Green Operations

Using Data to Green Your Fleet

September 2011, Green Fleet Magazine - Feature

by Chelsea Mathis

Data is the most powerful tool fleet managers have to help develop and implement a green fleet strategy. Meaningful data can guide you toward the most effective solution, help establish goals, and demonstrate opportunities for both fuel savings and carbon reduction. In-depth knowledge about your fleet’s current vehicle selection and corresponding lifecycle costs, robust telematics information, and accurate fuel consumption data can help you establish and reach your sustainability goals and objectives.

Let’s look at several areas of opportunity to help you establish an effective strategy for your fleet:

Managed Fuel Card Program: To set goals, identify opportunities, and make changes to reduce vehicle emissions, a baseline for your fleet has to be set. Managed fuel card programs provide actual vehicle consumption information, and can be one of the most important tools to understand the operations of a sustainable fleet. Knowing how many gallons a single vehicle consumes over a period of time, and being able to attribute those gallons back to mileage accumulation, allows you to have visibility in regards to fuel economy. In addition, a managed fuel card program allows you to identify seasonality in business operations and trends in historical gallon consumption, giving you a perspective about a full cycle of usage. Without comprehensive data, decisions may be made based only on assumptions about fuel usage.

Vehicle Selection: Choosing the best-in-class environmental performer for your fleet application will be easier when using data from a variety of sources.

Fuel Economy Ratings: It’s important that you fit your fleet business application to the most fuel-efficient vehicle available. For example, when business demands require using an SUV to move people or goods, utilize fuel economy ratings to choose the most efficient SUV available.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s source for fuel economy information — www.fueleconomy.gov — provides estimated vehicle fuel-economy ratings as determined by the Environmental Protection Agency. These ratings can be used as a baseline to help you determine the vehicle that will fit your needs with the best fuel efficiency.

More efficient vehicles will lead to reduced gallon consumption, carbon emissions, and fuel spend. However, some fuel-efficient vehicles may come with an increased acquisition cost. Utilizing the data from a managed fuel card program can help clarify actual fuel economy as compared to the fuel economy as estimated by the EPA.

In some situations, the estimated fuel economy is not representative of vehicle applications and/or fleet operation location, which may alter fuel economy. Using this data will help you determine whether the increased premium for a fuel-efficient vehicle can be offset by the lowered fuel spend over the life of the vehicle.

Cycling Parameters: When evaluating vehicles that meet both your fleet application and sustainability goals, it’s important to consider your current cycling parameters. Recent increases to the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard require that vehicle manufacturers provide more efficient vehicles with each model year.

Therefore, consider cycling out older, less efficient vehicles with newer, more efficient models sooner than you would have in years past to see a substantial reduction in your emissions. For example, a passenger vehicle fleet that cycles vehicles within 36 months can expect a 15- to 20- percent reduction in carbon emissions over a five-year period by replacing less efficient vehicles with newer models.

Alternative Fuels: As alternative fuels and vehicles that can utilize them are more readily available, it may be time to consider the use of different fuel types when determining which vehicles can be used within your fleet. In some applications and locations, alternative fuel may be a better environmental performer over conventional gasoline or diesel. Alternative-fuel options are available for most major vehicle manufacturers by model.

To know whether alt-fuel vehicles are appropriate for your application, evaluate the fuel economy, cost, and carbon emission variance between the use of an alternative fuel over conventional gasoline or diesel, using actual data to compare lifecycle. Resources such as the U.S. Department of Energy’s www.fueleconomy.gov and the Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center provide information about the use of alternative fuels in vehicles, including emission data and tax incentive opportunities.

Telematics and Productivity

Once you’ve optimized your vehicle selection and determined the proper cycling time, it’s important to understand and evaluate how the vehicle is operated during daily usage. Using telematics data is one of the best ways to measure and benchmark your driver’s efficiency and productivity, and subsequently your fleet’s overall performance.

Optimized Routing: Knowing where your vehicles are may be one of the most powerful tools you have to understand your fleet’s productivity. A telematics solution that provides options for optimized routing will provide data around mileage accumulation and driver behavior.

In most instances, telematics solutions can lead to dramatic decreases in mileage accumulation through the optimization of a driver’s daily route. For example, the data provided for a service/delivery fleet can demonstrate when a driver frequently returns to home base instead of preparing for all necessary stops prior to the day’s departure. These frequent trips not only increase your fuel cost, but also add to the emissions produced by that vehicle. Multiply that by the number of vehicles you have on the road and the evidence of less-than-optimal daily productivity adds up quickly.

Idling: A good telematics solution will also provide insight into how the vehicle is being operated, including how many minutes per hour the vehicle spends idling — one of the leading causes of emissions from the fleet sector.

Knowing how long a vehicle idles gives you the information needed to establish strategies for idle reduction. This can be a significant source of emissions reduction and decreased fuel spend for your fleet.

Driver Behavior: According to the EPA, a driver’s behavior can impact fuel economy by as much as 33 percent. Data provided from a telematics solution gives visibility into various driving behaviors that adversely affect fuel economy, such as rapid acceleration and deceleration, aggressive driving, and speeding.

These metrics allow you to look at trends both from an individual driver and fleet-wide perspective that will help you identify opportunities to improve your fleet’s performance. By optimizing routes and addressing key behaviors, you allow drivers to be more efficient in their daily routine, increasing fleet’s business productivity.

Setting Goals

No amount of data will help you achieve your objective unless you have clear and achievable goals. Fleet goals vary: Do you want to lower your total fuel cost? Increase mpg across the fleet? Have a target carbon emission reduction in mind based on fleet makeup? Fortunately, no matter what goal you focus on, the benefits are cumulative: lower fuel cost and increase vehicle mpg, and you will lower vehicle emissions.

Conversely, a program focused on emissions reduction can usually see an increase in mpg and lower fuel cost due to having a clear understanding of the variables that can make the most impact such as vehicle optimization and cycling, fleet productivity, route efficiency, and driver behavior.
There are several existing programs to help you set your goals. For instance, “Fleets for Change” participating companies have committed to reducing their carbon emissions by 20 percent over a five-year period, and are given benchmarking tools to help them achieve their goals. Using data to establish a baseline, understand trends, and set goals will result in a true carbon emission reduction.

About the Author

Chelsea Mathis is manager of environmental initiatives for Donlen Corp. She can be reached at [email protected].

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