Cash-strapped organizations pressured to reduce their carbon footprints often think the only way they can possibly "go green" is by purchasing alternative-fuel vehicles (AFVs) — leaving many fleets feeling discouraged by their already-squeezed budgets. While AFVs are one way to go, they aren't the only way to green operations. Savvy fleets have discovered various inexpensive strategies. And, the best part about these methods: They also ultimately help save money, lower fuel consumption, and increase driver safety.
Rightsizing by Engine Downsizing
Saving money and being environmentally friendly don’t have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, looking at the bottom line can be a gateway to operating both leaner and greener.
One of the fundamental ways to achieve this is by rightsizing the fleet. Rightsizing involves evaluating the fleet and making sure it has the right number or types of vehicles to do its job. Gaining industry momentum in 2006, downsizing to four-cylinder vehicles was probably one of the earliest ways fleets attempted to implement environmentally conscious approaches to reduce their carbon footprint and save money.
In 2010, Valero Energy Corp., a producer and supplier of gasoline and other products, rightsized to the Ford Fusion as its company car. (It operates a fleet of more than 1,800 vehicles.) The move saved its 100-car fleet 6.5 cents per mile for a lifetime savings of $574,600, compared to the V-6 Ford Taurus models that the Fusions replaced.
Valero has been committed to rightsizing for several years. By staying in touch with market trends, the company divested itself of its minivans prior to the 2008 economic crisis.
Influencing Valero’s decision to choose the Fusion was vehicle cost less incentives, rebates, resale, fuel and tire cost per mile, and preventive maintenance. The total variable cost, fixed cost, resale values, and amount of greenhouse gas emissions led to the decision to make the four-cylinder Ford Fusion Valero’s vehicle of choice.
However, rightsizing can sometimes raise eyebrows of longtime employees not convinced that a smaller vehicle can do the job. For instance, when General Parts, an automotive replacement parts, supplies, tools, and equipment distributor, found that 85 percent of its vehicle cargo loads did not need to be transported in a pickup truck, the company switched to the four-cylinder Nissan Versa.
The savings have been "tremendous," according to the company, but longtime employees weren’t as sold on the change, unconvinced that deliveries could be made in the much smaller vehicles. After showing drivers that the Nissan Versas achieved nearly 10 mpg more than the larger pickups drivers had been using — 28 mpg to 19.9 aggregate mpg — the drivers were convinced.
With operations in 48 states and annual mileage topping 23 million, keeping fuel costs under control is a high priority for The Scooter Store, a power mobility provider.
The company has been able to reduce its overall fuel use 20 percent by rightsizing many of the vehicles in its 500-unit fleet, a process that began in 2008. This involved moving to smaller vehicles for its distribution/service and sales/service vehicles than in years past. The Scooter Store is using Ford E-250 cargo vans, Transit Connect vans, and Ranger trucks.
Alternative (Fuel) Lifestyle
In addition to downsizing to smaller engines, fleets have turned to alternative fuels and fuel management techniques to reduce their carbon footprint and save money at the same time.
While the initial outlay for many alternative-fuel vehicles can appear budget-busting, in the long run, these types of vehicles can be budget friendly with low fuel and maintenance costs.
Chesapeake Energy Corp. went all out in its commitment to alternative energy and expects to reap substantial dividends once it has converted its 4,500-plus fleet to compressed natural gas (CNG) by 2014. Phase one of the program involved converting the 800 vehicles it operates in Oklahoma City. These newly converted natural-gas-powered trucks will be used by field operations teams overseeing the company’s drilling programs in the Anadarko Basin in western Oklahoma.
While ambitious, the transition is well supported with a CNG infrastructure dating to 2010. With its fuel retail partners, Chesapeake opened 14 CNG stations throughout Oklahoma, bringing the current total of public CNG stations to more than 40. It expects hundreds more to follow as more stations are opened across the country to meet the growing demands from fleets.
The next phases of the fleet conversion will involve the company’s vehicles in North Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Colorado, Wyoming, and South Texas. Hoping to replicate the success of the Oklahoma conversion, Chesapeake Energy will open additional fueling stations in North Texas and Louisiana. When all is said and done, the company expects to realize at least $11 million in annual savings once the entire fleet is transformed.
Instead of committing to one alternative-fuel type, FedEx’s subsidiary FedEx Express is replacing its 4,000-vehicle gasoline fleet primarily with Mercedes-Benz BlueTEC clean diesel Sprinter vans; the Navistar eStar all-electric delivery vehicles, Freightliner eCells; and Ford Transit Connect Electric vans.
General Electric Corp. has committed itself to electricity, announcing that it will purchase 25,000 electric vehicles by 2015. It will do this by converting at least half of its 30,000-global-vehicle fleet and work with its fleet customers to deploy the EVs. Its initial purchases will be 12,000 GM vehicles, beginning with the Chevrolet Volt.
