At a Glance

The “last mile” to achieving corporate sustainability objectives is modifying driver behavior. Basic eco-driving practices include:

  • Knowing the proper way to accelerate and brake.
  • Using synchronized traffic lights to a driver’s advantage.
  • Driving at the optimum highway speed.
  • Understanding when to use air conditioning.

Companies have adopted a variety of strategies to achieve green fleet initiatives, such as adopting anti-idling policies, switching to smaller displacement engines, buying alt-fuel and hybrid vehicles, and downsizing to smaller vehicle segments.

However, there’s a limit to how much a fleet manager can modify a fleet selector to decrease emissions and maximize fuel efficiency, especially if the majority of the vehicles are gasoline- or diesel-powered. A fleet manager can only downsize so far before beginning to impact the fleet mission. The bottom line is that you can’t change the fundamental requirements of your business. You need to move employees and cargo in a cost-efficient manner. This necessitates a minimum equipment requirement to do so.

If you are constrained by equipment limitations, the “last mile” to achieving corporate sustainability objectives is modifying driver behavior. This is possibly the greatest opportunity available to fleet managers to green their fleets.

Most company drivers average 20,000 miles per year and driver behavior is a major influence in fuel consumption. To be a truly green fleet, you need to change drivers’ mindsets to make them “greener” drivers. This must be a top priority. The way employees drive their vehicles can either increase or decrease fuel economy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If the driving behavior of employees is changed, there will be a direct impact on the amount of fuel consumed and emissions produced.

Even small increases in mpg can result in substantial savings when extrapolated across the entire fleet. Fleet managers, who have implemented eco-driving training programs, report a 5- to 30-percent reduction in annual fuel consumption by changing driver behavior. 

Major fleets, such as Wal-Mart, Xerox, Schindler, Veolia Transportation, and UPS have implemented eco-driving programs designed to modify driver behavior. For instance, FedEx is investigating the integration of five eco-driving practices into its online fleet management system reporting. 

The five eco-driving practices, which FedEx successfully tested in Japan, include:

  • Minimize idling.
  • Accelerate gently.
  • Maintain a steady speed.
  • Ease off the accelerator early before braking.
  • Use A/C judiciously. 

In fact, tests conducted by Isuzu show that a single truck, averaging 35,000 miles per year, can reduce fuel consumption by more than 1,200 gallons by simply using eco-driving techniques. At $4.09 per gallon for diesel (as of press time), that would translate into annual savings of $4,908. For a 50-truck fleet, it would be $245,400 per year. 

The challenge is to make eco-driving the permanent mindset of all drivers. Unless there is an enforcement program with incentives, the danger is that drivers will drift back to old behaviors. It has been proven that by using more “carrot than stick,” these efficiencies can be maintained over the longer-term. To maintain driver motivation, you need to have an ongoing eco-driving training program for new hires and periodic refresher courses for current drivers, offering tangible incentives for employees who perform well.

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Eco-Driving 101

In essence, the concept of eco-driving is changing driver behavior. Eco-driving refers to specific driving behaviors that can improve fuel economy, reduce operating expenses, decrease GHG emissions, and promote safe driving. In fact, eco-driving practices, by default, make employees safer drivers by discouraging aggressive driving and speeding. Many fleets correctly view eco-driving and safe driving as being intertwined. Besides decreasing fuel consumption, eco-driving also helps lower other operating costs by extending the life of wear items, such as tires and brakes. 

Basic eco-driving practices include knowing the proper way to accelerate and brake, using synchronized traffic lights to a driver’s advantage, driving at the optimum highway speed, and understanding when to use air conditioning. For example, aggressive driving (such as speeding, rapid acceleration, and braking) can lower fuel economy by 33 percent at highway speeds and by 5 percent on city streets.

Minimizing unnecessary idling and maintaining proper tire pressure are other eco-driving practices. A typical fleet sedan consumes half a gallon of fuel for every hour spent idling. Every gallon of gasoline burned produces 19.5 lbs. of CO2 and every gallon of diesel creates 22.1 lbs. of CO2. When idling, drivers achieve 0 mpg. Likewise, by monitoring and maintaining manufacturer-recommended tire inflation, fuel economy can be improved by up to 3.3 percent. 

Eco-driving isn’t rocket science, but it works and represents an effective way to reduce fuel consumption, lower emissions, decrease operating costs, and reduce accidents. To learn more about eco-driving, visit www.ecodrivingusa.com.

Fleets serious about achieving sustainability objectives need to make the modification of driver behavior a primary focus. It’s not a one-time effort; it is an ongoing, never-ending process.

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