Green Operations

8 Steps to Create Fuel-Saving Eco-Drivers

November 2011, Green Fleet Magazine - Cover Story

by Cindy Brauer - Also by this author

At a Glance

The eight steps to develop and implement a driver behavior modification program are:

  • Identify and focus on needs.
  • Establish goals.
  • Secure top-level support.
  • Develop the program.
  • Communicate effectively.
  • Measure and monitor.
  • Incentivize participation.
  • Use best practices.

Imagine a fleet program that could reduce fuel consumption in the neighborhood of 40 percent. Such a program would target — for many fleets — the single greatest untapped source for fuel savings: the driver.

According to a recent University of Michigan Transportation Institute study, drivers who practice good eco-friendly habits can realize up to a 45-percent reduction in on-road fuel economy. Other sources, including the U.S. Department of Energy and the American Trucking Associations (ATA), put the savings at 30-35 percent.

The bottom-line value of education and training to change driver fuel-wasting habits is gaining adoption as a component in green fleet strategies, along with capital investments in new vehicle and engine technologies.

For Bob Stanton, CPM, CPFP, director of fleet management for Hillsborough County, Fla., it’s about time.

“Our industry has invested billions in vehicle fuel-saving technologies with mixed and less-than-stellar results. We’ve addressed the hardware and, to a certain extent, the software of this issue while largely ignoring the largest factor of all: the driver,” Stanton said. “In retrospect, we probably should have started there. Had we started with the drivers by improving their habits, it stands to good reason our technological investments would have paid off more handsomely because our drivers were ‘better. ’ ”

Stanton knows the effectiveness of driver behavior modification efforts. While director of fleet management for Polk County, Fla., he developed an award-winning fuel-savings initiative that included an employee incentive program for eco-driving efforts.

In addition to cutting fuel consumption, creating eco-conscious drivers yields other rewards, including better fleet safety records and vehicle maintenance.

As Automotive Resources International (ARI)’s manager of client support services Ed Iannuzzi noted, “A driver behavior modification program is a proactive step that puts more accountability in the hands of the drivers and helps fleets run more efficiently and effectively, leading to greater control, costs savings, and compliance while allowing fleets to meet strategic objectives.”

A successful driver behavior modification program, according to Stanton, fleet services staff at ARI, and green fleet experts at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), requires eight fundamental steps.

1. Identify & Focus on Needs

Because every fleet’s needs are different, every fleet’s driver modification program must be organization-specific, advised Craig Neuber, manager of strategic consulting at ARI. Is the program “more about finding ways to increase vehicle mpg and decrease idling? Or is the fleet trying to improve safety and decrease accidents?” he asked.

It’s important, said Neuber, that fleet managers understand how a behavior modification program can help their fleet operations and pinpoint those areas most in need of improvement.

The EDF’s “Fuel-Smart Driving Handbook” suggests “a successful driver education program should focus on a few factors that drivers can control and have the most impact on fuel economy.”

The EDF handbook identifies these driver-controllable, high-impact factors as minimizing idling, avoiding aggressive driving behaviors, and maintaining vehicles properly. Asking drivers to make a limited number of straightforward changes is often more effective in changing behavior than “overwhelming them with a large number of requests,” according to the guide.

2. Establish Goals

Setting goals helps determine a program’s direction, required resources, components, and measures, said Stanton of Hillsborough County. “What’s important is your goals be specific, measurable, and realistic,” advised the EDF. Initial goals can be modest, then built upon incrementally as they are achieved.<p>The Environmental Defense Fund's (EDF) "Fuel-Smart Driving" handbook identifies driver-controllable, high-impact factors, such as avoiding aggressive driving, minimizing idling, and maintaining vehicles properly.</p>

3. Secure Top-Level Support

Senior management must clearly accept and endorse the program, according to Stanton. Gaining this essential backing, he said, is “all about the money.” Emphasize the program’s impact on bottom-line savings in lower fuel costs through specific actions such as cutting mpg and reducing vehicle idling, Stanton recommended.

The environment-conscious program also can be linked to corporate responsibility goals or tied into the company’s participation in such programs as the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) SmartWay program, Stanton added.

Seek other company or agency department buy-in and support, said Neuber of ARI. “This can include human resources, and an environmental, health, and safety department if the organization has one. Getting their support can save backtracking and help with launching the program successfully,” he explained. “A successful program needs ongoing support and attention to keep it fresh and credible.”

4. Develop the Program

The first step in developing and implementing a driver training program is outlining a comprehensive fleet policy, according to Elisa Durand, assistant manager, strategic consulting − environmental & fuel strategies at ARI. “A fleet policy informs drivers of rules and regulations they need to follow and lays the foundation for what they will learn in the training program,” she said.

A wide range of resources are available to custom-design a driver behavior modification program. A number of effective training methods, from online quizzes to in-person classes, are available, said Durand. “These program tools are most effective when used on an on-going, consistent basis. This repetition will foster a culture in which good driving habits are encouraged,” she added.

Many vehicle manufacturers offer eco-driving tips, suggestions, and facts in their company materials and online. Most fleet suppliers, including fleet management companies and equipment producers, also provide online resources.

Bridgestone Tires, for example, offers a free video entitled, “What Drivers Can Do to Save Fuel.” The DVD explores fuel-saving benefits for drivers, tips to cut fuel use before a trip starts, the importance of idle control, time management influence on fuel consumption, and the cost of excessive speed. 

Driver program suggestions and tips also can be found on websites including, but not limited to:

Avoid “canned” programs, said Stanton. “Canned versions have a generic logo, a generic message, etc.,” he pointed out. “Drivers can brush it off as not necessarily germane to what they do or their job. If the program is presented with a personalized message regarding the specific fleet, that makes a difference. The message is then ‘This is about my fleet, my company,’ ”

He collaborated with Ford Motor Company to adapt and customize the automaker’s “Driving Skills for Life” program with his fleet’s data on mpg, idling, etc. “When the program talks about stats ‘from your vehicle,’ it makes the effort personal and relevant to drivers,” he said.

Stanton also advised, “Program elements should be simple, easy to explain and adopt, and understandable. The more complex, the less likely [the program] will succeed.”

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