Outsourcing to a Sustainable 3PL

Corporate Sustainability has recently gained significant traction in both the public and private sectors evidenced by the environmental marketing campaigns of Wal-Mart and British Petroleum, recent Nobel Prize recipients and increased venture capital funding for sustainable business services. Although sustainability is an evolving business discipline, the concept of being environmentally responsible is not a novel idea and it can be understood, in its most basic form, as the practice of profitable environmental stewardship.

Implementing and maintaining a sustainable business, however, is more complex than the above definition would suggest. For starters, a common practice among sustainable businesses is working with a community of suppliers and/or trade partners that demonstrate environmental stewardship. For example, if an organization is considering outsourcing their inbound or outbound transportation business, they should seek out a prospective 3PL that is working to implement fleet management techniques that will reduce carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions. There are specific technologies that 3PL organizations have implemented to optimize fuel economy and/or improve their environmental stewardship record (detailed below) and organizations looking to outsource a logistics function should ensure that some or all of these best practices are demonstrated by a prospective 3PL.

Single Wide-Based Tires 1

There is a new generation of single wide-base tires and wheels which are lighter than the two standard tire configuration. Moreover, single wide-based tires generate less rolling resistance and aerodynamic drag than traditional combination tires thereby reducing truck energy use and overall fuel consumption. The EPA has reported that “by using wide-base tires, a combination long-haul truck could save over 400 gallons of fuel per year and cut CO2 emissions by more than four metric tons annually.”

Tractor-Trailer Aerodynamics 1

In a separate study, the EPA has found that through the use of aerodynamic devices such as tractor roof fairings, cab extenders and side fairings, fleet organizations can reduce wind resistance thereby improving overall fuel economy. As a result, aerodynamic devices can eliminate over 5 metric tons of CO2 emissions compared to a traditional tractor-trailer combination not equipped with this technology.

Wireless Smog Emissions Testing 2

Many fleet organizations are investing in telematics solutions to wirelessly and real-time manage the vehicle and electrical integrity of their vehicles. One telematics vendor enables fleet organizations to conduct wireless and remote smog checks through a vehicle diagnostic device which installs directly into the engine.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District — a 3rd party enforcement agency in southern CA, conducted a study of a 1,100 vehicle fleet getting remote smog checks. The results suggest that there could be a 700% reduction in CO2 emissions from 2007-2014 via routine, wireless smog checks.

The caveat with this technology is that currently is only available for light duty vehicles. The California Air Resources Board is working on smog checks for heavy duty vehicles but it is still in development.

As companies seek to become high performers by outsourcing any or all of their logistics functions, it will behoove them to investigate (via the traditional RFI/RFP process) how a prospective 3PL is practicing environmental stewardship through the above mentioned business practices. Eventually, environmental stewardship may no longer be an option and could potentially migrate from being a cool business trend to a mandatory business law.

Brewster Smith is a Senior Manager in Accenture's Supply Chain Management practice, based in Washington, DC. His background is in fleet asset management as well as transportation, inventory and network.


  1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — Office of Transportation and Air Quality

  2. Networkcar: A subsidiary of Hughes Telematics

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