Green Practices Net Meijer EPA Award

December 10, 2007
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WALKER — Meijer Inc. trucks drove better-loaded trailers and traveled 2.5 million fewer miles during the last fiscal year, saving 385,000 gallons of fuel, which reduced carbon dioxide emissions by more than 4,200 tons.

Those feats garnered the Walker-based, privately held retailer, a member of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay Transport Partnership, an Environmental Excellence Award. The award was announced at the annual conference of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals in Philadelphia in October.

Meijer was one of 30 award winners from among the 600 companies involved in the program, and the only one in Michigan.

“You’ve got to realize, we drive probably 42, 43 million miles a year,” said Tom McCall, Meijer’s vice president of logistics. “One percent of that number is a big number.”

Meijer operates 115 tractors, has 1,500 trailers and about 230 drivers serving the company’s 181 stores in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky. Meijer’s private fleet covers all of Michigan, northern Ohio and northern Indiana, and the company has third-party coverage in other areas, using Meijer-branded equipment, McCall said.

“One thing I was challenged on — it’s not new to anybody — is the price of fuel,” he said. “We still wanted to be part of the corporate culture of providing value back to customers, and we wanted to make sure we had a means to not pass that cost on to our customers.”

One of the most important measures McCall said has had an impact on Meijer’s fleet is making sure trailers are as full as possible. “It’s better utilization of your equipment; it’s huge in reducing highway congestion as well as environmental impact,” he said.

While it sounds like a simple idea, implementation requires a high degree of technology and coordination. For example, Meijer introduced a customized delivery schedule that, instead of delivering the same goods in similar quantities to all stores in a given area, bases deliveries on each store’s sales.

Another factor is to never leave a store with an empty trailer. McCall said Meijer is working with food suppliers such as Campbell and Kellogg to network logistics to move some of their goods instead of traveling empty.

“The whole goal is to reduce empty miles,” McCall said. “We work at overlaying our transport networks and operating as one company.”

Meijer also relies on technology, including programs that optimize routes and track maintenance schedules as well as global positioning software. McCall said the methods boosted miles-per-gallon from 6.4 to 7.4 — “which is huge.”

“The third big piece was the equipment itself,” McCall said. “We switched over to ‘fat boy’ tires, so we have 10-wheelers instead of 18-wheelers. It’s basically one tire that’s one and a half times the size of the normal one. They’re touching the ground less, there’s less friction, better mileage and less weight.” The tires are Michelin X1 Wide-Based Drive tires. The change required axle changes, he said.

Among the other approaches in effect for Meijer’s distribution trucks:

  • Switching to the highest-quality biodiesel fuel.

  • Improving aerodynamics.

  • Prohibiting engines from idling longer than four minutes or driving faster than 63 miles per hour.

McCall said that hydrogen fuel, new mufflers and cameras with on-board screens that replace mirrors are among the new approaches being tested or considered.

Meijer doesn’t want to wait for the EPA or another government agency to tell them how to improve the performance of their distribution network.

“We believe at Meijer that we have to drive more of it. We can’t sit back,” McCall said. “We want to get nine or 10 miles a gallon to a tractor. That’s our goal, regardless of what the government says. It’s the right thing to do.

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