How to Create a Sustainable Green Fleet Policy
Implementing a well thought-out green fleet policy can cut both costs and emissions
— yielding benefits for fleets, communities, and beyond.
Green fleet policies are a win-win for fleets — organizations can demonstrate their commitment to sustainability while, at the same time, reducing fuel costs. To get there, though, organizations must invest time to create a well-thought-out policy that will serve them for years to come.
Even before the drafting stage, fleets should take time to establish goals, conduct research, and gather the appropriate team — then, together, make sure the policy covers all the appropriate bases. Here’s how:
Benchmark Current Fleet Performance & Identify Goals
A green fleet policy isn’t just words on a page — it’s a document that helps the fleet flourish. Wendy Lucht, Ocean State Clean Cities Coordinator, University of Rhode Island Outreach Center in Rhode Island, said it’s a way for fleets to better contribute to their organization as a whole.
“An organization should assess how their fleet helps it to accomplish its mission,” she said. “This is a critical first step toward evaluating the resources necessary and to meet that mission.”
With your organization’s mission as a guide, fleet managers should then take the critical next step: determining what goals to set that will help them carry out their mission.
“First and foremost, the fleet needs to decide what they want the goals of their policy to be and how these goals will be measured,” said Michelle McCutcheon-Schour, Vermont Clean Cities Coordinator and Outreach Professional, University of Vermont Transportation Research Center. “For example, will their policy be aimed at reducing the number of gallons of petroleum used in a year or will the program be focused on emissions reductions? While these go hand-in-hand, they are measured in very different ways. A fleet should also consider the budget and resources they can put toward reaching the goals of a green fleet policy.”
Benchmarking your current fleet profile and fuel consumption is key. Conducting a fleet analysis that includes duty cycles, routes, daily, monthly, and annual mileage, fuel costs, etc. will give you a good idea of benchmarks you can later compare against.
Then, assess your number of assets, your routes, and the size of the vehicles required to accomplish the fleet’s tasks (i.e., load, horsepower, volume, and cabin needs), and compare against alternative-fuel options. This will help you decide how to best reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, save on fueling and maintenance costs, and meet the driving needs of the company.
“Fleets should make sure their policy is realistic for their operations,” McCutcheon-Schour commented. “It is great for a fleet to aim high in terms of setting goals, but it is important that whatever goals they set are actually obtainable.”
Gather the Team
A green fleet policy is not a one-person effort. It takes the input of many to create a comprehensive policy that both accomplishes fleet goals and earns buy-in from employees. Stakeholders who could be included might be maintenance shop supervisors, facilities managers, fleet/fuels managers, purchasing, driver team leads, the fleet manager, and, of course, a fleet’s internal and external customers.
“We like to encourage people to have a point person for the development and implementation of the policy, along with a team of individuals from various departments affected by the policy,” McCutcheon-Schour said. “It is usually important to get input from employees along with management to ensure the policy is realistic in the everyday operations of the fleet.”
Gina Coplon-Newfield, director of the Sierra Club’s Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative, suggested starting with C-level leadership, then working down to the driver level.
“Ideally, the impetus and support for a strong green fleet policy comes from the top of a company — the CEO and board of directors who have a stated and real commitment to reducing the company’s climate pollution impacts and to reducing fueling costs,” she said. “The other departments that should be involved include those working with the fleet, product or service delivery, vehicle acquisitions, fueling, and communications. Additionally, the vehicle drivers should be involved in the discussion about driver needs, training, and feedback — especially regarding the driving and fueling experience with alt-fuel vehicles.”
Lucht also recommended involving outside resources where available, such as a Clean Cities Coordinator.
“If a fleet is located in a Clean Cities designated area, the fleet manager should give their Clean Cities Coordinator a call,” she said. “The coordinator will have a lot of background about how fleets can reduce their use of petroleum and improve their emissions profile.”
Kelly Gilbert, director of transportation and Clean Cities, Metropolitan Energy Center, agreed that a Clean Cities coordinator can be a valuable — and affordable — resource for fleets.
“Clean Cities coordinators are often a low-cost alternative to traditional consulting companies,” she said. “There is a wide breadth of experience at the core of the Clean Cities network that is available to stakeholders in the form of technical assistance. That knowledge of alternative fuels, technologies, and strategies can take you a long way down the path to a green fleet policy.”
What to Include
What you include in your green fleet policy depends on the goals you’ve set from the start — no two will look alike. However, green fleet policies typically include the following:
1. Rightsize vehicles and overall fleet size. Using data from the benchmarking phase, determine whether every unit is necessary to the fleet. Are there some that could be pooled or shared? Are there “gas guzzlers” you could get rid of? Or models that could be remarketed — and those funds used to convert other models to alternative fuels? Make a plan for rightsizing the fleet now and into the future.
2. Reduce petroleum use. What efforts will your fleet take to reduce petroleum use? Strategies can include replacing vehicles with more efficient vehicles or alternative fuels, using alternative fuels in existing vehicles, reducing idling, reducing mileage, and improving driver habits. Outline which measures the fleet plans to take.
According to Lucht, resources are available to help in the planning process.
“The U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuel Data Center has a great resource for fleets planning to reduce their petroleum use: the Petroleum Reduction Planning Tool (PREP),” she noted. “A fleet manager can input a current fleet profile, set a goal for petroleum reduction and GHG benefits, and model the various technologies to achieve that goal.”
3. Plan for alternative fuels. To reduce petroleum use, many green fleet policies outline a plan to rely more heavily on alternative fuels. To do so, research what fuels work for your specific applications.
Lucht recommended Argonne National Laboratory’s AFLEET tool (https://greet.es.anl.gov/afleet), which fleet managers use to assess whether alternative fuels have a financial payback and what their GHG-emissions benefits could be.
