Sustainability continues to gain importance as a top job responsibility for many fleet managers. Corporations, especially multinationals, recognize that they must be environmental stewards to reduce their corporate environmental footprint. Vehicle fleets are key contributors to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and offer a way to make quick emissions reductions. Since most companies replace approximately one third of their fleet vehicles each year, they can tailor selectors to favor more fuel-efficient vehicles.
More and more fleet managers are reporting management has asked them to report on the environmental impact of the company’s fleet. A growing number of multinational corporations are measuring overall emissions and establishing baselines to track reduction of their carbon footprint. The types of vehicles deployed can have a dramatic environmental impact as witnessed by DPF and SCR technologies, which, since their mandated introduction, have greatly reduced diesel emissions.
Obstacles to Greening a Fleet
As vehicle replacement cycles are returning to traditional parameters, commercial fleets are replacing older, higher-emissions vehicles with new, more fuel-efficient models. Although replacement cycling remains extended at government fleets, many are disposing of older units that can no longer pass smog tests.
For many fleets, high acquisition costs for greener vehicles, plus the lack of fleet-appropriate models, continue to be barriers to fleet sustainability initiatives. Today’s constrained capital budgets limit the funds to replace units, especially green vehicles, which run counter to sustainability initiatives. This failure to replace aged vehicles contradicts carbon-emissions reduction plans. One response to fiscal constraints is to, instead, focus on driver behavior as a way to increase fuel efficiency to meet environmental goals.
Another obstacle to migrating to a greener fleet is that it adds complexity to a fleet operation. For instance, tighter emission regulations for on- and off-road heavy equipment add complexity in terms of maintenance, technician training, parts inventory, etc.
Another reason greening a government fleet, especially municipal fleets, is difficult is because the largest percentage of fleet vehicles are in public safety. Until alternative-fuel solutions are available for police patrol vehicles and fire apparatus, which police officers and firefighters will accept, the use of alt-fuel vehicles by municipalities will be limited.
Despite these constraints, “green initiatives” continue to gain priority at many corporate fleets and political subdivisions. A growing number of companies have made public commitments to green their fleets. For instance, AT&T, Best Buy, Coca-Cola, Enterprise Holdings, FedEx, Frito-Lay, GE, Johnson Controls, Inc., OSRAM SYLVANIA, Pacific Gas and Electric, PepsiCo, Ryder, Schwan’s Home Service, Staples, ThyssenKrupp Elevator, UPS, Veolia Environmental Services, and Verizon have joined the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Clean Fleets Partnership to reduce gasoline and diesel consumption.
These corporations, along with many others, are committed to acquiring low-emissions vehicles. These organizations recognize that fleet can play a significant role in achieving emissions-reduction goals. Some goals are very ambitious. For instance, the City of Austin, Texas, has a goal to be carbon neutral by 2020.
On the corporate side, AT&T recently deployed its 5,000th alternative-fuel vehicle in its fleet, part of a 10-year plan to spend up to $565 million to deploy approximately 15,000 alt-fuel vehicles through 2018. Another corporate green pioneer is Schwan’s Home Service, where approximately 73 percent of its 5,000-unit fleet is now powered by propane autogas.
A growing number of business plans require fleets to incorporate alternative-fueled vehicles and equipment whenever possible, so long as the units meet operational requirements and it is economically feasible. For instance, Coca-Cola has made a strong commitment to green its fleet, which now consists of more than 700 hybrid-electric, medium-duty trucks.
On the public sector side, the City of Fort Wayne, Ind., implemented a “Green City” initiative, reducing emissions from its municipal equipment by 30 percent. Similar efforts by the City of Sacramento, Calif., have decreased GHG emissions by 1,717 metric tons.
Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way
The bottom line is that fleets want to be environmentally friendly, but are often hamstrung by fiscal constraints when procuring greener vehicles. But, as many fleets have shown, where there is a will, there is a way to meet fleet sustainability goals, despite fiscal austerity.
If you want to learn from these fleets, I encourage you to attend the 2012 Green Fleet Conference, produced by Bobit Business Media, to be held Oct. 2-3, 2012, at the Renaissance Schaumburg in Schaumburg, Ill. If you’re interested in greening your fleet, this is the one conference you can’t miss.
Let me know what you think.