At a Glance:

To build a successful green fleet, fleet managers should:
● Get buy-in from all management and staff levels and communicate information frequently.
● Anticipate obstacles, including driver resistance.
● Incorporate best practices, such as sustainable changes and creating long-term and objective goals.







Implementing a green fleet initiative is no easy feat. According to three industry professionals, a successful plan to reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions — with a respectable return on investment (ROI) — requires a long-term vision, incremental change, top management support, openness to all options, and flexibility to manage challenges.

Mathers, Schreiber, and Bibbo

Mathers, Schreiber, and Bibbo

 Get Buy-In & Communicate

Top management backing is critical to developing and executing a fuel-efficient and eco-responsible fleet.
“In most cases, this is a top-to-bottom effort with some specific goals and targets,” said Phil Schreiber, North America fleet manager for Otis Elevator Company. “A culture must be developed to view and recognize the benefits of implementing a green fleet. The benefits must be tangible, not only feel-good benefits.”

Donna Bibbo, manager of fleet and travel for Princeton, N.J.-based Novo Nordisk Inc., echoed the need for executive buy-in and support. She added another essential component in green fleet planning — keeping the message alive.
“Communication, communication, communication,” Bibbo said. “You need to keep this [issue] in the minds of the drivers constantly. They slip back into old habits really easily.”

Jason Mathers, project manager for the Environment Defense Fund (EDF) Corporate Partnership program, recommended coordinating with other internal corporate groups.

“It’s important the procurement and environmental strategy teams align,” Mathers explained. In initial EDF green fleet efforts, these two teams commonly met for the first time “when they were sitting down with us,” he recalled.
As companies create more detailed environmental goals, those internal connections are made. “This is a problem mostly for companies just starting to create an environmental strategy that goes beyond compliance,” Mathers noted.

Anticipate Obstacles

Even carefully developed plans can encounter obstacles when implemented, Bibbo noted. “Understand the challenges and be ready to either address them or accept that they will impede your progress,” she suggested.
Driver resistance has been a significant obstacle for Novo Nordisk’s green fleet initiative. Seeking to accommodate work/life balance issues, the company vehicle selector offers large SUV/minivan choices, although at a higher personal use charge. “They say that they want to do the right thing, but they just can’t resist that larger SUV if it’s offered,” Bibbo said. The higher personal use fee initially reduced driver selections of more gas-guzzling models, “but now, they just accept it as a way of life and pay the difference, so I need to come up with some new deterrents,” Bibbo said.

Increased mileage reporting during times of higher fuel prices also hinders her green fleet efforts. “When the price of fuel goes up, so does the number of [reported] miles driven in the company car since the company is paying for the gas,” Bibbo said.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and manufacturer vehicle efficiency numbers present a challenge to selecting the most fuel-efficient model in each class. Often these figures do not match company drivers’ real-world fuel efficiency and are “in fact, highly overstated for some vehicles,” Bibbo found.

Schreiber lamented the time lag between OEM technology introductions and their market availability. Additionally, he noted, ROI on some alternative-fuel conversions is very slow.

Other challenges he’s found include green-fleet inhibiting government rules and regulations, and inadequate or nonexistent alternative-energy infrastructure.

[PAGEBREAK]Incorporate Best Practices

Examine every available green fleet option “to see if it can be adapted to your situation,” Schreiber recommended. Determine any action’s costs/benefits and implement changes slowly and incrementally. “This is not a race; it is a journey,” he said. “There is never a final target.”

Bibbo agreed to taking things slow. Sweeping change to a total hybrid fleet is most likely not sustainable. However, she pointed out, “changing from six- to four-cylinder engines or downsizing from a Ford Taurus to a Fusion might be [sustainable] and will provide excellent and reportable results.”

Multinational companies should resist the temptation to create a single global CO2-reduction plan, Bibbo advised. “Each country has a different reference point, different challenges, and different vehicles available, so one goal won’t be attainable for all if the goal is too stringent or too low or too lenient.” In Novo Nordisk’s global green initiative, individual countries operating fleets set CO2 reduction goals and report on them, Bibbo said.

