Green Operations

Fleets See the Bottom-Line Benefit of Going Green

July 2014, Green Fleet Magazine - Feature

by Chris Wolski - Also by this author

Today, going green isn’t the radical act it once was. Thinking about emissions or carbon footprints is just a part of the daily routine of business.This is particularly the case for fleet managers no matter what type of fleet or vehicle they may be managing.

Following is a snapshot of several fleets that have found success going green. While each one has a different mission and function, they share one thing in common: a willingness to try different alt-fuel options and environmental solutions while keeping their individual fleet missions front and center.

Making a Green Commercial Commitment

Brandon Morris, director, fleet services for DIRECTV, implemented the green initiative for the telecom giant in 2011 with the first purchase of its 77 propane-autogas vehicles.

“This initiative to acquire alternative fuel vehicles fit perfectly within the company’s goals of reducing its carbon footprint,” Morris explained. “The fleet is one of the largest contributors to DIRECTV’s carbon footprint.”

Other sustainability initiatives that have helped further DIRECTV’s green goals have been decreasing the interval between tire rotations and the purchase of a Chevrolet Volt for the company’s security patrol.

A benefit that also helped the fleet increase its efficiency and decrease its carbon footprint was that the dedicated propane-autogas vehicles qualified for HOV lane passes in California.

Though the use of the propane-autogas has been a win for the company, there were challenges that Morris and his fleet team had to overcome.

“The minimal number of propane-autogas fueling locations was a major challenge in implementing alternative-fuel vehicles into the fleet,” he said.

Going forward, Morris anticipates expanding DIRECTV’s alt-fuel fleet. “We will continue to evaluate the alternative fuel and hybrid options that become available and implement them as we find a fit within our organization,” he said.

Kelvin Kohatsu, fleet administrator for Hawai’i Electric, used telematics systems from Zonar to improve the 300-vehicle fleet’s mileage and to positively influence driver behaviors. The program has been in place since 2008. Prior to that, in 2006, Kohatsu transitioned the fleet’s diesel vehicles to B-20 biodiesel. A few trucks, including Kohatsu’s own company-issued Dodge-Cummins 3500, operate on B-100. The diesel vehicles average 1 million miles per year.

“We started with 8.66 miles for the consolidated fleet and we got it up to a little higher than 16 mpg for the consolidated fleet,” he said.

Electric vehicles make up the bulk of the utility’s alternative fleet, which ranges from Nissan LEAFs and Prius Hybrids to Class 7 hybrid diesel-electric Kenworth bucket trucks.

But, Kohatsu doesn’t see electric as the utility fleet’s only option. “I’m always keeping our options open, with regards to other technologies: LNG, hydrogen, etc. I’ll take a serious look at any and all avenues that have the potential to reduce fuel costs or increase mileage,” he said.

Going Green Over the Road 

Finding more miles in each drop of fuel was one of the prime incentives for the Paper Transport fleet to green.

“The less diesel we burn that makes a significant impact on the environment,” said Jeff Shefchik, president of Paper Transport fleet. “A lot of those efforts were always in place, but they got emphasized when diesel prices started going up in the 2005-2006 time frame.”

The spike in diesel prices changed the way that the Shefchik spec’ed the trucks, including different aerodynamic packages and rolling resistance of the tires.

“Another way to improve fuel economy involves driver training so they drive more efficiently, reducing the idle time, installing APU units or bunk heaters so the drivers aren’t idling when they’re sleeping in the trucks,” Shefchik said.

Over the last five years, the 400 vehicle fleet, which consists entirely of Class 8 tractors, has increased its mpg by 20 percent.

The second major initiative the fleet has implemented was adding natural gas trucks, which was started in 2012 with the purchase of two Class 8 Kenworth natural gas trucks. Last year, the company became one of Kenworth’s first customers to run CNG-powered Kenworth T660s with the Cummins Westport ISX12 G engine. Today, the fleet has about 100 of the natural gas trucks, running in local operations to regional over-the-road applications.