This move to EVs fits with GE’s commitment to vehicle electrification. The company offers a portfolio of EV-related products, including charging stations, circuit protection equipment, and transformers.
Virtually every vehicle manufacturer is represented in Cox Enterprises’ 13,000-vehicle fleet, with the majority from Ford and GM leased primarily through Wheels and ARI.
The company is committed to controlling fleet costs and minimizing its carbon footprint through its green initiative, Cox Conserves. With a fleet that serves a number of functions from newspaper delivery to warehousing, towing, and television broadcasting, fleet managers must be careful to fit the right vehicle to the right function.
Among the ways Cox has done this is through standardization, allowing the company to further leverage its buying power.
Critically, fleet is an integral part of Cox’s supply chain and its green initiatives have received the full support of senior management. For instance, its executive vehicle program requires that company leaders select vehicles that achieve 27 mpg or better. And, executives don’t get prime parking spaces. The 70 best spots in the corporate garage are reserved for hybrid vehicles.
The Cox Conserves initiative aims to reduce the company-wide carbon footprint by 20 percent by 2017. The effort is expected to save 172,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, equivalent to the pollutants produced by 26,000 homes.
In addition to its environmentally conscious executive program, the company maintains biodiesel-capable, hybrid (Toyota Prius and Highlanders and the Ford Escape), E-85, electric, and CNG vehicles. The company also expects to add other fuel-efficient vehicles, such as the Ford Transit Connect in the future. While these vehicles are definitely helping improve the quality of the air we breathe, they’re also helping the company’s bottom line.
For instance, Cox fleet operates several hybrid bucket trucks from Navistar, which have realized a fuel savings of nearly 60 percent with the gasoline engine off and the electric motor powering the vehicle.
It is estimated by the Hybrid Truck Users Forum (HTUF), of which Cox is a member, that 1,000 to 1,500 gallons of fuel can be saved per year per utility-type truck, equaling between $3,000 and $6,000 per truck annually (depending on the cost of fuel).
The company also helps employees reduce their personal carbon footprint with its Borrow-a-Hybrid program. Employees who take alternative transportation to and from work can check out hybrid vehicles from the company fleet.
While alternative fuels may be the ideal way to lower fuel use, costs, and a fleet’s carbon footprint, many fleets still rely on controlling gasoline usage to improve the bottom line and limit their environmental impact.
LKQ Corp., a national parts and replacement products provider, closely monitors its fuel costs. Drivers are issued a fuel card with a unique PIN, allowing gallon maximum per day per fill, fill-ups per day, and hours of use of each card to be limited. The PINs are updated daily and drivers no longer with the company have their PINs deleted, further ensuring that no unauthorized charges are incurred.
When filling up, drivers must enter their odometer total, allowing mpg to be tracked for discrepancies. Weekend and after-hours fuel use are also tracked.
Green from the Get-Go
Fleets may not be able to control the size of their budgets and the amount of money they have to spend on new technologies designed to help improve fuel economy, but they do — or at least should — have some control over one important factor: the driver.
The worst fuel economy for a vehicle is 0 mpg, which is what happens when its engine is idling. Add to that jackrabbit starts, frequent and abrupt braking, and speeding, and what results is a sure-fire way to not only lower fuel efficiency, but also contribute to the amount of pollutants emitted into the environment.
Ensuring drivers have the basic knowledge, skills, and training to be able to operate vehicles as efficiently as possible is one method fleets are using to become greener.
In April 2011, companies such as NovoNordisk and SimplexGrinnell signed up to participate in the EcoWheels Green Driver Challenge, a program designed by fleet management company Wheels, Inc. to help corporate fleet drivers and employees learn about and pledge to adopt sustainable practices that minimize the environmental impact of their driving.
Diabetes care company NovoNordisk, with a fleet of more than 3,000 vehicles, has made sustainability a part of its culture. Similarly, safety and property protection provider SimplexGrinnell also is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, waste, and water consumption by 25 percent by 2015.
The EcoWheels program educates drivers on practices that improve fuel efficiency and advises on the best utilization of fleet assets and implementing best practices for fleet vehicle selection. Both companies registered at a special website and pledged sustainable actions. The website calculated the carbon dioxide (CO2) output in pounds that each pledge saved and the impact of that CO2 reduction in equivalent number of trees planted.
According to Wheels, over the last five years, its EcoWheels program has reduced half-a-billion pounds of CO2 emissions over its total portfolio — the equivalent of removing almost 30,000 vehicles from the road. The program runs annually from Earth Day until July 1 with a goal of eliminating 1.25 million lbs. of CO2 emissions — the equivalent of planting 24,038 trees.