Avoid setting reduction goals in absolute numbers (e.g., reduce CO2 emissions by a million metric tons), Bibbo also recommended. “If you are a growing company, this could impede your growth,” she said. “My fleet grew by approximately 465 vehicles in late 2010/early 2011 due to a hiring expansion. If I had an absolute reduction goal, I would not be able to meet it. However, since my goal is based on average fuel economy and average emissions per vehicle, I still can meet my target.”

The best green fleet initiative goals are long-term and objective goals, such as fuel consumption or greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions, Mathers said. “Companies run the risk of limiting their ultimate progress and cost-effectiveness by creating goals that rely on a specific technology or strategy. For example, fuel economy, alternative fuels, and hybrids or electric vehicles (EVs) are all ways to reduce emissions. However, companies that focus only on one [strategy] can be missing other ‘low-hanging’ fruit opportunities,” he noted.

Mathers also recommended calling on additional resources in creating and executing green initiatives. “Staying on top of fuel and emissions-reduction best practices is a lot of work. With all the other time demands on fleet managers, it’s difficult to be an expert in this space too,” he said. Fleet management companies and other value-added suppliers offer “excellent” advice and help for greening fleets. “Doing it all yourself might be appealing from a short-term cost perspective,” Mathers said. “However, you could miss significant opportunities for improvement that suppliers can identify.” 

About These Fleet Professionals

Donna Bibbo manages Novo Nordisk’s U.S. and Canada fleet, numbering some 3,100 units, primarily sales vehicles. The regular fleet selector, exclusively four-cylinder models, includes sedans, wagons, and mid-size SUVs.

The 21-year industry veteran implemented a U.S. green fleet initiative in 2007 and its goals are now reflected in the company’s new global green efforts. The U.S. five-year goal targets a 0.5-1 mpg increase in average vehicle fuel economy each year, producing a 5-percent annual decrease in average per-vehicle CO2 emissions.

To achieve these goals, Bibbo continuously re-evaluates the fleet selector, provides eco-driving training and driver incentives for eco-smart driving or fuel-efficient vehicle choices, and partners with suppliers. Specific actions developed for each strategy are updated over time, Bibbo explained.

Phil Schreiber has built an incrementally deployed green initiative based on corporate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions-reduction targets.

Based in the Otis Elevator Service Center in Bloomfield, Conn., Schreiber, a 24-year industry veteran, manages a 3,500-vehicle fleet of primarily vans and light-duty trucks, plus cars and cab chassis up to 26,000 lbs. GVW.

According to Schreiber, Otis green fleet actions include:

  • Vehicle rightsizing. Over the past three years about 50 percent of all Otis fleet vehicle replacements have been reduced in size.
  • Cargo/equipment evaluation. A field supervisor team reviews equipment and supplies carried in vehicles. Loads have been lightened by as much as 200-300 lbs.
  • Speed restriction. When appropriate, speed governors are installed in vehicles.
  • Advanced engine technology. When justified by fuel savings, new engine and propulsion systems, such as Ford’s Eco-Boost, are selected within the vehicle template.
  • Alternative fuels review. Use of propane, CNG, and other alternative-fuel is routinely considered when ROI on conversion costs justify the switch.

Jason Mathers leads Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) efforts in promoting greenhouse gas (GHG) management in corporate fleets. A national nonprofit organization of 700,000 members, the EDF ( links science, economics, and law to create solutions to critical environment problems.

Mathers works directly with some of the nation’s largest passenger vehicle, medium-duty, and long-haul fleets, as well as fleet management companies and fleet trade associations. He has developed industry resources, including a fleet GHG calculator, a suite of training materials on fuel-smart driving behaviors, and a survey of environmental practices of leading fleets.

About the author
Cindy Brauer

Cindy Brauer

Former Managing Editor

Cindy Brauer is a former managing editor for Bobit Business Media’s AutoGroup. A native of Chicago but resident of Southern California since her teens, Brauer studied journalism and earned a communications degree at California State University Fullerton. Over her career, she has written and edited content for a variety of publishing venues in a disparate range of fields.

View Bio