By Robert J. Hall
Of the nearly 7 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases the U.S. emits every year, 27 percent of those emissions come from the transportation sector.
Driving a personal car for private use contributes to this pollution. However, if you manage a fleet of vehicles, the negative environmental impact is even higher.
What steps can you take to reduce your carbon footprint — even as your organization continues to expand?
Let’s take a look.
1. Reduce idling
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a standard heavy-duty truck burns roughly one gallon of diesel for every hour that it's left idling. Your own vehicles may be much smaller, but when you multiply those losses across an entire fleet, they quickly add up. Verify for yourself by using this free online calculator
Instructing your drivers to turn off their vehicles whenever they stop can offer huge environmental and financial savings.
2. Drive responsibly
Although optimal fuel economy varies from vehicle to vehicle, most cars and trucks begin losing gas mileage once you exceed 55 miles per hour. The same goes for aggressive acceleration and braking. With passenger cars, these two activities can reduce gas mileage by as much as 33 percent on the highway. If you’re hauling heavy loads in larger vehicles, the waste is even greater.
Having your drivers use cruise control makes it easier to consistently follow local speed limits.
3. Use GPS fleet management software
What gets measured gets managed, and by using fleet management software (FMS) you can more accurately assess both historic and real-time driving patterns to map out optimal routes that factor in variables like:
Some FMS suites even come with vehicle tracking and anti-idling technology. You can see, in real time, how quickly your drivers are going — and whether they’re wasting gas at rest stops.
4. Batch deliveries
Some organizations make deliveries on a case-by-case basis. However, when you batch
deliveries, it's possible to transport larger loads over fewer trips. This strategy takes some finessing since you must balance the needs of your customers against the benefits of batching, but with the right fleet management software, it becomes easier to optimize delivery schedules.
5. Service your fleet frequently
A poorly-maintained vehicle burns up to 30 percent more gas than one that is regularly serviced, and it’s not just the engine you have to worry about. Keeping your tires inflated at the correct pressure can boost gas mileage by more than 3 percent. Even using the proper oil can improve fuel efficiency rates by as much as 2 percent.
As an added bonus, your vehicles will last longer -- reducing the need to manufacture more gas-guzzlers in the future. Remember that your environmental impact can be felt throughout the supply chain.
Reaching a zero carbon footprint?
Although the above strategies can provide measurable environmental gains, none of them can reduce your ecological impact entirely.
Though by switching older cars with green alternatives, it is possible to reduce your carbon footprint to zero. What’s more, the monetary savings gleaned from earlier tips can help finance this gradual or wholesale greening of your fleet.
As you begin replacing your vehicles, however, what "green" alternatives offer the greatest additional savings?
FlexFuel cars are a favorite among some. They run on a compound biofuel known as E85 (made from a blend of petroleum and 85 percent ethanol). Still, this approach has certain downsides:
- E85 may be cleaner than standard gasoline, but it isn’t 100 percent clean. You’re still polluting every time you drive.
- Refueling is difficult since not all stations carry E85.
- You lose up to 30 percent fuel economy since E85 isn't as energy dense as gasoline.
- The ecological benefits are hotly disputed. According to some studies, E85 is actually 33 percent worse for the environment after factoring in the resources needed to cultivate and transform corn into ethanol.
A better approach is to invest in electric vehicles (EVs) that, when charged using solar panels, leave a zero carbon footprint. Of course, you’ll need to invest in a solar photovoltaic (PV)
system to make this work, but going solar is an investment that pays for itself very quickly
If you’re worried about EV recharging when off site, consider investing in a hybrid that can run on either solar electricity or gasoline.
Image credit: Flickr/Doc Searis
Robert J. Hall is president of Track Your Truck, a leader in GPS vehicle tracking systems and software for small and midsized companies.