While most retailers have been setting sustainability goals, Wal-Mart Stores has been surpassing theirs. Last month, the world’s largest retailer—and arguably one of the world’s greenest retailers as well—announced it had exceeded its goal to achieve a 25% fleet-efficiency gain in three years.
The company also unveiled an expanded plan to increase the sustainability of its trucking fleet by testing two new types of heavy-duty commercial hybrid trucks and two different alternative-fuel trucks. A Wal-Mart spokesperson told Chain Store Age all of the new trucks, which are being tested in select markets, are expected to be incorporated into the retailer’s fleet by the end of the first quarter.
In the Detroit area, Wal-Mart is testing a full-propulsion hybrid truck that operates on a dual-mode, diesel-electric engine. Manufactured by Arvin Meritor of Troy, Mich., this hybrid is believed to be the first of its kind.
Trucks operating at the Wal-Mart distribution center in Buckeye, Ariz., near Phoenix, are being transitioned to alternative “reclaimed” fuels. Fifteen of the trucks have been converted to run on “Reclaimed Grease Fuel,” which is made from the waste brown cooking grease produced in Wal-Mart stores. The rest of the DC fleet will use an 80/20 biodiesel blend that is made from reclaimed yellow waste grease.
In five markets, including Apple Valley, Calif.; Atlanta; Dallas; Houston; and Washington/Baltimore; Wal-Mart is experimenting with a Peterbilt Model 386 heavy-duty hybrid truck that uses a diesel-electric hybrid power system, and at the retailer’s DC in Southern California, four additional Peterbilt Model 386 trucks will be tested. Wal-Mart also will switch one yard truck, which is used exclusively on this DC property, to run on liquid natural gas.
“In order to meet our goal of doubling our fleet efficiency, we are taking an active role in the development of these technologies,” said Chris Sultemeier, senior VP of transportation for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. “We look forward to determining if these technologies will help reduce our environmental footprint, are viable for our business and provide a return on investment.”
Early results have been promising. Wal-Mart reported to Chain Store Age that year-to-date the retailer had delivered 3% more cases to its stores while driving 7% fewer miles. “We are burning less diesel fuel, which benefits the environment and also helps us reduce our costs,” noted the Wal-Mart spokesperson.
After achieving in excess of a 25% increase in efficiency within its private fleet between 2005 and 2008, Wal-Mart has upped the ante to a goal of doubling fleet efficiency by 2015, from the 2005 baseline. The hybrid trucks and alternative fuels being tested are expected to be a critical component for realizing that goal.
The retailer’s fuel efficiencies over the past three years were attributed to improvements in technology, route optimization and more efficient truck loading. For instance, tractors were designed to be more aerodynamic, and trailers were equipped with side wind skirts that reduced air flow. Rigs were equipped with auxiliary power units (APUs)—small diesel engines that run heating or cooling to keep drivers comfortable and perishable cargo chilled when trucks were stopped, effectively replacing the need to run the tractor’s main engine. Reportedly, the use of APUs has saved Wal-Mart $75 million annually in fuel costs.
In terms of more efficient truck loading, Wal-Mart’s spokesperson explained: “Basically we are packing more cases in our trucks and even ‘pin-wheeling’ pallets—that means turning the pallets sideways on one side of the truck so we can put additional pallets in the trailers.”
Wal-Mart also replaced the traditional two wheels on a rear axle with a single wheel, which resulted in smoother, more fuel-efficient rides, and replaced the internal drive train with a lighter-weight tag axle.