Belron U.S./Safelite Autoglass, a national auto glass repair and replacement service provider, operates more than 6,000 vehicles and has been managing an anti-idling campaign ("Turn it off, idling gets you nowhere") for many years. With an overall initiative to reduce fuel consumption by 10 percent in 2011, Fleet Manager Erin Gilchrist worked with the fleet’s fuel card provider to develop a Web seminar focusing on the key components necessary to maximize overall fuel economy, such as idle reduction, new preventive maintenance alerts, and driver behavior.
With the help of its risk management solutions company, new "green" driver training modules and policies were added to ensure all individuals understand their role in maximizing fleet fuel efficiency. The training is conducted at pre-hire and after an accident. Gilchrist estimated these initiatives will help reduce CO2 emissions by 9,000 metric tons.
To conserve fuel, Polk County, Fla., incentivized its drivers to drive greener using a three-prong approach. First, the maximum travel speed of the County’s on-highway vehicles was limited to 55 mph. An in-house Eco-Driver training program was developed to train, reinforce, and promote driving habits proven to reduce fuel consumption and assure driver buy-in, and the County added an incentive program to allow employees to share monetarily in its own conservation success. If the driver’s mpg improved by 5 percent over a one-year period, the County would split the fuel savings with him or her on a 50-50 basis.
Polk County also affixed decals to the rear of its vehicles to alert fellow motorists that County drivers observe 55 mph speed limits, which helped serve as a "self-policing device" reminder not to exceed that limit.
Within two years of implementing the program, the County lowered fuel use by 13.4 percent, reduced 6.2 million lbs. of carbon, and cut preventable accidents by 22 percent, according to Bob Stanton, former director of Polk County, Fla., now with Hillsborough County.
Staples Inc. took a more a radical approach to combatting the scourge of idling. The company installed a three-minute idle shutoff system produced by Mentor, Ohio-based Malone Specialties Inc.
In addition to shutting the engine down automatically, the system also recorded how often an engine was stopped due to idling, allowing supervisors to hold drivers accountable and determine the cause of the excessive idling. For instance, the company found that some drivers would leave their vehicles on while making deliveries so they wouldn’t lose the benefit of the air conditioning.
With the new cutoff system, Staples was able to realize a 5-percent fuel savings.
The Schindler Group has taken its sustainability efforts to a global scale. The elevator and escalator company has an aggressive plan to decrease its fleet’s carbon footprint. It is a laudable goal, since its 17,000-vehicle fleet accounts for 64 percent of the company’s carbon footprint. To date, it has been able to decrease its emissions by 30 percent.
Among the ways Schindler is reducing its environmental impact is by modifying driver behavior. The company implemented several programs designed to modify behavior using driver training programs. In these programs, drivers learn both safe and economical driving habits — which are seen as a hand-in-glove approach to lowering emissions. According to the company, drivers trained in these techniques have been able to increase their fuel efficiency by approximately 30 percent.
Once drivers are all set with the basic techniques of greener driving, it’s time to send them on their way. But even the greenest driver doesn’t stand a chance against an inefficient route. With proper planning of scheduled routes, less fuel will be wasted.
UPS was able to cut 63.5 million miles from its routes over a one-year period in 2010, dropping fuel consumption by 3 percent and emissions by 68,000 metric tons. In its 2011 sustainability report, the company attributed the improvements to advancements in vehicle routing technologies and working with its drivers to drive in a more fuel-efficient manner, resulting in "small adjustments with big payoffs," according to the report.
After reviewing "stops per mile" in its report data, the company was able to increase stops per mile by 0.01 percent in 2010 — the equivalent of not driving 9.13 million miles. Telematics also cut 15.4 million minutes of engine idling time in 2010, reported UPS.
Likewise, Sears Holdings Corporation (SHC) has implemented routing software to assign service calls in the most efficient way possible. The company was able to cut gasoline consumption by 10 percent when it installed fuel-efficiency programming tools in more than 4,000 of its company vans to control van acceleration.
It’s not surprising that electronic retail giant Best Buy has turned to a sophisticated telematics technology to monitor and help its Geek Squad and other drivers reduce the amount of gasoline they are burning.
In early 2011, the company instituted a telematics pilot. The software solution it used allows management to drill down to specific vehicle costs in order to monitor and report to field teams how well they are managing their vehicle expenses.
The fleet managers have found the telematics solution to be "extremely flexible" in how it allows them to pull data and monitor vehicle performance through many different lenses.
The telematics technology, in concert with WiFi and better routing tools, makes fleet vehicles even more visible in real time allowing the drivers to meet the customers’ expectations, which is one of the fleet’s priorities.
The Green Bottom Line
The bottom line on greening a corporate fleet is that there is no formula a fleet manager can plug in that will automatically reduce a fleet’s carbon footprint and save money. Idle reduction, telematics, rightsizing, and switching to alternative fuels are all options to achieve sustainability.
However, every fleet is different, so what works for one fleet may not work for another — even in the same industry. It is up to fleet managers to identify ways to cut spend and greenhouse gas emissions by finding a solution that is specific and appropriate to their fleet.