Green Fleet

Five Key Questions of Green Fleet Management

ARI's green expert discusses the five key questions fleet managers must ask and answer before adopting any strategies for sustainability.

October 2011, Government Fleet - WebXclusive

by Elisa Durand

Properly defining goals will lead to a better understanding of what kind of alt-fuel vehicle will be better for the fleet. If the goal is to reduce dependence on foreign oil, vehicles such as this hybrid electric bucket truck may be a good solution.
Properly defining goals will lead to a better understanding of what kind of alt-fuel vehicle will be better for the fleet. If the goal is to reduce dependence on foreign oil, vehicles such as this hybrid electric bucket truck may be a good solution.

For fleet managers, the world has changed drastically over the past decade. However, one trend has proven to be the most elusive and persistent -- the move to green fleet management. Whether you are managing a municipal, city, state, or non-governmental fleet, the demand for increased sustainability and cost reduction is a looming new social and corporate mandate that's here to stay. Many fleet managers have a desire to go green, but either don't know where to begin or become discouraged after one or two costly steps. Most have uncovered a number of surprising gray areas in going green. To help managers make the right moves, they must first consider carefully the larger issues that will ultimately drive green success. The following are the five key questions that must be asked and answered before adopting any strategies for sustainability.

1.       Does it have the right support?

Sustainability initiatives are typically generated in one of two ways: from the top down, through the support of executives and leaders, or pushed up through the ranks for leadership approval. In some organizations, the onus falls on the fleet manager to act as the prime driving force behind green initiatives. However, if the leadership is pushing for an agency-wide green movement, the hard work is done.

Regardless of the origin, once the initiative is supported, fleet managers can focus on working with peers to cultivate recommendations and benchmarking and best practice discussions to help avoid pitfalls or missteps. These discussions will help the manager develop a plan for the transition, including goals, messaging, tactics, and timing.

2.       What are the realistic goals?

Properly defined goals can make the difference between success and failure in green fleet initiatives. As with any project, specific time-bound goals need to be identified in a way you can see, feel, and measure. If the primary goal is to decrease your agency's fuel consumption and corresponding carbon footprint, vehicle rightsizing could be a simple answer. Shifting to smaller vehicles that still support driver productivity or choosing a smaller, more efficient engine for the same vehicle model will support this goal. Likewise, if the agency wants to decrease its dependence of foreign oil, then compressed natural gas (CNG), propane autogas, or electric vehicles may be the better route to success. Too often the tactics, which are more tangible, tend to drive the goals.

Additionally, goals need to consider the size, age, and complexity of any fleet. For most managers, there is no easy, one-size-fits-all green solution. Most fleets are not able to decrease engine or vehicle size across the board. When dealing with a complex fleet, the manager and leadership must consider each portion of the fleet separately. One agency may be more successful transitioning to smaller vehicles or an alternative fuel type. But these moves could unintentionally increase costs and decrease efficiency for another organization. For instance, one fleet was evaluating the best ways to incorporate NGVs (natural gas vehicles). It found that deploying the Honda Civic GX natural gas vehicle made sense, but big-fuel CNG/gasoline vehicles were more useful for its pickup trucks due to vehicle applications. Agency leaders and fleet managers need to work together to develop realistic goals that work for the organization, the fleet, and the future.

COMMENTS

  1. 1. Steve Kiler [ November 07, 2011 @ 04:05PM ]

    Good article Elisa. I have one question. You mention educating drivers to "what's in it for them." What is in it for them? Every time I have tried to "sell" a driver on some kind of rightsizing or greening vehicle, the response has always been; not interested, do it with someone else's vehicle. Who are the internal stakeholders that we should target as allies?

  2. 2. Elisa Durand [ November 22, 2011 @ 08:43AM ]

    Steve, I'm glad you enjoyed it! Drivers can be one of the more difficult internal stakeholder groups to win over when it comes to "selling" a green initiative. Decisions that create the most change often are the least popular. Replacing pick-up trucks with bi-fuel pick-up trucks is an easier sell than moving drivers from pick-up trucks to mid-size sedans. In the latter cases, some creativity may be required to win the support of drivers.

    Look for opportunities to canvass your workforce for volunteers. You can issue a brief survey to identify people that have a personal interest in sustainability, and put out a call for volunteers. Once these people have been identified, you can offer a nominal (non-monetary) incentive to those drivers who step up to take one of the new vehicles. You could also make the incentive contingent on a demonstration of increased fuel efficiency results after taking on the new vehicle. This decision will depend on the particular set of circumstances and your organization’s culture. You can also try identifying drivers that demonstrate early-adopter traits and have the respect of other drivers. These individuals may be interested in this potential leadership opportunity. As informal leaders, these individuals can be the best -and most trusted - individuals to run meetings that solicit feedback from their fellow drivers regarding the initiative. There are also ways to approach drivers indirectly. If there is positive buzz generated by external stakeholders, end users may be more receptive to being involved in a popular movement. Every penny saved helps keep staffing in place and service levels up for all taxpayers, which usually includes the drivers themselves.

    I know these examples are somewhat vague since they are meant to apply to a variety of situations, but they demonstrate examples of ways to approach drivers, solicit their input, and go beyond just telling them that "change is coming, and it will benefit everyone." I hope this helps!

 

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