In an automotive sector strained by recession, lay-offs, bankruptcies, the credit crunch and recalls, one bright spot over the last year has been the move among corporations to more fuel efficient fleets.
Poland Springs Water, a brand of Nestle Waters, has been greening its fleet since 2007, and seeing big savings as a result. It all started when Chris McKenna moved from warehouse manager to fleet manager at Poland Springs. He had been using biodiesel in the warehouse yard trucks and thought it might be worth testing for the fleet.
That move saved $62,000 in fuel costs alone in 2009. Between the lower cost for biodiesel over ultra-low-sulfur diesel and the improvement in fuel efficiency from biodiesel, the company has saved over $200,000.
“At first, it was about reducing our environmental impact. The cost savings was really unexpected,” McKenna explains. But once they realized the financial opportunity for a fleet that travels more than 5 million miles a year, primarily on small, low-speed roads, they were motivated to do more.
“Our first step was biofuel. Then came idle reduction and now synthetic oils and fuels.”
Poland Springs idle reduction program is something that McKenna thinks all fleets should be implementing. “It’s been a pretty awesome story,” says McKenna. “It’s so simple. There are no other changes required than behavioral.”
The program began in 2007 when the company started using on-board recorders to track driver performance. One of the reports ranked drivers by idle time. The company posted that ranking in the break room and began educating and incentivizing drivers to reduce idle time by offering gift certificates for fuel to the 10 drivers with the lowest idle time.
“One hour of idle time equals one gallon of fuel,” explains McKenna. From 2007 to 2009, the drivers reduced idle time from 11,000 hours to 3,000 hours, a 60% reduction and a $20,000 saving over two years.
“It has been all behavioral,” says McKenna. “Anyone can do this. This is relevant for every carrier everywhere. The return on investment is so quick, and it’s the right thing to do. It really is a no-brainer. “
Poland Springs is testing some other cost saving and greenhouse gas cutting technologies including a cab heater that increases the heat delivered from 1 gallon of fuel from 1 hour to 20 hours. The company is also looking at a synthetic oil that can last for up to 100,000 miles. That will take trucks from more than 12 oil changes a year to around two, and an 82% reduction in oil use with $15,000 in cost savings. It all adds up to lower emissions and lower costs.
In December, The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released a report from a 12-month study of delivery company UPS’s diesel hybrid electric delivery van trial. It found a 28.9% improvement in on-road fuel economy and a 15% improvement in total cost per mile.
The DOE also helped to fund the development of the Eaton hybrid system used in the UPS delivery vans with a $7.5 million, 33-month contract. UPS found the program so successful that it added 200 more of the hybrid vehicles to its fleet in December.
Rival Fed Ex also made a move to increase fuel efficiency in its North American hybrid truck fleet by 50% in 2009. The U.S. Postal Service got in on the action, too, swapping 6,500 older models for more fuel efficient hybrids, flex-fuels and four-cylinder vehicles.
The 2010 State of Green Business Report has numerous examples of companies that are going green and saving green through more efficient fleets, including Coca-Cola, Frito-Lay and AT&T. Pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk is saving money and emissions through reduced idling and less aggressive driving.
Even smaller companies are making the move to more fuel efficient fleets. In the city of Santa Monica, Calif., cab company Euro Taxi is running 50% of its fleet on alternative fuels and hybrids.
Trials and experiments that result in cost and emissions savings are not just good for a company’s bottom line and reputation, they can also be good for morale. “
It’s pretty fun,” McKenna says about trying new efficiency measures. “Even if we try 10 or 12 things and not everything is successful, we always will find something that works.”