The Big Picture on Fleet Sustainability

The Big Picture on Fleet Sustainability

By Jasmine Glasheen
June 2020

Sustainability is quickly becoming a moral imperative in the fleet industry. We’ve been operating as if earth itself was a renewable resource. But air pollution, water contamination and the consumption of natural resources now pose a tangible, detrimental impact to the quality of human life. A whopping 44 percent of the U.S. population now lives in areas that do not meet the requirements for the Clean Air Act’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Air that doesn’t meet these standards can lead to health issues such as lung cancer, asthma, heart disease and emphysema.
Only 38 percent of respondents in Edelman’s most recent study felt that organizations were “putting people before profits,” meaning consumers feel organizations have a long way to go before consumers perceive them as taking environmental concerns into account. With that as a prelude, let’s delve a little deeper into sustainability strategies for fleet leaders.

Impetus for Greater Fleet Sustainability

There are two fundamental reasons that organizations change:

  1. To save money by decreasing costs (which will, in turn, increase net revenue or margins.

  2. Growth through increased efficiency or productivity. Certain sustainability goals are similar no matter what the organization.

Sustainability objectives in fleet always include reducing energy and material use, making more efficient use of existing assets and reducing impact on surrounding communities and supply chains.
However, the specific mandates of each organization also factor its sustainability objectives and how these goals are achieved. Ronald Gitelman, Senior Fleet Administrator at Yale University, says that Yale looks at its whole mission when making decisions regarding sustainability. He adds that Yale is located in a dense urban community, so the fleet division does what it can to reduce emissions.
“Yale’s primary mission is education and also being a top educational institution,” Gitelman says. “Resources have to be allocated within that mission. One area we look at is costs––will the sustainability choice reduce our costs so the resources can be allocated properly? Most, if not all, of the sustainability choices made have in some way reduced costs.”
“The next (priority) is how do these choices help attain the mission goals? Yale is educating people who will lead in future sustainability choices, so if Yale forgoes sustainability it is more of ‘do as I say rather than do as I do.’”

The Challenges of Building a Sustainable Fleet

One of the biggest challenges Gitelman faces in achieving sustainability is getting department users to buy into sustainable options. Since available funds may be limited, it falls upon his team to work with the board to ensure that affordable sustainable options are considered.
“Given the low mileages put on some of our vehicles,” Gitelman says, “sustainable options may not appear to be financially feasible, so we need to find options that meet the mission with minimal incremental cost. It makes no sense to procure a more expensive vehicle unless you can show it will, in the end, cost the same or less than non-sustainable options.”
He adds that in the absence of regulatory mandates, electric vehicle adoption in government fleets will depend on their ability to gain customer acceptance and grant incentives and/or creative financing for government fleets to secure resources to cover the higher up-front costs of vehicles and the charging infrastructure.
The transportation industry is the second biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Migrating to renewable natural gas and renewable diesel has helped Keith Leech, Chief of Fleet Division & Parking Enterprise at the County of Sacramento Department of General Services, establish an EV charging infrastructure to support the future electrification of fleet. Leech says it is an exciting time to demonstrate and evaluate fleet electrification opportunities as increasing vehicle offerings become available. 

Evaluate Opportunities for Greater Efficiencies

One of the biggest challenges fleet managers face is how to plan, manage and reinforce change in fleet organizations––many of which are historically resistant to new modes of operation, as well as resistant to paying the up-front costs this evolution requires. The County of Sacramento Department of General Services identifies opportunities through innovation, equipment and car sharing and full-service leases.
Leech says, “The makeup of our fleet covers a vast variety of light, heavy and off-road equipment to meet the high demands and needs of a County of 994 square miles and over 1.4 million in population.”
“Our Vision Statement is displayed in all maintenance facilities,” he continues. “It communicates our commitment to performance management and continuous improvement to our staff. Our Mission: Provide timely/cost effective fleet management services through innovative/environmentally sound technologies.”

Strategies to Reduce Fuel Use 

Reducing petroleum use directly translates into emission reduction, which makes it essential when building a sustainable fleet. Implementing practices such driver training, right-sizing fleet, consolidating trips and/or idle reduction practice can help fleet leaders improve fuel efficiency. NAFA lists three specific strategies to reduce petroleum use in fleet organizations:
1. Reduce vehicle miles traveled,
2. Improve fleet fuel efficiency,
3. Increase alternative fuel use.
Gitelman says Yale uses a multipronged approach to fuel optimization. “We buy alternative fuel when available and cost-effective. We have a driver training program -- anyone who drives a vehicle must complete it (and to enforce this they aren’t given a PIN Code for the universal gas card until completed).”
But that’s not all. “We are working on maximizing fleet utilization,” Gitelman continues, “whether through right-sizing or motor pool options. Additionally, we monitor fuel efficiency, maintenance, and use telematics to monitor usage, mileages, and idle. We are exploring idle reduction technologies and have been working with our highest idlers to find solutions that will help reduce the idling.”
Yale University also instituted a policy that states that each department must consider alternative fuel options whenever they procure a vehicle. Gitelman says that their vehicle selection options now incorporate only hybrid or EV options unless the department can make a case for not doing so.
Leech adds that the County of Sacramento Department of General Services has already migrated over 60 percent of their fleet to alternative, renewable or advanced technology (including hybrid vehicles) with goal to reach 75 percent by 2023. His team has achieved a greenhouse gas reduction of approximately 49 percent and facilitates an annual review by customer departments to retain underutilized vehicles, as well as authorized home retention vehicles.

The Future of Fleet Sustainability  

The future of fleet sustainability reform is dependent on fleet organizations’ ability to set measurable benchmarks and KPIs. This includes putting a timeline on sustainability initiatives, as well as a clear outline of the steps that different branches of the organization are taking to achieve those goals and a plan for execution.
The County of Sacramento Department of General Services sustainability metrics are a prime example. Leech says that they plan to:

  • Reduce the pool rental fleet and transition at least 75 percent of the pool rentals to Zero Emission Vehicles within 5 years

  • Operate at least 75 percent of the entire County Fleet on renewable fuels or advanced technologies (EV, PHEV, FCEV, or Hybrid) within 5 years

  • To use video monitors on the shop floor that display real time KPI’s to promote consistent improvement. These KPIs include: Open work orders with vehicle numbers, Overdue PMs, Units awaiting parts, and parts order status due.

Taking these initiatives towards sustainability helped Sacramento Fleet Services get named the 2018 #1 Green Fleet by Green Fleet Awards Forum. However, education is the first step towards organizational fleet sustainability. NAFA’s Sustainable Fleet Management Certificate program was created with the help of leading sustainability pacesetters including Florida Power & Light, Yale University, and Sacramento County.
It’s a challenging time for fleet sustainability. Looking forward, Gitelman says it will be harder for companies to spend extra on alternative fuel vehicles over fuel efficient (non-alternative fuel vehicles) due to Covid-related financial declines. He adds that companies will also be rethinking vehicle usage options going forward.
“Trucking and delivery fleets may be casualties of cost-cutting,” Gitelman says, “and sustainable options without extensive subsidy may impact the ability to procure alternative fuel vehicles. If the economy rebounds quickly, then (the impact) should be minimal. However, if the economic conditions persist beyond a year or so the impact may be substantial. It’s ‘wait and see’ mode for most companies at this point.”

Explore More Articles...