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Is Green the New Gold?


 



By Fiona Soltes

August, 2018

Investing in a new technology or initiative for the sustainability benefits alone is a noble idea with long-term benefits—but not necessarily one that upper management will gravitate toward. These days, with budgets being crunched to squeeze out every dime, those efforts might also require cost savings.    

The good news is that it’s easier than ever, fleet professionals say, to find vendors who will offer solutions that support sustainability. Increased competition, naturally, means better solutions—and better results. So yes: “green” can add up to “gold,” but it will take some work. 
 

A Vision You Believe In

At Clark Public Utilities in Clark County, Washington, for example, sustainability efforts have included the use of biodegradable chemicals and consumable products as much as possible, recycling in the truck wash water system, and LED efficient lighting in the shop. Idle management technology has been implemented in more than 34 percent of the utility’s over-the-road vehicles; they’ve been purchasing hybrid vehicles for more than 15 years; the integration of electric vehicles into the motor pool began in 2011, and plug-in hybrids recently have been added. In addition, back in 2015, the utility began installing EV car charging stations for use by the public and employees.

“Greening your fleet has to be a vision you believe in,” said NAFA Regular Member Paul L. Chamberlain, Fleet Services Manager. “It takes time and lots of discussion and communication with employees and senior management and end users. There is no one technology that will fit all your fleet vehicles, but you can and should use a variety of alternative solutions that are available.”


At the City of Los Angeles, meanwhile, an increased emphasis on green came to the forefront with the release of the mayor’s Sustainability City pLAn in 2015. NAFA Associate Member Richard Coulson, Director of Fleet Services, said the plan includes “a number of ambitious and achievable visions over a number of topic areas, with the goal of transforming Los Angeles by 2035.”

Notable cost benefits have not yet been immediately evident or captured, but the efforts continue. One target area is the transition of the fleet’s light-duty vehicles/sedans to full battery electric. “As with others in the industry, we have seen some decrease in the overall cost of maintenance for these vehicles,” Coulson said. He finds the enhancements to battery technology and the related effect on range compelling. Also of interest is the Cummins Near Zero engine, “which will be used in some of our heavy-duty fleets.” Overall, the organization maintains about 10,700 vehicle and equipment assets, including aircraft.


Considering Options, Making the Case

No matter what the solution, Coulson said it’s important to carefully consider the various options before making any major decisions. “We find piloting the technology for a period of time is always one of the best first steps in making a sound/informed decision,” he said. 

Over the years, Chamberlain said, it has become easier to gain buy-in from upper management for new initiatives, since they’ve noticed reduced fuel usage in the fleet and reduced engine hours/longer life/reduced maintenance costs due to idle management. His utility has 265 units including 175 over-the-road. Hybrid vehicles, electric forklifts and vehicles, PHEV vehicles, and propane-operated forklifts and 37 units with idle management technology are all part of the mix.  


But whatever the size of the fleet—or whether it’s public or private—there’s still a business case to be made. On the other end of the equation, then, today’s solution providers would do well to highlight any potential cost savings in addition to green benefits.

NAFA Associate Member Ernie Dutra, National Accounts Manager of microGreen extended performance oil filters, for example, said one customer told him how the product hit “all four corners”: increasing sustainability, reducing costs, increasing time efficiency and reducing maintenance. “Our customers see it as a total package, and not just an individual solution.”

 

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, alongside the scary prospects of rising sea-levels and an increase in intensity for storm activity, the very present threat of disease migration may already be driving up health issues with the worldwide populace.


Dutra says the technology is a dual-stage patented design that allows vehicles to operate for up to 30,000 miles on a single oil change if the filters are changed every 10,000 miles; customizable fleet maintenance schedules also are available, where fleets can double or triple their current intervals. The filters cost roughly the same as a premium brand, but customers see a reduction in maintenance and labor costs of up to 70 percent, Dutra said. Under ordinary conditions, no special instruction or service training is required. In some cases, the filters are simply rotated in with regular maintenance; the company also has worked with fleets to outfit a particular segment or department to be used as a test case following oil analysis.

It is important to remember that not all solutions are suited to all fleet types. Such filters will be an intriguing option for fleet facilities with onsite garage capabilities, but might not be practical for fleets with other maintenance configurations.


Asking for Proof

It’s an important point. Regardless of promised or perceived results or savings, new technology still must do what it’s supposed to do.

NAFA Associate Member Steve Schurman, microGreen’s Vice President of Sales, said that while speaking with any vendor, “you would want to ask them: ‘Where is the proof that your product does what you say it does?’ In my mind, that’s the most important question.” Ask what the solution can do for your specific fleet, but also how it can be shown.
In days to come, there will be no shortage of trackers, solutions with alerts, performance reporting capabilities, and options for ensuring optimization of the fleet. 

Vendors—as well as the industry as a whole—are “much more informed,” Chamberlain said. They’re also more successful in providing advances in technology. 


Rewards for Doing the Right Thing

Many will ask the question: what’s the merit of doing the right thing, even if the immediate benefits of going the sustainable route aren’t captured? Being a responsible steward of the environment is a solid benefit in terms of an organization’s public relations, but bridging philosophical divides between dollars-and-cents supervisors can be daunting.

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, alongside the scary prospects of rising sea-levels and an increase in intensity for storm activity, the very present threat of disease migration may already be driving up health issues with the worldwide populace. The report suggests that negative health effects resulting from greenhouse gasses and airborne particulates can be a serious risk to children, the elderly, and those with asthma or cardiovascular disease. These, in turn, drive up healthcare requirements and the costs thereof.

In other words, responsible, sustainable practices can be of great benefit both in immediate and future cost-savings, but only when fleets take the next step to make them a part of their day to day business. Green can be the new gold but is a worthwhile goal in and of itself. 

 


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