Most merchants want to be green, in theory. But if being green means increasing costs for the long term, the notion can’t be sustained, said Robert Walters in his March 24 NCOF session “Clearing the Air on Green Operations Issues.”

Walters, president of consultancy Freight Management, defines green operations as those that focus on reduction of fuel consumption and shrinking the carbon footprint. To do this, he said, you might consider rail as an alternative to trucks. It’s generally cheaper to move goods by rail vs. by truck; the downside is that it moves slower.

But not much slower: Walters noted that it takes the same amount of time — 48 hours — to ship freight from Los Angeles to Chicago. When you’re shipping from coast to coast, though, it’s when you reach the Midwest and have to switch rail lines that time is added — another day or two for delivery. “If you can live with a few extra days for delivery, you can reduce your costs and your carbon footprint,” he said.

In fact, you may be paying for “over the road” truck delivery, but 70% of the truckers are using rail for longer-haul freight, Walters said. And if you find your trucking company is using rail to move your goods, “you can demand a rail discount.” —