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Case Studies

In January of 2009, seven Sustainable Business students at Aquinas College began a project to make recommendations for repositioning Robinson Cartage. Robinson Cartage is a family business that has been in the heavy hauling industry for over 80 years. President of Robison Cartage, Dave Scripps, had recently become curious about sustainability and was interested in learning more about opportunities for his company. Working under the guidance of two Aquinas professors, Dr. Debora Steketee and Bruce Thompson, the seven students of SB 320, Sustainable Business Innovations Lab, attempted to apply principles of sustainability in a real life situation.

The Challenge

The task of repositioning a heavy hauling company towards sustainability is certainly not an easy one. At this time the transportation of oversized loads is entirely dependent on fossil fuels. There is no technological substitute currently available. While issues such as climate change and carbon regulation are being discussed by governments around the world, forward looking businesses will be proactive in making transitions. The goal of the Sustainable Business Innovations Lab was to find ways that Robinson Cartage could reduce their carbon footprint while also making the company more financially viable through innovation.

The Beginning

After receiving their task, the first order of business for the students was to create a group name. The group decided upon Team Blade, for the wind turbine components that can only be transported by heavy hauling trucks. Team Blade’s first task was to improve their understanding of the heavy hauling industry. Topics such as technology, competitors, customers, and regulation were divided and researched by individuals. Topics were then handed off and checked by another member of the team to confirm and further expand the base of information. As Team Blade researched the industry, they began to brainstorm ideas for innovative practices that could favorably position Robinson Cartage.

The Big Idea

After a fair amount of research and brainstorming, as well as a few meetings with Dave Scripps, Team Blade set forth to develop a multi-modal carbon calculator. Few hauling companies offer carbon emission information to their customers. No company that Team Blade could find specializing in oversized loads, like Robinson Cartage, offered emissions information. Even more difficult to find was a calculator capable of providing emissions for a shipment sent by a combination of truck, rail, and maritime. The few that Team Blade found were not user friendly or of questionable accuracy. Team Blade conceived a calculator able to determine multi-modal routs for the customer with a balance of price, timeliness, and carbon emissions to satisfy their needs. Considering this from multiple angels, they looked into business models, partnerships, and technology to support a multi-modal calculator while being keen to the possibility of carbon regulation from the pending American Clean Energy and Securities Act of 2009. Although carbon emissions are not yet being regulated, some forward looking companies are trying to discover the total carbon footprint of their products. By providing emissions information to their customers, and also working to reduce those emissions, Robinson Cartage would be offering a service that is difficult to find from similar companies. Furthermore, by establishing an internal tracking system for emissions, Robinson Cartage will be able to objectively determine how new technologies or policies impact carbon emissions and fuel efficiency.

The Results

During their final presentation in April, Team Blade provided a few takeaways for Robinson Cartage. First, all their research was compiled into a binder for easy reference and passed along to Dave Scripps. Second, Team Blade presented a prototype for a manual multi-modal carbon calculator. By and large the limiting factor for any carbon calculator is the availability of accurate and detailed fuel efficiency information. For this reason, Team Blade also developed a database for tracking fuel efficiency and carbon emissions. The information resulting from this database is necessary to develop a better carbon calculator, amongst other things.

The Path Ahead

The first thing for Robinson Cartage to do is adopt and streamline the emissions database to form an internal baseline for emissions. It is advisable for Robinson Cartage to be keen for technological advances and new operations policies that may improve fleet efficiency. Such investments and changes can be made on a small scale and compared to the baseline to see if the cost savings are significant. Team Blade recommends Robinson Cartage continues to improve the accuracy and ease of use of the carbon calculator. Ideally this tool will become available to customers through Robinson Cartage’s website. Team Blade was extremely appreciative of Robinson Cartage for this excellent opportunity and wishes Robison Cartage the best in the continuing journey towards sustainability.