9 Expert Tips for a Greener Fleet

9 Expert Tips for a Greener Fleet

Image CC licensed by Flickr user niezwyciezony

It's going to be a summer of pain at the pump.

That's the dismal assessment offered on Monday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, predicting the average retail price of a gallon of regular gasoline to average $3.75 through September. Thankfully, that's lower than last month's forecast but still about 36 percent higher than last summer, when a gallon averaged $2.76.

For commercial fleets, that $1 price difference adds up quickly, offering a strong business case for managers to refine their long-term purchasing strategies, revisit their driving training programs, and even turn to technology to help improve fuel efficiency.

As Jonathan Bardelline reports today, Ford Motor Company, for example, is relying on its Crew Chief telematics system to monitor how a variety of factors are influencing vehicle fuel efficiency, such as tire pressure, quick starts and excessive idling. You also have many companies exploring alternative fuel vehicles, as Dow Chemical and Waste Management did last month, an option gaining in popularity if managers can overcome some potential challenges, such as infrastructure and cost.

While there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for every fleet, there are some common best practices and tips that may help lessen the pain at the pump for many. But don't just take our word for it -- we've asked nine experts in the fleet management industry to weigh in with advice on how to implement green initiatives. 

John Boesel1. Study How Others Are Making Their Fleets Greener
John Boesel, President and CEO, CALSTART

Many commercial fleets are taking steps that will not only improve their environmental performance, but also provide an important buffer from the next oil shock or run-up in oil prices. Coca Cola, for instance, is now leading the nation and has bought 900 hybrid trucks. For a beverage fleet, hybrid technology saves money not only by saving fuel, but reducing the number of brake replacements -- something that happens often when hauling tons of beverages in urban areas. Another example is Florida Power & Light, which combined hybrid technology with biodiesel (20 percent blend) in their "bucket trucks" and found they could displace 70 percent of the oil they use! 

Kristofer Bush2. Take a Triple-Bottom Line Approach
Kristofer Bush, Vice President of Marketing, LeasePlan

There are many different reasons for fleets to go green, but going about it the right way is crucial to a successful green initiative. At LeasePlan, we apply the triple bottom line principle of the three Ps -- People, Planet and Profit -- to our sustainable fleet management model. This model takes into account three important factors that need to balance for a well-functioning fleet: 1. Profit: how the acquisition cost affects your financials. 2. People: the function required of that vehicle for the driver. 3. Planet: the environmental impact. Finding that balance will lead to more fulfilled employees and a greener planet while maintaining profits and keeping shareholders happy. 

Sam Spofforth3. Develop a Green Fleet Action Plan 
Sam Spofforth, Executive Director, Clean Fuels Ohio

The "Six Rs" of diesel and overall fleet cleanup is a comprehensive matrix that helps make sense of the tremendous range of green fleet options today. Fleets can reduce fuel consumption using technology or driver behavior, refuel with a cleaner fuel, retrofit with emissions controls (or converting to use an alternative fuel), rebuild an engine with improved emissions control, repower with a new cleaner engine, or replace the vehicle, ideally to use an inherently cleaner fuel. Once understanding the "Six Rs" matrix, the fleet manager can develop a comprehensive "green fleet action plan" based on their fleet's unique characteristics -- vehicle composition, vehicle functions and short and long-term goals such as acceptable length of payback for new fuels and technologies.

Jason Mathers4. Set a Long-Term Emissions Reduction Goal
Jason Mathers, Project Manager, Environmental Defense Fund

How green is your fleet today? How much greener should it be in five years? Companies need to be asking these questions and should use greenhouse gas emissions as the KPI used to evaluate "greenness." To develop a meaningful goal, companies will need to grapple with several key questions, including: How green can we be? What are the price, vehicle choice and operational implications of "greening?" And what steps fit best with corporate culture? Companies that tackle these questions are often very surprised by how much they can cut emissions. These questions also create the focus needed to think long-term and achieve impactful reduction goals, and not be distracted by passing trends or the popular technology of the moment. 

David Coleman5. Educate Your Drivers
David Coleman, Vice President of Business Development, GreenRoad

Safe, efficient driving behavior must be a top priority in order for a green fleet program to be truly successful. This means taking steps to help drivers understand how improvements in their driving can lead to significant reductions in fuel usage and crashes. Driving behavior accounts for up to 33 percent of fuel consumption and 90 percent of crashes, and drivers can make significant improvements with the help of an in-vehicle feedback system, web-based coaching, incentives and countermeasures. Some examples of efficient driving behavior include: adhering to posted road speeds, entering and leaving turns smoothly, minimizing idling time and executing gradual starts and stops -- basically, driving gently. Once fleet managers and drivers see the increased fuel efficiency they can achieve, in addition to reduced crash risk, they readily embrace in-vehicle feedback and coaching that occurs outside the vehicle. The best results come from a true partnership between drivers, supervisors and management. 

6. If the Car Fits, Drive It
Jonathan Culp, Manager of Strategic Alliances, PHH Arval

One of the largest opportunities to reduce GHG emissions -- and the cost that goes along with them -- is to make sure you have right-sized your fleet vehicles. Look carefully: The makes and models you order might be a carry-over from the days of $1.25 gasoline. Does the driver need a full-size van where a smaller vehicle would do the trick? Would a 4-cylinder engine work just as well as a 6-cylinder? Choosing more fuel-efficient vehicles for your selectors is a key first step in reducing emissions, fuel consumption, and cost. 

Elisa Durand7. Choose AFVs that Enhance, Not Hamper, Fleet Efficiency
Elisa Durand, Assistant Manager of Strategic Services, Environmental and Fuel Strategies, ARI

Alternative vehicle fuel sources such as propane, biodiesel, CNG, and electric are making industry headlines, but it's still hard to know which is best for your specific needs. Here are three critical points to consider: 1. What will fit my budget? Electric cars or trucks converted to run on propane or CNG can cost $10,000 or more above traditional vehicles so know what your company can afford. 2. What will be most convenient for my drivers? Alternative fuel infrastructure is limited, so verify that your drivers will have access to fuel when they need it. 3. What makes the most financial sense? Going green has many benefits but you still need to champion smart business decisions for your fleet. 

Michelle Nissen8. Turn On Telematics
Michelle Nissen, Environmental Performance Product Manager, GE Capital Fleet Services

Businesses can drive a 10 percent reduction in CO2 emissions simply by deploying telematics. Choose a provider whose telematics are integrated with vehicle lease and fleet management solutions. We have a GE Capital Fleet Services customer that used a telematics solution to monitor the impact of idling, speeding and off-hour usage on fuel consumption and emissions. This analysis yielded actionable recommendations to lower operating costs and improve productivity, including new policies and incentives to reduce speeding and idling. As a result, the company reduced idling minutes upwards of 40 percent, in addition to a drop in speeding events, which improved the safety of its fleet.

Steve Bloom9.  Lighten Your Load
Steve Bloom, Senior Vice President, Enterprise Fleet Management

The more weight a vehicle carries, the lower its fuel economy will be. This is especially true for light duty trucks, which can feature the same space dimensions but vary significantly in gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), towing or payload capacity, and other options. In addition to getting poor mileage, if a vehicle is regularly overloaded, the frequency and cost of repairs for axle bearings, tires, brakes and other driveline and suspension components will end up costing a lot more than the money saved by purchasing the less expensive lighter truck. 

Image CC licensed by Flickr user niezwyciezony.