Back in 2008, FedEx Corp. set an ambitious goal of improving fuel efficiency in its fleet of FedEx Express Global vehicles by 20 percent in twelve years. With the deadline year of 2020 still far in the future, the company has just reported that it has not only met but beaten its vehicle fleet fuel efficiency goal with an overall savings of 22 percent.
The achievement is impressive enough on its own, and it’s especially noteworthy for two reasons. First, because FedEx has taken a chance on an aggressive, innovative strategy that embraces new technologies along with other tactics and second, because the company has established itself as a role model and leader for improving fleet fuel efficiency through its affiliation with the Obama Administration’s Clean Fleets public-private partnership.
A holistic strategy for improving vehicle fleet fuel efficiency
As described by Dennis Beal, vice president of Global Vehicles for FedEx Express, the strategy approaches vehicle fleet efficiency from three angles: “Reduce, Replace and Revolutionize.”
One key advantage that FedEx has had, compared to just a few years ago, is the advent of advanced electric vehicles and other new vehicle technologies, which gives fleet managers a greater range of options to choose from. In fact, FedEx realized its single largest source of savings by systematically matching the right vehicle to each route.
By the end of the company’s fiscal year 2013, FedEx expects to have a total of 360 hybrid-electric vehicles and 200 electric vehicles in service. The company has also been replacing delivery trucks with “right-sized” Sprinter-type vans that are 70 to 100 percent more fuel efficient, and it is introducing lightweight Reach vans that save 35 percent compared to standard walk-in vans.
FedEx has also been converting its FedEx Express diesel fleet to cleaner models that comply with 2010 federal emission standards, and it has been introducing alternative fuels and improved efficiencies into its FedEx Freight and FedEx Ground divisions as well.
Leading the way to cleaner fleets
As ably demonstrated by FedEx, vehicle fleet efficiency represents one of the low-hanging fruits of energy conservation, especially for larger companies where economies of scale accelerate the payback period.
With that in mind, in 2011 the Obama Administration launched the Clean Fleets Partnership to help establish best practices models for other fleet-intensive companies to follow.
FedEx was one of only five corporate partners selected to kick off Clean Fleets, along with AT&T, PepsiCo, UPS and Verizon. A few months later they were joined by Coca-Cola, Enterprise Holdings, General Electric, OSRAM SYLVANIA, Ryder and Staples.
Because of its usefulness as a promotional tool, the Clean Fleets Partnership encourages participants to go above and beyond the original goal of a 20 percent reduction. FedEx has been quick to take advantage of its success, by setting itself a new goal of a 30 percent improvement by 2020 (last year the company increased its goal for reducing aircraft emissions, too).
The responsibilities of leadership
Clean Fleets, in turn, is part of a broader Obama Administration initiative called Clean Cities, which has set a goal of cutting petroleum consumption in the U.S. by 2.5 billion gallons per year, by 2020. The Administration has also been promoting sustainable ports, by reducing emissions related to rail transportation, cargo transfer and seagoing craft as well as ground vehicles.
All this activity leads to an interesting situation for FedEx and other corporate partners. By participating in the Obama Administration’s initiatives, these private sector companies have entwined their corporate identities to national sustainability goals. That gives them a vested interest in related issues of national concern from a corporate social responsibility perspective.
Don’t expect FedEx, or for that matter Verizon or Coca-Cola or any of the other Clean Fleets partners to suddenly start issuing pronouncements about natural gas fracking, the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline or other areas of controversy any time soon, but then again, don’t be surprised if these corporate voices start rising in support of a more holistic and sustainable national energy policy.