“I have used the AFLEET a few times. Sometimes, I find that switching to an alternative fuel will not have a payback period within the lifetime of the vehicle, unless a grant is awarded to support that change. Other times, I have found that switching to an alternative fuel will provide rapid payback,” she said. “In many cases where heavy duty vehicles are involved, switching to a biodiesel blend has both financial and environmental rewards. Since it is a ‘drop-in’ and renewable fuel priced closely to diesel, there isn’t much in the way of up-front costs, and the benefits are immediate.”
Coplon-Newfield recommended looking not only at the financial payoff of alternative fuels, but at the environmental impact, too, as this can vary greatly between fuel types.
“For example, oil constitutes about 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions, so reducing oil dependence is vital if we’re to have any chance of avoiding the worst of climate disruption,” she said. “Plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) are usually the best alternative-fuel vehicles because they rely on domestic electricity. The emissions from the electricity sources to charge EVs are significantly lower than those associated with the oil used to power conventional vehicles. And, EVs are only getting cleaner over time as we shift to cleaner sources of power.”
She added that for fleets that aren’t a good fit with EVs, “there are a number of other ways to reduce oil consumption, including aerodynamics, regenerative breaking, high-tech tires, anti-idling programs, driver training, telematics, advanced hybrid diesel engines, shifting to rail, reducing packaging, rightsizing, and reducing empty loads.”
4. Set purchasing rules. If you plan to add alternative-fuel vehicles or units that offer greater fuel efficiency, outline a five- to 10-year plan in the policy.
“Require purchasing to spec alternative-fuel or advanced vehicles as an option for every bid,” Gilbert of Clean Cities, Metropolitan Energy Center recommended. “Adopt purchasing rules that favor alternative fuels and advanced vehicle technologies, i.e., assign a dollar percentage to non-financial impacts, such as environmental benefits, reaching or exceeding regulation thresholds, and public relation benefit/opportunity.”
5. Plan for driver training. Driver training can have a major impact on fuel efficiency and emissions, so including a training plan in your policy can go a long way.
“Train drivers on green driving best practices, new equipment, and procedures, and make a plan to retrain drivers as needed,” Gilbert suggested. “Create a driver incentive program to recognize those who are doing well and create a friendly competition for fuel economy performance or other performance measures.”
6. Use telematics. Telematics can help identify ways fleets can take fuel conservation measures and reduce emissions.
“Route planning, tools such as cameras that record driver behavior, fuel management systems, and engine feedback mechanisms are all ways telematics can help reduce fuel use,” Gilbert said.
Share with Employees
Once the green fleet policy is established, it’s important to gain buy-in from employees.
“Including buy-in from employees from the beginning is critical to the success of a program,” said Kellie Walsh, executive director, Greater Indiana Clean Cities. “It’s important for employees to know the motivation isn’t ‘Big Brother wants to know what you are doing’ — it’s ‘we want to reduce costs in operations and create a sustainable green fleet.’ ”
Walsh recommended holding employee meetings to review the policy and help them understand what it is they’re being asked to do. Likewise, creating an incentive plan to encourage employees to comply with the policy will contribute to its success.
Gilbert offered several ways to communicate the policy to employees.
“Information about the policy should be communicated to all employees, whether or not it directly impacts their workday,” she said. “Internal newsletters, staff meetings, posters, etc., can all be used to communicate the launch, the anticipated benefits and savings, and should additionally communicate a message of pride and accomplishment. Communication should remain upbeat and emphasize new skills gained, rather than the inevitable disruption in current operations.”
Evaluate the Results
Once you’ve developed your green fleet policy, don’t let it gather dust. Evaluate it annually and measure your progress against planned milestones. Then, revise as needed.
“I would encourage fleets to design their plans so they can evolve and develop over time,” McCutcheon-Schour said. “Reviewing a plan, its progress, and evaluating if any changes should be made, should be done at least once a year if not more often.”
There’s no getting around the fact that a green fleet policy takes time and effort to develop. But, your hard work will pay off.
“As a result of a green fleet policy, fleets should be able to reduce use of petroleum-based fuels, increase renewable fuel resources, see more waste recycling opportunities, and reduce fuel usage, GHG footprint, and maintenance costs,” Walsh said. “Plus, employees will take pride in maintaining a clean, efficient, well-organized fleet.”
Lucht said fleets can also see positive budgetary impacts.
“For most fleets, the motivating factor is to save money. When an organization can buy less gasoline or diesel, it improves its bottom line,” she said. “Often times, there are grants available for adapting to alternative fuels, which makes the payback for those fuels much faster.”
Gilbert agreed that reduced costs are a direct benefit, but there are some secondary benefits, too.
“Very often, green fleet policies reduce costs over time, since a primary objective is to buy less fuel and make operations more efficient. Moreover, most alternative fuels are available at a lower cost than diesel or gasoline,” she said. “A nice side effect of most alternative fuels is cleaner air around the workplace, which makes drivers happier and healthier and leads to reduced sick days, higher productivity, and less employee attrition (which makes HR happier, with fewer new employees to recruit and train, etc.).”
And, of course, the benefits extend well beyond the fleet, too, Coplon-Newfield said.
“We all share this planet and need to take responsibility for protecting it, but companies with vehicle fleets have a disproportionate impact on air pollution, which is causing climate disruption, negative health impacts, and dependence on oil,” she said. “Companies have a terrific opportunity to reduce this impact by investing in cleaner vehicles, fuels, and driving and shipping practices. They can also reduce long-term fueling and maintenance costs. Another benefit is the ability to share with employees, customers, business partners, and the media the good work the company is doing to reduce its fueling costs and environmental impact.”