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Debunking the Defeatist Mindset Toward Fleet Sustainability

May 22, 2014

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At many corporations, vehicle fleets are key contributors to a company’s overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. While many fleet managers know they should be doing something to “green” their fleet, they do nothing, rationalizing (and justifying) their inaction due to budget constraints or lack of management support. To me, this is a self-fulfilling mindset that guarantees your fleet will remain in a status quo situation. Fleet managers need to break free from this defeatist mindset. The invariable retort from these fleet managers is: “What can I do to green my fleet under these circumstances?”

Well, there are many things that you can do. The first thing is to work within the framework that the most cost-effective way to green your fleet is to reduce overall fleet costs. In fact, there is a direct correlation between running an efficient fleet and running a greener fleet, and vice versa. Fleet managers need to liberate themselves from preconceived notions and realize that a green fleet program can take many forms, all of which can be customized to the needs of each organization.

Redirecting Fixed Costs to Green Your Fleet

Overall, fleet costs are divided into two categories: fixed costs, which represent the cost of the asset; and operating costs, which represent the cost of utilizing the asset. Invariably, initiatives to reduce expenses in one or both of these cost categories will yield dividends that support corporate sustainability initiatives.

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For instance, one strategy to reduce fixed costs is to optimize fleet utilization by eliminating underutilized assets. This will have an immediate impact on achieving sustainability targets since the fewer vehicles there are in a fleet, the fewer the cumulative emissions. Fleet cost control has a symbiotic relationship with fleet sustainability. Optimal fleet utilization will lower fleet costs, which, in turn, will lead to a greener fleet. In other words, if you want to green your fleet, there should be a relentless focus on managing vehicle utilization, especially identifying underutilized vehicles and equipment. Managing overall fleet size — by avoiding unplanned “fleet creep” — should be one of your top priorities, because that’s where your biggest emissions reductions and cost savings arise. The decrease in overall fuel consumption will automatically result in an overall decrease in fleet emissions.

When the average unit age of the fleet is high, it will thwart even the best-intended green fleet initiatives. A regularly scheduled vehicle replacement program is an integral part of a green fleet program, regardless of whether you buy an alternative-fuel vehicle or not. The act of replacing older vehicle technology with today’s powertrain technology automatically lowers emission and increases fuel economy; not to mention improving maintenance reliability, reducing downtime, and overall driver morale. With current advances in average fuel economy and decreased emissions, a regular replacement cycle will continually update your fleet, resulting in the operation of fewer inefficient vehicles.

Reduced Fuel Consumption = Fewer Emissions

There is a direct correlation with the amount of fuel consumed to the amount of fleet emissions. There are a number of ways to reduce fuel consumption. During the selector development process, draw a line in the sand appropriate for your fleet application, and adopt a minimum fuel economy requirement in order for a vehicle to be added to a selector. If your fleet application will allow it, downsize vehicle size where practical. However, avoid the knee-jerk reaction to under-spec fleet vehicles to achieve greater fuel economy, because certain applications require larger vehicles. Similarly, spec the smallest displacement engine and smallest class of vehicle that can fulfill the fleet application. Making these precise determinations is where your fleet management skills and expertise come into play.

If fuel efficiency is constrained by equipment requirements, the “last mile” to achieving corporate sustainability objectives is modifying driver behavior. Although I refer to this as the “last mile,” it represents the greatest opportunity for fleet managers to green their fleets. The way an employee drives determines the volume of GHG emissions produced by a company vehicle. For example, every unnecessary gallon of gasoline burned creates 19.5 pounds of CO2. Similarly, every unnecessary gallon of diesel burned creates 22.1 pounds of CO2. Even if a vehicle’s EPA fuel economy is rated high, aggressive and inefficient driving can substantially degrade a vehicle’s optimal fuel economy.

Most fleets distribute fuel-saving suggestions to their drivers; however, creative fleet managers challenge their drivers to decrease their fuel consumption, say a gallon or two per week, using the suggestions provided to them. Drivers, many of whom are in sales, tend to respond better to a challenge versus a list of suggestions, which are, more often than not, ignored. Other cost-neutral ways to reduce fuel spend include implementing anti-idling initiatives and having drivers regularly check tire pressure to ensure they are properly inflated. There numerous other proven ways to reduce fuel consumption and lower emissions, which do not require budget increases or approval of senior management. In the final analysis, practicing effective fleet management will automatically green your fleet and save you a few bucks in the process.

Let me know what you think.

mike.antich@bobit.com

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Author Bio

Mike Antich

Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike Antich has been covering the fleet management and vehicle remarketing markets for more than 20 years. During this period, Mike has written or edited more than 4,600 articles on the subjects of fleet management, manufacturer fleet activities, the fleet leasing industry, and vehicle remarketing. He was inducted in the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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