By Mike Antich
Despite a slow economy, many companies (especially multi-nationals) remain fully committed to achieving self-imposed sustainability targets, which invariably include their fleet operations. However, many fleet programs place a greater focus on modifying the "asset" versus modifying driver behavior.
Companies are adopting a variety of tactics to meet green fleet initiatives, such as buying more hybrids, adopting anti-idling policies, switching to four-cylinder engines, increasing overall fleet mpg, and migrating to smaller classes of vehicles. The "last mile" to achieving these objectives is modifying driver behavior.
One way to modify driver behavior is by using technology. Many fleets have successfully adopted effective technology solutions, such as telematic systems and GPS productivity tools; however, in today's cost-sensitive environment, there continues to be a sizeable number of (Luddite) senior managers who remain stubbornly "penny-wise, pound foolish."
In the final analysis, the way employees drive make a (big) difference in the volume of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions emitted by company vehicles.
When striving to modify driver behavior to a "greener" driving mindset, there are five key areas fleet managers should focus and communicate to their drivers.
1. Avoid Long Idling. The worst mileage a car can get is 0 mpg, which occurs when idling. When idling for long periods of time, whether at a railroad crossing or pulling off the road to make a cell phone call, turn off the engine. A turned-off engine doesn't produce tailpipe emissions.
2. Clean Out the Trunk. The more weight a car carries, the lower its fuel economy. Instruct drivers to remove all unnecessary items from the trunk, such as unneeded tools or materials. The EPA estimates that every extra 100 lbs. a car carries, it loses 2 percent in fuel economy. The less fuel consumed, the fewer pollutants emitted.
3. Keep Tires Properly Inflated. Tires lose air pressure over time. As air pressure decreases, rolling resistance increases, making a vehicle less fuel-efficient. Keeping tires properly inflated increases fuel efficiency by 3 percent. Instruct drivers to check the owner's manual to determine the proper tire inflation level. There are other advantages to maintaining proper tire inflation. Underinflated tires degrade vehicle handling, which is a safety issue. Also, properly inflated tires will last longer.
4. Reduce Driving Speed. Wind drag is a key source of reduced fuel mileage, causing an engine to work harder, thereby reducing fuel economy and increasing tailpipe emissions. The faster a driver pushes a vehicle, the more air it must push out of the way. For every 10 mph of speed reduced, fuel economy improves by four mpg. Also, instruct drivers to avoid jackrabbit starts. One second of high-powered driving produces the same volume of carbon monoxide as a half hour of normal driving. Instruct drivers to use cruise control during highway driving. Unnecessary changes in speed are wasteful, and the use of cruise control helps improve fuel economy.
5. Avoid Stop-and-Go Driving. Recommend to drivers that they pre-plan their trips to minimize stop-and-go driving, which burns gas more quickly and increases emissions. Also, recommend combining several short trips into one. Not only does this reduce fuel consumption, but a warmed-up engine produces less emissions. For the catalytic converter to work, it must be heated to a certain temperature. That's why the greatest amount of emissions are emitted into the air when starting a cold engine.
You need to change your drivers' mindset to make them "greener" drivers. Similar to turning off the lights in unoccupied rooms at home, drivers should likewise be mindful of practicing energy conservation habits while driving. Instruct them to use AC only when needed. Don't use it as a fan to simply circulate air. An air conditioner is one of the biggest drains on engine power and fuel economy. It can increase gas consumption by 5-20 percent, depending on the type of vehicle and the way it is driven.
Most company drivers average 20,000 miles per year. The way they drive their vehicles can improve fuel economy and decrease GHG emissions. If a vehicle has a trip computer, encourage drivers to use the "instant fuel economy" display to refine driving habits to become more fuel-efficient.
If you are serious about achieving fleet sustainability objectives, you need to make the driver your primary focus. This is not a one-time effort; it is an ongoing, never-ending process. You can't simply buy a hybrid and say "mission accomplished." If you truly want a "greener" fleet, you need to develop "greener" drivers.
Let me know what you think.