Technology has yet to offer a zero-emission fleet vehicle to completely eliminate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, by analyzing annual GHG output and purchasing carbon offsets equivalent to these emissions, corporate fleets can neutralize their pollution.
When a company purchases 10 tons of carbon offsets, the seller of those offsets guarantees elimination of 10 tons of global-warming pollution. Companies can help "neutralize" their pollution by investing in offset sellers who reduce pollution in the company's name.
Two years ago, Birmingham, Ala.-based Infinity Insurance Company made such an investment. The company takes measures to reduce GHG emissions, but also purchased GHG offsets from a dairy farm in Chino, Calif., to reduce methane emissions, compensating for the remaining output, thus making its entire 400-plus vehicle fleet climate neutral.
"As a company, we recognize and acknowledge our part in global warming and have taken the initiative and responsibility to do something about it by offsetting our fleet's GHG emissions ton for ton," said Chuck Kukal, supervisor of Infinity's fleet administration.
Going Climate Neutral
Infinity began its climate-neutral effort by involving individuals at all organizational levels, from top executives down. By determining its annual projected metric tons of fleet GHG emissions, the company purchased equal offsets. With the help of the Environmental Defense Fund and Carbonfund.org, Infinity researched and selected an offset investment in California and Alabama.
"We looked for a project with a verifiable, positive impact on our environment by actually taking GHG emissions and converting it into usable energy," Kukal said. After two years of purchasing offsets, Infinity continues this practice.
Infinity also reduced its own emissions to reach the targeted climate-neutral goal. The company purchased more fuel-efficient fleet vehicles and implemented driving practices to reduce emissions and increase fuel economy.
Switching from the six-cylinder Jeep Liberty to the four-cylinder Jeep Compass, Infinity's fleet mpg went from 16 in the Liberty to a fleet average of 22.9 with the Compass. Infinity further increased its average mpg and reduced GHG emissions by implementing a driver training program focusing on changing drivers' habits and attitudes concerning speeding, idling, fast starts, and hard breaking.
Infinity provides vehicles to its adjusters, business development/marketing employees, and special investigative units, a move that has helped the company accomplish its goals and further spread the message of operating a carbon-neutral fleet.
"Our drivers are aware of our corporate green initiative and green fleet objectives as stated in our Fleet Operations Handbook. They reflect and accomplish these goals as they drive in an alert, safe, and courteous manner, and implement good driving habits that reflect our green objectives," Kukal said.
To further promote Infinity's carbon-neutral message, company Jeep Compass vehicles display a "Climate Neutral" sticker on the rear hatch door.
Better-Than-Neutral Goals Achieved
Upon launching its climate-neutral efforts, Infinity's original goal was to reduce annual fleet operating costs by 10 percent, improve fuel economy by 25 percent, and reduce GHG emissions by 16 percent. Two years after pairing carbon offsets with in-house green practices to become climate neutral, Infinity has met these goals, in addition to achieving other measurable results.
Kukal has witnessed an overall reduction in fuel consumption and an increase in mpg. "We also see an expansion in our company's overall green initiative with recycling and by the initiation of car- and van-pooling program by our employees."
While realistic about its emissions, the company is proud of its accomplishments and has enjoyed some secondary benefits for its efforts.
"Although our fleet still produces GHG emissions, by our conscious efforts, we have taken steps to clean up what we can and offset what we can't," Kukal said. "We have seen maintenance and fuel costs reduced by this awareness. We have also seen a change in our attitudes toward reclaiming and recycling on personal and individual levels."
These measures have produced 2009 operating cost savings of $42,400 in January, $36,215 in February, and $41,582 in March.
Doing the Right Thing Pays Off
Infinity's success has hinged on taking measures with a verifiable cost savings as well as helping the environment. Kukal says in regards to "going green," focusing on doing the right thing - rather than the politically correct thing - is the key to success.
After two years of successfully operating a carbon-neutral fleet, Infinity continues to seek additional ways to green its fleet. As part of the overall green initiative, the company is currently evaluating its national recycling program and assessing the carbon footprint of facilities nationwide.
Kukal says Infinity continues to look for more fuel-efficient vehicles and hopes vehicles that use of zero fossil fuel will one day be an option for corporations and their fleet operations to further save costs and protect the environment. While Kukal remains optimistic for more improvements in the future and realistic about the present, he hasn't lost focus on the positive work Infinity has done.
"Questions and debate still arise about the validity of some global warming statistics, but the fact remains that the more vehicles on the road, the more the atmosphere is being polluted," he said. "It really does make a difference when a conscious effort is made to reduce and even try to eliminate what we can by offsets."