Thursday, February 5, 2009

Use Rail to Lower Your Carbon Footprint

Hey publishers, how would you like to surprise your paper suppliers, do a good deed for the earth, and perhaps save a few bucks?

Here’s how: Ask each mill how much of the paper you buy would fit into its most efficient railcar. The answer will vary from 120,000 pounds to nearly 200,000, depending upon the type and basis weight of the paper, the roll sizes, and the rail lines being used.

When you get an answer, try to order your paper from that mill in railcar increments, especially if it’s paper you use on a regular basis. Switching the shipments from truck to rail will eliminate more than two-thirds of their greenhouse-gas emissions.

Let’s suppose the answer you get from a mill is 160,000 pounds and that you need 240,000 pounds this month and another 240,000 next month. If you order 320,000 this month and 160,000 next month, all of the paper can ship in full, efficient railcars. If that’s too big a hit to your company’s cash flow, ask about the availability of 60-ton (120,000-pound) railcars. You could also place the first order as “at least 240,000 but no more than 280,000 pounds” to give the mill some flexibility to work out an efficient solution, such as combining your order with other paper going to the same printing plant.

The more you use of a particular paper and the more frequently, of course, the easier it is to order in full railcar increments.

A friend of Dead Tree Edition who makes it a policy to order full railcars says paper mills are always surprised, pleasantly so, when he asks about their ideal railcar shipments. And he has some advice: When the paper is shipped, check whether the amounts per railcar match what the mill said was ideal. The mill may have given you a theoretical answer that didn’t take into account the particulars of the paper you order. He also notes the longer lead time for rail shipments.

And what about the savings? Full railcars is generally the least expensive way to ship paper over land, so you may be able to get the paper supplier to share some of those savings with you. I have even heard of paper contracts that had one price for rail shipments and a higher price for truck shipments.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cool suggestion. We've invitied several of our main suppliers (European mills) to do this, and unfortunately, they've been reluctant to go 100% by rail. . . It seems that the rail lines from the east coast warehouses to the midwest printers are owned by a patchwork of rail companies- who's schedules, equipment and competencies vary. One sizeable monthly order of ours ships from Baltimore - mostly by via truck- because snafus and rail delays are so common. So, geography matters here.