|AT A GLANCE|
|The States of West Virginia and Oklahoma are presented as examples for low- and no-cost ways to green a fleet. Suggestions include:
Cost-efficient, green, sustainable, and earth-friendly - do any of those words describe your fleet? Fleet managers are swimming in a sea of change, with the very core technologies of the industry changing rapidly. Internal combustion engines are still a mainstay of fleet, but to some degree are being replaced by varying types of powertrains that utilize fewer, different, or "less-scarce" resources.
Among the many reasons to conserve finite resources is cost, particularly due to ever-tightening budget constraints. Other reasons include: protecting the planet from harmful emissions, using local resources that also promote local economies, and reducing dependence on products when availability is finite or threatened. The recent conflict in the Middle East underscores the importance of becoming more energy independent.
Some business and government entities have stepped up their planetary stewardship and conservation because they view it as the right thing to do. Why use up all of one resource if there is a limited supply available?
The health benefits of some of the emerging transportation alternatives are attractive as well. Walking and biking, although not always feasible as components for business travel, provide obvious benefits for the health and well-being of citizens and employees. Employers may also look at how employees travel to and from work, incorporating that into the scope of a fleet's environmental policies. Healthier and happier employees can contribute to productivity and the all-important bottom line.
For purposes of this article, "green" is defined as conserving finite resources, economical, or free. No-cost/low-cost can mean a "green" project has no initial cost or that the initial outlay is easily recouped by the return on investment.
Avoid Unnecessary Travel
Policies may be one of the best examples of low- or no-cost methods if they do not require funding to implement. If fleet implements a policy to reduce trips to "Point A" from three times per week to twice weekly, there is no investment cost. As another example, if $300 is invested per vehicle to install GPS devices resulting in a $350 fuel savings due to reduced speeds, more efficient routing, and lower overall miles, that would be considered low cost as well.
The first steps in fleet efficiency and greening go hand-in-hand: eliminating or reducing unnecessary travel miles. Let's call that "travel avoidance." This is not to say there is anything wrong with travel - in fact, it is the heart of our business.
However, if you can reduce the number of miles employees must travel in positive ways, travel costs decrease, as do the fuel consumption and emissions produced. Perhaps eliminating travel isn't feasible, but reducing the miles traveled is. Finally, when we've cut non-essential travel and reduced miles traveled with various types of efficiencies, the focus can shift to using the most efficient means available for the travel miles that remain. In seeking these types of efficiencies, fleets become green.
Fleet professionals strive to get the most out of every dollar available for their budgets, fuel being a primary component. They are generally engaged in looking for ways to use less or make a gallon of fuel go farther.
Under travel avoidance, consider using communications technology in lieu of travel to get the job done. Could you use the Web and e-mail the information? What about a webinar - would it give you the access and communications capability to perform the work without the travel? Corporations and government fleets are searching for means to expand use of electronic media, such as video and telephone conferencing to meet, communicate, and complete work that otherwise would have required travel for face-to-face meetings. The menu options for electronic media are rapidly expanding.
Electronic communication via social or business networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, are being incorporated into many businesses as well. Fleet managers are finding ways to reach out to the global community to gain information from a much larger group of experts via the Web.
Use of Alt-Fuel Vehicles
Learning the options available for fleet managers striving to be greener can be daunting. Options abound as the industry creatively and competitively searches out newer and better green travel methodologies at a fast pace.
Gas- and diesel-powered engines join a myriad of alternative- and flex-fueled vehicles including, but not limited to, those capable of running on ethanol, biodiesel, natural gas, propane autogas, a variety of hybrids, and pure electric motors, engines, and powertrains. Entirely new infrastructures must be planned, developed, and implemented to support some of these technologies.
Which way the market will turn and which technologies will prevail remains a question. It is likely multiple technologies will be tried, and possibly used, as stepping stones to what will become longer-term solutions. This leaves fleet managers faced with remaining vigilant and poised for change in a number of directions, and in many cases, with limited resources to embrace these new technologies.
West Virginia Goes 'Green'
Clay Chandler, fleet manager for the State of West Virginia, is forward thinking and has translated green fleet concepts into actions with measurable results. The State operates an approximately 9,000 vehicle state-owned or leased fleet.
One of the items propelling the State's green initiatives is the Energy Policy Act (EPAct), which requires reduced carbon footprints and mitigation of potential health hazards (Clean Air Act).
The West Virginia fleet is actively engaged in seeking methods to reduce miles traveled. "We employ webinars and telephone conferencing. Whenever virtual approaches are not practical, we encourage regional meetings to minimize miles traveled," Chandler said. He also noted the State fleet is preparing a solicitation for value-added technology, which are based on the successful results achieved during his tenure with the State of Oklahoma.
