By Mike Antich
The most powerful incentive to green a fleet occurs when fuel prices are rising. Higher fuel prices create pressure to maximize fuel efficiency in order to lower fuel costs. If you decrease fuel consumption, you automatically lower emissions. The bottom line is that increased fuel efficiency equates to less fuel burned, which equates to fewer emissions and lower costs.
The reality is the overwhelming majority of fleet vehicles in operation today are powered by either gasoline or diesel engines. If you want to green your fleet by reducing emissions, you need to decrease fuel consumption.
The way employees drive company-assigned vehicles can improve (or decrease) fuel economy and decrease (or increase) emissions. In fact, according to EPA data, up to 30 percent of a vehicle's fuel efficiency is impacted by driver behavior. Most company drivers average 20,000 miles per year. The way an employee drives make a big difference in the volume of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions emitted by a company vehicle. For example, every unnecessary gallon of gasoline burned creates 19.5 lbs. of CO2. Similarly, every unnecessary gallon of diesel burned creates 22.1 lbs. of CO2.
The quickest way to reduce fuel consumption is to modify employee driving behavior. In essence, you need to change your drivers' mind-set to make them "greener" drivers. Common sense tells us the best time to control emissions is before they occur. 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. If you truly want a "greener" fleet, you need to develop "greener" drivers.
One example of being a "greener" driver is reducing unnecessary idling. This is a simple and easy way to reduce fuel costs. Think about it. The worst mileage a vehicle can get is 0 miles per gallon, which occurs when it idles. In addition to wasting fuel, unnecessary idling produces unnecessary GHG emissions. The amount of unnecessary idling varies by fleet, but some fleets have recorded idling as much as 35 percent of the time. Eliminating an hour of idling per day will result in a significant fuel savings and emissions reduction.
Idling for long periods, whether at a job site, railroad crossing, or pulling off the road to make a cell phone call, consumes fuel that could be saved by simply turning off the engine. A turned-off engine doesn't produce tailpipe emissions.
The biggest challenge to implementing an anti-idling program is educating drivers. Some drivers mistakenly believe that frequently starting and stopping an engine uses more gas and/or causes additional wear and tear on the vehicle. This may have been a concern in the past, but today's engines are more efficient and don't require as much fuel to start. Restarting an engine uses about the same amount of fuel as does an engine idling for 30 seconds. The rule of thumb is that when idling for longer than 30 seconds, turn off the engine. However, be aware that turning off the engine may also disable safety features, such as air bags. Drivers should be certain to utilize this idling-reduction strategy only in situations where there is no possibility of a collision.
A common reason for excess idling is to operate an air conditioning system so a driver can stay cool in the summer or to operate a heater to stay warm in the winter. This poses a dilemma. Fleet managers struggle with this form of idling because they want to reduce fuel costs, but not at the expense of driver morale. For many employees, their vehicles are also their office. I don't have an easy answer on how to resolve this dilemma. The resolution will vary by company and be dictated by the corporate culture.
Focus on the Fundamentals
When striving to modify driver behavior to a "greener" driving mind-set, there are fundamental areas fleet managers should focus and communicate to their drivers. For instance, keeping tires properly inflated increases fuel efficiency by 3 percent. Reducing driving speed also conserves fuel. For every 10 mph of speed reduced, fuel economy improves by 4 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. 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.
Recommend drivers pre-plan trips to minimize stop-and-go driving, which burns fuel 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 a 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. Ultimately, drivers determine which fuel to pump into the vehicle (such as E-85 versus gasoline), which routes to take, or whether to drive conservatively or aggressively.
Some fleet managers have successfully developed the business case to acquire technological tools to modify driver behavior, such as telematics systems and GPS productivity tools to reduce fuel consumption, which have proven to be highly effective.
In the final analysis, the "greenest" vehicle is the one that isn't driven. However, a fleet needs to move employees and cargo. To accomplish its mission, a fleet needs to burn fuel. The question is, how do you burn less of it? Invariably, companies focus on modifying the vehicle asset to green their fleet. However, the easiest (and most cost-effective) way to achieve a sustainable reduction in fuel consumption and carbon footprint is to modify driver behavior.
Let me know what you think.