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Transportation management Article | 6-minute read

How to reduce the carbon footprint of your vehicle fleet

By going electric and taking some other simple steps, you can cut your emissions and save money
White cargo van on a road next to a forest

When it comes to managing a fleet, the main goal of any business has always been to get the most out of vehicles for the least amount of money.

Now, companies are also looking to reduce carbon emissions to help in the fight against climate change.

The good news is you can achieve both goals at the same time by improving your fleet management.

Whether you operate hundreds of vehicles or just two, your priority should be to choose the right ones for the job, says Ron Groves, a product specialist at Plug’n Drive, a Toronto non-profit that works to promote the adoption of electric vehicles.

You want to make sure vehicles ‘do the duty’, meaning you can depend on them to do exactly the job they’re supposed to. Then, the second priority is cost.

But is it possible to find the “right” vehicle while still saving money and shrinking your carbon footprint? The answer is yes.

Upgrading your fleet to more fuel-efficient vehicles

Today, choosing a less carbon-emitting option isn’t just the right choice for the environment, it also makes good business sense. Hybrid and electric models produce lower or no tailpipe emissions while in use, and they’re cheaper to operate and maintain.

And these operational savings will compound as your fleet grows. This means that the more electric or hybrid vehicles you have, the more compelling the financial argument becomes for choosing greener options.

Comparing different vehicle types

  • Traditional gas or diesel vehicles—These vehicles—also called internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles—are known quantities when it comes to buying, operating and maintaining them and have long been the industry standard for fleets. They have conventional engines that use gasoline or diesel as fuel and generally have more power than hybrids or electrics. They generally cost less to purchase, but are more expensive to keep on the road because of the higher cost of fuel and their larger number of moving parts compared to electric vehicles. The more parts, the greater the need for maintenance and potential chance of costly repairs.
  • Electric—Electric vehicles (EVs) are more expensive and run mainly on the energy stored in their batteries, which comes from electricity. They need to be recharged regularly by being plugged into an outlet or generator. They can’t travel as far per charge as a hybrid or internal combustion vehicle. However, they are significantly cheaper to maintain and operate, and they produce no tailpipe emissions while in use. It is safe to assume that the cost of acquiring EVs will fall in the coming years and the battery technology will improve.
  • Hybrid—A hybrid vehicle is powered by the combination of a traditional internal combustion engine and an electric motor running on a battery. As a result, they are generally more fuel efficient and produce fewer emissions than internal combustion vehicles, but more than EVs.

Performance of different vehicle types

  Internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle Battery electric vehicle (BEV) T Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV)
Fuel type Gasoline or diesel Electric battery First powered by electric battery, then gasoline, driver selectable
Typical range 400-1,000 km 100-500 km 25-80 km all-electric range 400-1,000 km gasoline range
Tailpipe emissions (CO2 g/km) 250 g/km (typical passenger vehicle) 0 g/km 30-150 g/km
Recharge time A few minutes for refueling 5 to 12 hours (on Level 2 charger) 2 to 4 hours (on Level 2 charger)

Source: Plug’n Drive

Steps to building a more sustainable fleet

You don’t have to scrap your entire fleet of internal combustion vehicles to lower your carbon footprint. There are many simple things you can start doing today to reduce emissions and save dollars.

By improving driver and vehicle performance, you can cut down on wasted energy and time—and ensure you’re getting the most out of the vehicles in your fleet.

1. Conduct regular maintenance

Implementing a regular maintenance plan will ensure your fleet runs at peak performance while decreasing your carbon footprint. By regularly servicing your vehicles, you’ll prevent small problems from turning into costly repairs and prolong the life of your fleet. Regular maintenance also reduces the chance of unexpected breakdowns, causing delivery delays and productivity losses.

Simple things like old spark plugs, worn brakes and low transmission fluid can increase fuel consumption. And ensuring your vehicles’ tires are filled to the right pressure can make a big difference in the amount of fuel used.

“If your vehicles aren’t properly maintained, and you have 10 of them, think about how much extra fuel you’re using,” Groves says.

2. Track your vehicles’ use and performance

It’s critical to monitor how your vehicles are being used and are performing. If you’re not already doing so, you should track fuel expenses and total cost per kilometre to figure out how to make your fleet more efficient. Tracking also enables you to pinpoint the optimal time to replace vehicles.

Many businesses today use fleet-tracking software for this purpose. Not only can it help you monitor where your vehicles are via GPS, but it can also provide important information to support fleet optimization, including:

  • fuel consumption
  • idle time
  • engine fault codes
  • unwanted driver behaviours (such as speeding, hard turns and fast acceleration)

3. Assess your current fleet

The next step is to use your data and records to evaluate whether the vehicles in your fleet are doing the job, or if it might be time to upgrade. This is a good time to consider trading in gas-powered vehicles for hybrid or electric ones. You can start by doing a pilot project with one EV to see if it fits your needs, then phase in more EVs over time.

Although it was once a challenge to find hybrid or electric vehicles that were suitable for many fleets, the market has been evolving quickly. Today, there aren’t just electric cars available, but also buses, trucks of all sizes and even big-rig tractor trailers and fire trucks that are at least partially powered by electricity.

Even if the right EV for you isn’t on the market today, it could be soon. Doing your research now will ensure you are ready to buy when the time comes.

4. Optimize fleet routing

One of the best ways to improve fleet performance is by working to make your routes as efficient as possible. Choosing the best routes will reduce fuel use and emissions. It will also ensure your customers get their goods or services on time and maximize the number of deliveries drivers can make in a shift.

Route optimization software can plan complex multi-stop routes, saving you time and money, among other benefits. It can even reduce the number of vehicles you need on the road. In fact, optimized routes can increase fuel efficiency by 20 to 40%.

5. Implement a smart driving policy

To cut your fleet’s fuel consumption, establish a driving policy aimed at eliminating fuel-guzzling practices, like idling and speeding.

“If you drive 120 kilometres an hour, you’re going to use 20% more fuel than if you drive at 100,” Groves says.

Creating an efficient driving policy can make a big difference in fuel consumption and wear and tear on vehicles. Such a policy would typically require drivers to:

  • reduce speeds
  • avoid idling
  • use cruise control
  • accelerate smoothly
  • use progressive shifting techniques
  • maintain proper tire pressure
  • use air conditioning wisely

6. Train your drivers

It’s a good idea to provide your drivers with training to help them save fuel, cut emissions, reduce wear and tear on vehicles, and stay safe.

Natural Resources Canada offers its SmartDriver training, a series of free online courses to help professional drivers of medium and heavy-duty commercial vehicles reduce fuel consumption, operating costs and harmful vehicle emissions.

Other ways to reduce driving and your company’s carbon footprint

Look for ways to cut down on the amount of driving your employees are doing by promoting greener transportation choices within your company. These might include:

  • allowing employees to work from home
  • promoting carpooling
  • encouraging commuting by public transit, cycling or walking

You can also reduce the carbon emissions in your transportation supply chain. This includes:

  • Choosing transportation service providers that are actively reducing their emissions, using electric vehicles or optimizing their routes
  • Consolidating orders into single shipments
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