For the travel miles that can't be eliminated, Chandler said the West Virginia approach to boosting environmental or green efficiency includes "incorporating value-added technology, controlled authorizations for special purpose vehicles (SUV, 4WD, etc.), CAFE compliance, etc."
Some examples of these strategies in practice include formally adopted weighted vehicle selection criteria. Specifics are outlined below:
- The Dept. of Administration (DOA) replacement methodology will evaluate each vehicle as defined by selection criteria, using assigned weighting factors.
- The model selection criteria will include vehicle life-to-date maintenance expenditures, age, accrued mileage, projected fleet revenues and expenditures, mission analysis, potential vehicle downsizing, availability on the statewide automobile contract, alternative-fuel vehicle replacement targets, and state/federal statute and/or regulatory requirements.
- Minimum selection criteria were clearly defined for each fiscal year. Four years/100,000 miles is the standard for sedan age. Fleet also established a standard for maintenance of expenditures greater than 50 percent of depreciated value, according to Chandler.
"Vehicle weight/category will be assessed and whenever possible, a smaller, more fuel-efficient variant will be selected that delivers comparable horsepower, operating range, ground clearance, and towing capability," he said. "Manufacturer, make, and model preferences will be limited to availability using the existing statewide automobile contract. Vehicle replacement will not be deferred based solely on leasing-agency preference and must demonstrate a cost savings."
EPAct requires a vehicle replacement rate of 75 percent with alternative-fuel vehicles. Alternative fuel is currently defined as ethanol (E-85), compressed natural gas (CNG), biodiesel (B-20), liquid petroleum gas (LPG), and electricity (EV/PHEV).
In West Virginia's fleet, the following priorities will be used to leverage existing State natural resources and provide concurrent savings in fuel expenditures or reduce environmental emissions:
- Priority 1: Original equipment manufacturer (OEM) alternative-fuel capable vehicles.
- Priority 2: OEM vehicle where an existing EPA Certificate of Conformity exists or a small volume manufacturer (SVM) waiver is pending for aftermarket alternative-fuel conversion. Within this priority, bi-fuel conversion technology will be favored over dedicated alternative-fuel technology until and unless a minimum fuel range of 350 highway miles can be achieved using dedicated aftermarket conversion; then considered equally for use.
- Priority 3: OEM hybrid electric vehicle - only vehicles that meet National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Department of Transportation (DOT) Corporate Average CAFE criteria: purchasing vehicles meeting CAFE standards for passenger cars and light trucks.
The West Virginia fleet has other low-cost/no-cost green fleet concepts in the planning and implementation stages as well, some of which address fuel price spikes. According to Chandler, "Fleet is establishing a formal methodology that can be pre-approved by state's political leadership, published, and executed by state agencies using a phased approach based on fuel prices."
The following steps would likely be taken to offset any unforeseen increases in fuel prices:
- Execute an immediate moratorium on commuting in state-owned or leased vehicles.
- Reassign vehicles from individual driver assignment to shared-use assignment.
- Park older, less fuel-efficient vehicles and use newer, smaller vehicles.
- Institute increased driver supervision and use of route optimization technology to reduce miles driven.
- Reduce idling (one hour of idling equals 33 miles driven).
- Embrace value-added technology to improve driver behavior and reduce miles driven (telematics).
- Develop operational plans that are based on fuel prices.
West Virginia fleet is incorporating quantifiable results-based actions into its green fleet programs. Among the benefits expected for the state derived to date that Chandler points to include cost savings, health benefits, miles reduced, emissions reduced, and vehicles eliminated.
Examples of cost savings gained in other states, such as Oklahoma, include a decrease from first-year return-on-investment for the use of telematics of 101 days to 44 days in its second year. Diagnostic fault code capability was added to vehicles to provide information to preemptively address vehicle issues.
The Oklahoma State fleet invested in telematics for 1,100 vehicles and quickly identified a significant drop in fleet mileage from 15 million to 14.4 million miles, despite the addition of more than 200 vehicles. The State's resultant fuel cost reductions from $1.87 million in fiscal year 2008 to $1.25 million in fiscal year 2010 were a major victory. Chandler said fuel cost savings were realized despite the upward trending of the price of fuel per gallon during this period.
According to Chandler, maintenance costs decreased along with use and fuel consumption, and an annual reduction of $77 dollars per vehicle was realized.
Another benefit of telematics use in the Oklahoma fleet included reduced accidents. Further, Chandler feels the use of preventive maintenance (PM) alerts keep fleet in better shape at a lower cost. Fleet experts point out comprehensive PM can reduce vehicle operating costs as much as 4 cents per gallon. Knowing when it is time for an inspection and following up with reminders to drivers impact PM inspection compliance rates.
