Opinion: Remember goods movement essential workers this Labor Day

By Carl Lisek

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"File:Bearded man driving a car (Unsplash).jpg" by Abdiel Ibarra aibaye is marked with CC0 1.0

Remember when shopping was a big event?

These days, you don’t even have to leave your couch or change out of your pajamas. In just a few clicks on your phone, your groceries and your lunch can arrive at your home and with large online retailers, virtually anything you can imagine can arrive at your doorstep in a matter of days.

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That’s a tremendous luxury and one that has become a necessity for many as we continue to navigate through the challenges of the pandemic. The U.S. Department of Commerce reported in the first six months of 2020, consumer online spending rose 30% over the same period in 2019.

But like so many things in our society, the moving parts that make that all happen behind the scenes can easily be taken for granted and forgotten. This Labor Day is the perfect time to thank and acknowledge the folks who work behind the scenes to make that item magically jump from the screen in our hands to our doorstep for all they do to keep driving our nation forward.

Collectively the industry is referred to as “the goods movement sector,” which includes truck drivers, rail workers, those navigating marine vessels and their support systems like port workers, dispatchers and maintenance and repair technicians.

In the U.S., the goods movement sector transports 11 billion tons of goods each year and 70% of the petroleum consumed is used in transportation, with 85% used in on-road vehicles. It’s no surprise, then, that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports the transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the nation (28%), beating out industrial sources (22%).

It’s why now more than ever, adopting more sustainable transportation methods such as alternative fuel vehicles, electric vehicles and the fueling and charging systems that support them in the goods movement sector are so important.

The shift is already underway, not only because it’s the right thing to do for air quality and human health but because it makes good business sense. A Deloitte report in 2019 predicted the total cost of ownership for electric vehicles will match petroleum and diesel models by 2024.

UPS, a national Clean Cities member, has been a leader in this realm for years. In January, UPS announced it is adding 10,000 electric delivery trucks to its fleet. This is in addition to the 150 Tesla semis UPS committed to purchasing. Amazon has invested in 100,000 electric delivery trucks, which will roll out on the streets in phases between 2022 and 2030 and FedEx is adding 1,000 electric vehicles to its fleet as well. The U.S. Postal Service is also launching the final stage of a $6 billion contract to replace its fleet of delivery vans, with competing teams including those offering electric and hybrid models.

These changes are more than an investment in improved air quality. They’re an investment in the long-term health and safety of our communities and directly impact the well-being of the essential workers in the goods movement sector who are driving our nation forward.

This Labor Day, remember to thank the folks in the goods movement sector working behind the scenes to make your lives a little easier and the air a little easier to breathe. Remember, it’s never too late to begin your environmental legacy.

This column originally ran in The Times of Northwest Indiana. Carl Lisek is executive director of South Shore Clean Cities and vice president of Legacy Environmental Services. The opinions are the writer’s.

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