“Natural gas was the only real alternative to diesel for over-the-road long-haul operations. Hybrid and electric really don’t work for those applications,” Shefchik said.

Shefchik said that initially he worked with the CNG infrastructure providers to build publicly accessible stations.

“Now that the infrastructure is building up more on its own, we’ve been able to run our trucks in more areas on longer lengths of haul on existing public infrastructure,” Shefchik said.

While using CNG has only netted the Paper Transport fleet a small savings, Shefchik believes that, in the future, the savings will grow. “We believe it will become a larger savings as the incremental costs of the truck come down and the manufacturers do more to increase the fuel economy,” he said.

Taking Alternative Fuel Public

The City of Santa Ana, Calif., kicked off its sustainability program in 2011. Fleet stakeholders developed a five-year plan that maps out how the fleet will implement its sustainability initiatives.

“Our plan covers the gamut of different types of solutions, it doesn’t just focus on we’re going to go out and buy ‘X’ number of vehicles,” explained Rick Longobart, facilities, fleet and central stores manager for the City of Santa Ana. “While that may be the onus of the plan, the focus of the five-year energy plan is how are we going to get there from both a financial standpoint, what are some of the outcomes, what would the community outreach look like, how are we going to direct our message, how are we going to reach not only our end users but also to our constituents within the community, what the greenhouse gas footprint would look like, how were we’re going to pay for the vehicles. Not only was it just vehicles, also how do we do business overall. It kind of looked at the global perspective.”

This helped get buy in from City leadership and other fleet stakeholders, and is the anchor point for everything the fleet does from requesting money from the City to applying for grants. “We always refer to the five-year plan in all of our various requests,” Longobart said.

For the fleet, one of the big goals of the plan was to convert 85 percent of its vehicles to an alternative fuel, including compressed natural gas, propane autogas, electric, B-20, E-85, hybrid-electric, and even hydrogen. “Some may argue it’s easier to stick with a single alternative-fuel type,” Longobart said. “That’s sometimes the case when you’re dealing with a one-model-fits-all approach. In our perspective, you have to look at each individual case and what fits each model. We use the fuel that makes case sense.”

In addition to taking advantage of the full menu of alternative-fuel vehicle options, Longobart has also decreased the size of the fleet from 900 vehicles in 2010 to 652 as of press time. “In the 2014-15 budget the fleet is projected to get even smaller to 612 vehicles,” Longobart said. To leverage its fleet, Longobart has implemented a car-sharing system among the various government divisions, which allows the City to be more economical as a whole.

“If you just took the 300 vehicles that we’ve eliminated alone and calculate the greenhouse gas emissions, which we haven’t done, that’s an astonishing target to hit,” Longobart said.

While the environmental improvements are impressive on their own, the City has also seen budgetary payoffs as well. “Where there’s great savings just in reduction to rival gasoline costs. Our costs for LPG compared to gasoline is almost $2 less per gallon,” Longobart said. “We’ve been very aggressive in grant money. In the last three years we’ve pursued $2 million in grants, so a lot of the grants have paid for the incremental or more for vehicles, including the infrastructure. Once you set the cornerstone of alternative fuels, then the driver characteristics change, they drive better, more efficiently, and the accident rates have dropped.”

Longobart is also spreading the wealth internally to other divisions. “We’ve segregated our fuel costs from our maintenance costs in our rental rates and now we give back savings to the divisions that can reduce their fuel costs,” Longobart explained. “So, if you have $100,000 fuel budget and you only spend $90,000 you’ll get $10,000 back. We’re trying to incentivize on accidents in the same way.”

The fleet has also launched a public outreach plan that uses vehicle wraps, public demonstrations, press releases, websites to get the message out. “The unique thing we’re doing is going out to our local businesses and talking about alternative fuels, giving them information so they can transition their fleets to alternative fuels,” Longobart said.

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