A few weeks ago, I was home visiting my parents and found myself reading the Canadian Geographic magazine article on the Canadian railways. What impressed me was the changes that have been made in the ability to move freight throughout the massive country. Currently, one TONNE of freight can travel 200 kilometres on ONE litre of fuel! That is amazing to me. Think about it – that’s going from Toronto to Montreal on 2.5 litres or from New York to DC on 1.5 litres! I think there would be a lot of car owners who would love that type of fuel efficiency.
In the discussion about this, the following quote struck me:
Canada’s freight railways are now able to move a tonne of freight nearly 200 kilometres on just a litre of fuel. This obsession with reducing fuel use did not arise out of any environmental concern. It grew from the fact that fuel can account for about one-fifth of operating costs. But by slashing fuel use, Canada’s freight railways have become the most environmentally friendly way to move goods over ground…
It struck me because of the approach that was taken – it wasn’t an attempt to save the environment, but rather an attempt to save money. This investigation into various different cost saving measures led the railways to realise that they could shut off their engine and coast down hills, save fuel, and this saved money – in hindsight, it certainly doesn’t seem like rocket science, but it hadn’t really been done before. And before we roll our eyes too much – how many of us turn off our car engine or even put it in neutral when going down a hill or shut off our engine at stop lights?
The railways focused on cutting costs and an unintended benefit was the impact on the environment, which is good and should be celebrated. However, I believe we need to challenge ourselves, our companies, and our societies to stop seeing things in silos, to stop separating operations and environmental concerns or financial and social concerns – life is whole and we must look evaluate it in an integrated fashion so that we come up with “innovations” like the railways did, not as an accidental byproduct of cost saving measures, but as an intentional discovery.