Green Intelligence Live Blogging: "Innovations in Global Transport"
A brand new electric delivery truck run by FedEx, parked outside the Los Angeles Community College District headquarters. Photo by LA Wad.

A brand new electric delivery truck run by FedEx, parked outside the Los Angeles Community College District headquarters. Photo by LA Wad.

The Atlantic held its third annual Green Intelligence Forum on energy and environmental issues on October 26 and 27 in Washington, D.C. The event brought leaders together on issues like conservation, energy, supply chain management and manufacturing, alternatives to fossil fuels and water policy. The second day included two transportation-related panels. TheCityFix attended both: one on cleaner transportation, the other on global supply chain issues and air travel.

The second panel on supply chain issues included a mix of speakers from the NGO community, the private sector and academia. James Fallows of The Atlantic, who has a forthcoming cover story on coal in December’s issue, moderated the panel.  The speakers included:

Fallows started off the conversation by saying that the global supply chain is one of the key components of globalization, but it is also is one of the most emitting components of the transportation sector.

News from Boeing and FedEx

Boeing is working to make its planes more carbon efficient and trying to improve air traffic control and plane taxiing. Proper maintenance of planes is also key, Glover said. The turnover with airplanes is high. By 2025, Glover expects the whole Boeing fleet to be a totally different set of planes.  This is a good thing in terms of getting more efficient planes off the ground. We were wondering how environmentally friendly this turnover is since it involves building something new, but luckily, Glover added, Boeing is able to recycle 75 percent to 80 percent of its parts and plans to increase its recycling rate to 90 percent.

Fallows asked another interesting question: Have advances in airplane technology been as significant as we’ve seen for cars, in terms of vehicles traveled per mile?  In the last 40 years, airplanes have actually increased in efficiency by 70 percent, according to Glover.

In regards to FedEx, a company that exists in 211 countries and basically launched the overnight express mail industry in the 1970s, Fallows asked how the company looks at the future of fuel use and emissions reductions. Healy said many of FedEx’s goals are based on trends observed around the world. For example, the company plans to reduce aircraft emissions by 20 percent by 2030 and increase vehicle efficiency significantly. Fallows also asked if FedEx thinks it will be practical to have a dispersed global supply system in the future. Healy said, yes, absolutely, but the company is working on achieving targets that make its work cheaper and cleaner. He also said that FedEx sets ranges for the future price of oil and acts on these predictions. (Editor’s Note: Although not mentioned during the forum, FedEx also works with the nonprofit sector to increase its global competitiveness while improving the environment. For example, FedEx has teamed up with EMBARQ, the producer of this blog, to launch the Mexican National Network of Cities, a project designed to bring private sector expertise in vehicle technologies and management, branding and marketing, and road safety to the 30 Mexican cities now implementing new mass transportation projects.)


Hileman of MIT represented the research side of the discussion. He’s excited about increased federal funding this year for research and development. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) created a program to fund aircraft development and National Aviation and Space Administration (NASA) is doing research, but there could always be more funding.

His department at MIT is looking at solutions to reduce fuel consumption in planes.  MIT is focusing on alternative fuel solutions that could be produced quickly. Hileman hopes such fuels could contribute to as much as 5 percent of jet fuel in the short-term. In addition, there is ongoing work in alternative plane configurations and design. Great strides could be made, especially if companies are more radical with material use.

Economics and Environmental Factors Aligned for Global Transportation

In the global transportation industry, going green and the economics of these efficiency changes are clearly aligned—an increase in efficiency means more money saving for these companies.

Schmidt from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)  says even though a number of companies in the industry have shifted manufacturing designs and operations in the right direction, “a very clear policy signal [is needed] to move these issues.”  He said with the “right mix of emissions objectives,” people (and companies) will respond.

But what about progress on climate issues in the absence of real climate policy? Fallows asked Boeing and FedEx representatives if they were expecting a climate bill last year and if the absence of a bill is impacting their corporate policies. Healy said FedEx is making changes because of the economic benefits for the company. But Glover thinks the air travel industry needs a plan for the future. For example, alternative fuels need to be available commercially and on the right scale—it will require policy to push this.

Misconceptions of Air Travel

Fallows said the British cabinet minister has been encouraging people not to fly with the “idea that air travel is environmentally irresponsible.” Glover says his company is focusing on “finding real solutions and technical solutions to have people live the life they would like to lead.” He said there are misconceptions around air travel. He cited a survey in London where people were asked which sector is most responsible for climate change and people said aviation was the most significant contributor, even though, according to Glover, it only accounts for 2 percent of carbon dioxide emissions.

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