Driving change: How can businesses increase efficiency for a greener fleet?

Whether it's the rollout of electric vehicles (EVs), the use of telematics, or the strategic positioning of distribution centres, there is now a multitude of options available to businesses looking to reduce fleet emissions. But which is the best route to take? edie's George Ogleby investigates.

The need to transform business transport has been made abundantly clear over the past few years. While other sectors taken big strides to reduce carbon impact, progress within the transport sphere has remained largely stagnant; vehicle emissions have grown as a proportion of the UK’s total carbon footprint, and a public health crisis has ensued from the associated toxic air quality levels.  

The impending creation of national Clean Air Zones, as outlined in the Government’s recent air quality proposals, will inevitably impact the fleet operations of businesses, which account for half of all vehicle registrations in the UK. As a case in point, high-polluting HGVs entering major towns and cities could soon be charged a daily tariff of up to £100.

But compliance to these new standards should be regarded as a minimum. Vast economic opportunities exist for businesses that drive efficiencies within their fleet. The Energy Savings Trust (EST), which has worked with companies to promote sustainable transport over the past 25 years, is one organisation that has compiled an extensive list of the business benefits delivered by a green fleet transition.

For instance, by addressing the issue of employees using their own vehicles for business purposes (otherwise known as grey fleet management) through more fuel-efficient pool cars and mileage and fuel reimbursement claims, the EST estimates that more than 30% of miles can be eradicated.

Operational concerns

In addition to reducing unnecessary mileage, the EST’s director of transport Andrew Blenfield notes the importance of choosing the most efficient vehicle. From plug-in hybrid models like the Mitstubishi Outlander through to extended-range vehicles such as the BMW i3, there is a growing range of low-carbon vehicles that can create substantial emissions reductions for companies large and small.

“Most of them, if not all, are a lot cleaner at tailpipe,” Blenfield explains during a panel discussion at edie Live 2017. “They are cheaper to run in a lot of cases and also, from a user perspective, they are quieter, easier and more simple to use. A lot of people, once they’ve used an electric vehicle, don’t want to go back to a traditional model.”

When making the business case for cleaner vehicles, Blenfield stresses that businesses should take time to consider important operational issues such as employee engagement and access to charging infrastructure – currently a major sticking point for low-carbon vehicle uptake.

“Most companies are starting to realise that the main thing that is different to these vehicles is how you get the power into them,” he adds. “It does require a change in behaviour and it does require you to think about that upfront before you make an investment in the vehicle if you want it to work well.

“The one that everyone forgets is engaging the drivers to ensure they understand why you are taking away their lovely diesel 4X4 and giving them an Outlander. They need engagement and understanding about how to use the vehicles and get the best out of them. It is all doable.”

The EST provides ecodriving training to companies in England based on extensive research into the technical and behavioural issues associated with reducing fuel consumption. Blenfield insists that adopting enhanced driving techniques not only improves fuel efficiency, but also lowers risk of accidents and vehicle wear and tear.

“Essentially, it’s about accelerating less, keeping the momentum of the vehicles, anticipating and gear changing to use less fuel,” he says. “And what we see is that, on the day of the training, average savings are between 13-15% from each driver. Over the longer-term, savings settle in region to 5-7% but again that depends on how good you are at incentivising drivers to use less fuel.”

Uber efficient

Telematics technology allows businesses to reduce unnecessary mileage, improve fuel efficiency and driver proficiency. By enabling companies to more closely monitor fuel consumption, the technology can ultimately help to reduce fuel use and improve a company’s carbon footprint. Many businesses already utilising fleet management and telematics technology have reported fuel savings of as much as two gallons per vehicle per day.

Private car hire firm Uber utilised telematics data in a recent trial of 60 EVs into its rental fleet in September, as part of a trial supported by the EST to explore the practicality of a large-scale EV private-hire transport system in the UK. The company’s public policy associate Alan Clarke said that the trial has encouraged drivers to reduce their time on the road by optimising route planning.

“We’re now introducing some adaptations to our app,” Clarke explains during a separate edie Live panel discussion. “When drivers need to charge their EVs, they turn on their driver app and enter in the destination of a charge point and tell us they only want to receive journeys for passengers who are also going in that direction. We allow drivers to do that four or five times a day, if they need to. For us, this is one of the ways in which we can build functionality for future scalable EVs into our app and into the technology we have.”

The last mile

Engaging vehicle drivers to drive more efficiently only partially solves the overarching problem of business transport emissions, which have been greatly affected by increased consumer demand for products and services. A 10% growth in online retail delivery volumes growing by 2016, for instance, has led to a sharp rise in the number of deliveries and freight movements in the UK’s major cities.

Businesses are now starting to look at how to solve the ‘last mile’ challenge – the final part of freight journeys which can often be the least efficient in terms of time, emissions and congestion. Consolidation centres are beginning to offer a viable solution. These strategically-located storage and distribution facilities rearrange and combine shipments to reduce the number of deliveries made.

According to low-carbon transport technology agency Cenex’s head of business development Keith Budden, this can in turn improve operational efficiency, reduce congestion, delays and improve safety. Indeed, Budden envisages a time in the near future when private hire firms such as Uber offer a delivery service for rival companies, in a bid to decrease the number of vehicles on the road.

“Certainly, there is a lot more freight consolidation taking place,” Budden says. “Many companies are doing that now in terms of backhauling. If you look at Paris at the moment, they are going through a major process of identifying consolidation centres to reduce the number of vehicle journeys, to make them happen at the right time and to electrify the last few miles.

“That sort of model will be seen across more cities in the next few years, and companies like Uber may be playing a part in that in terms of deliveries where other vehicles don’t have to make those journeys.”

All of the quotes in this feature were taken from the edie Live 2017 exhibition in Birmingham last month.

George Ogleby

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