Innovators: The great green way

Clark Transfer
Harrisburg, Pa.
Developed a campaign around reducing carbon emissions and offsetting them through a
voluntary customer surcharge.

In 1948, Highway Express – soon to be renamed Clark Transfer – became the first carrier granted rights by the Interstate Commerce Commission to transport theatrical goods throughout the continental United States, Mexico and Canada. In September 1949, company owners Jim Clark and Louis “Whitey” Molitch loaded the sets and costumes for the hit Broadway show “Mister Roberts.” Their entrepreneurial spirit brought touring productions across the country for the first time, marking a new era for American show business.

Sixty years later, the Harrisburg, Pa.-based family-owned business is now a full-service international theatrical transportation and logistics company. Clark Transfer has moved more than 4,000 productions and traveled more than 350 million miles to bring shows such as “Phantom of the Opera,” “The Lion King,” “Spamalot,” “Mamma Mia” and the New York Philharmonic to main streets across America.

Earlier this year, Norma Deull – Molitch’s daughter and now president of Clark Transfer – sparked a new initiative for the company’s theatrical industry customers. In May, Clark Transfer launched the Touring Green Initiative, designed for touring productions to help offset the environmental impact of taking their shows on the road.

“It began by my mother making an observation and asking a question,” says Charles Deull, executive vice president. “She said, ‘Our trucks travel many miles a year moving the theater industry. We must be emitting quite a lot of carbon impact. What should we do about it?’
“That question launched a lot of work for us.”

The Touring Green Initiative
Deull began by addressing the impact of the company’s emissions from two angles: reduction, and offsetting the impact of what remains. To reduce emissions, Clark Transfer gathered information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay program. To fully participate in SmartWay, fleets have to own their power equipment. Even though Clark Transfer’s drivers are nearly 100 percent owner-operators, Deull was able to at least use a lot of the program’s information.

Based on surveys of the fleet’s owner-operators, Deull found that the vast majority already were using generators to heat and cool their cabins and reduce fuel usage. Clark Transfer also pays for drivers to use truck stop electrification services, and it provides information to drivers about steps they can take to reduce fuel usage and emissions even further, Deull says.

Reducing emissions through carbon offsets proved to be more challenging, however. Each year, Clark Transfer travels about 7.5 million miles and burns more than 1 million gallons of diesel. Each gallon of diesel burned emits about 22.5 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Deull looked at more than 35 companies that offered programs to offset carbon emissions before settling on South Burlington, Vt.-based NativeEnergy.

Working with NativeEnergy, Clark Transfer developed a custom package of environmental projects to fund in order to offset carbon emissions. The offsets will be generated over time by working through NativeEnergy to invest in new wind turbines, landfill gas projects and methane digesters on American family farms. This carbon offset program, called the Touring Green Initiative, provides a way for companies to offset the impact of carbon emissions from transporting theatrical equipment, Deull says.

Clark Transfer designed the Touring Green Initiative to be simple for its customers to use. Customers participate voluntarily by paying a surcharge of 1.5 cents per loaded mile; the surcharge is added to each freight bill. Clark Transfer created the surcharge based on internal calculations that include the fleet’s loaded miles as well as the average amount of unloaded miles associated with each trip. This type of offset calculation is unusual, Deull says; few, if any, companies that participate in carbon offsets calculate these offsets based on mileage.

Presently, the surcharge does not cover all of Clark Transfer’s loaded and unloaded miles, as not all customers participate in the Touring Green Initiative. Based on response so far, however, Deull expects soon to greatly increase its offsets of overall carbon output.

Doing a number on emissions
Deull says that based on NativeEnergy’s conservative calculations of what the offsets will produce, Clark Transfer will be able to offset 95 percent of its current emissions within 10 years. In other words, Clark Transfer can say to the initiative’s participants that 95 percent of the emissions associated with the movement of their freight today will be offset over a period of 10 years. Over a 20-year period, 125 percent of today’s carbon output will be offset through the initiative, Deull says.

Even though there is no standard way of calculating a carbon offset, Deull says Clark Transfer’s program is very much in the mainstream. “Some people say you should have the offset in the first year,” he says. “If you are building a wind turbine with a life of 30 years, why would you say the benefit is only a first-year benefit? It doesn’t make sense. In constructing the program, we did a lot of math to make sure that the ’95 percent’ is using a conservative assumption that within 10 years, the offset will occur.”

To administer the Touring Green Initiative, Clark Transfer remits a check each month to NativeEnergy for the full amount of the surcharge collected. NativeEnergy reports on its investments and projects on behalf of Clark Transfer, which in turn sends periodic updates to its customers.

“We knew it had to be easy, inexpensive and effective,” Deull says. “We have been thrilled with the response of the theater community.”

Participating touring productions publish details of the program in their own playbills to let their audiences know about what they are doing to minimize the environmental impact of their activities. “We wanted to do this to make an opportunity available to customers, as well as using an approach to educate and inspire their customers to participate in it also,” Deull says. “We believe and are hopeful this will make people see what shows are doing and find ways to do things on their own.”

The Touring Green Initiative, which has been in place only a few months, has yet to bring in new business for Clark Transfer, but that was not its real purpose, Deull says. “What it has done is to create something where we found great common ground with a lot of our customers. Our customers wanted this. It was an easy choice. They are writing extra checks for it.”

Innovators profiles carriers and fleets that have found innovative ways to overcome trucking’s challenges.

If you know a carrier that has displayed innovation, contact Avery Vise at or 800-633-5953.