Driver behavior can be significantly impacted when the concept of telematics is introduced into fleets. Drivers tend to reduce speeds, be more vigilant of traffic laws, and reduce extraneous miles. Chandler also added that one of the reasons for the success of telematics is Oklahoma's approach to it has been non-punitive. He considered buy-in at all levels of an organization key to its success, particularly buy-in among drivers.
State government fleets generally represent a significant portion of an entity's overall energy consumption; thus, fleets have been put in the forefront of efforts to enhance "planetary citizenship," as Chandler described it. Chandler considers knowledge sharing an all-important component to successfully establishing and maintaining a green fleet. He considers it their mission to share knowledge and experience about fleets' impact on the environment with the taxpaying public for transparency.
In support of knowledge sharing relating to the fleet's sustainable fleet strategy, Oklahoma provides citizens information that includes responses to such questions as: "Have you ever wondered what impact the state's vehicle fleet has on the environment?"
Chandler explained, "Fleet management's role in state sustainability initiatives is often critical to achieving program goals in cutting energy consumption, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and supporting good 'planetary citizenship.' " Assuming each vehicle drives at the speed limit and logs 18,000 miles annually:
- Each compact car emits 5.31 tons (10,620 lbs./carbon dioxide annually).
- Each mid-sized car emits 9.9 tons (19,800 lbs./carbon dioxide annually).
- Each SUV or pickup emits 14.43 tons (28,860 lbs./carbon dioxide annually).
The total effect on the environment, based on a 9,000 state-owned or leased vehicle fleet: 87,066 tons or 174,132,000 lbs. of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted annually.
Even during budget-constrained, bottom-line-wary times, each state must continue to pursue green fleet measures, especially those that can have an immediate impact on agencies' budgets.
Chandler considers the State of West Virginia to be fuel-neutral in its support of green vehicles and technologies.
"Fueled by federal regulation (CAFE), the State's strategic procurement processes include, whenever available, the integration of alternative-fuel vehicle engine options across the statewide automobile contract categories."
Chandler believes the approach provides latitude to user agencies to help formulate their fleet energy mix. "For those agencies that prefer hybrid or ethanol technology, the state continues to award OEM E-85 and hybrid fuel types whenever possible. As a result, the State has banked EPAct credits that can be used to ensure future regulatory requirements are met."
Concluding, Chandler offered some words of advice for other fleets embarking on the development or continuation of no-cost/low-cost green fleet strategies:
1. Learn before you leap. Pilot programs using a small number of vehicles can validate agency assumptions about which technologies best support the agency's mission and budget.
2. Match the fuel to the fleet. States often require fleets with multiple vehicle fuel types, and even combinations of fuel types. "We believe there are multiple technologies with abundant domestic fuel supplies that can reduce operating costs and environmental impact over time, while the State continues its efforts to establish the infrastructure needed to sustain increasing numbers of alternative-fuel vehicles," Chandler said.
From pilot program experiences in other states, CNG and hybrid-electric vehicles appear to work for urban-based agency applications, particularly since the technology infrastructure is more readily accessible in major metropolitan areas. Some states are also exploring dual-fuel vehicle categories for agencies that support more geographically dispersed citizenry. Current dual-fuel vehicles include ethanol/CNG with future LPG/CNG combinations possible. Dual-fuel capability may have an added benefit of relieving employee anxiety during statewide infrastructure development.
3. Leverage state natural resources. To leverage existing state natural resources, provide a concurrent savings in fuel expenditures, and reduce environmental emissions, agencies should consider prioritizing their fleet sustainability efforts by formalizing their replacement methodology.
4. Integrate sustainability efforts with strategic objectives. Successful change agents are those that embrace change, but do not subscribe to a "ready, shoot, aim" methodology. Successful organizations execute a formalized change control process that ensures deliberate and thoughtful consideration of concepts, technologies, processes, or products and ties them to existing long-term, strategic objectives."
Chandler stated, "Once you have consensus by those stakeholders, stick to the plan." He continued, one of the most common reasons any fleet initiatives fail is because they are expanded beyond their original scope; green fleet initiatives are no exception.
Chandler recommended to avoid delays and cost overruns, and stay consistent with the original scope of an initiative upon which the consensus for direction was established.
Based on overall results to date and statistics on ROI in states such as Oklahoma, it would appear that West Virginia fleet is poised for successful implementation of low-cost/no-cost green fleet initiatives.
About the Author
Barbara Bonansinga has worked in fleet management with the State of Illinois for more than 25 years.