to make ongoing, continual, collaborative progress and be open to new approaches. Ultimately, it will take everyone -- individuals, businesses, and government -- to find environmental and economic sustainable solutions for the future.

Photo courtesy of FedEx.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared on FedEx's blog, by way of Net Impact.