Safer, cleaner, cheaper
Colin Matthews, head of TransportEnergy programmes explains green fleet management
Even the best-run vehicle fleets can represent a significant cost to business. And if a fleet is badly managed, excess costs of up to 35% can hit the bottom line. But green fleet management goes beyond fuel bills, minimising fuel use and emissions, and traffic reduction – it should be part of a company’s culture.
There are a number of reasons for adopting green management principles:
- to reduce emissions of pollutants;
- to save money by making more efficient use of transport;
- as part of a plan to reduce traffic and parking needs;
- as part of a road safety management policy; and
- to assist in compliance with environmental management systems or to enhance company reputation.
So what is the best way to tackle green fleet management? The first step is to develop an action plan, setting out the starting point for an improvement programme. Key steps include assessing current performance, identifying objectives, and setting a timetable and deadlines for results.
Improving fuel efficiency
Improving fuel efficiency is the best place to start the action plan – especially as fuel accounts for 20-25% of a fleet’s total operating costs. Although fuel is not a fixed overhead, and varies according to factors such as vehicle type and mileage, effective fuel efficiency plans can create savings of 10% or more. If no systems are in place, control of costs is close to impossible.
There are four basic elements to good fuel management. Three are concerned with fuel use itself – cost, volume and distance travelled. From these, all necessary data can be calculated. The fourth element is the will to control costs.
Managers should work out consumption rates, then ask if they appear reasonable. High consumption may make sense for a large executive car, but if a much smaller car is consuming a similar amount of fuel, it is important to identify why a driver is underachieving.
Managers need to ask whether the journey – or the use of a vehicle – is necessary. To identify opportunities for savings, the company needs to analyse what journeys are made. The first stage is an audit of mileage, which should indicate where the main costs are incurred. Then carry out monitoring and targeting of high mileage individuals.
Before taking action to cut down unnecessary travel, it is important to consider the barriers that must be overcome. At best it may be possible to downsize the fleet by identifying more cost-effective and efficient methods of carrying out core business activities, perhaps by using remote conferencing, ecommerce, or by reappraising marketing strategies.
It may also be possible to reduce car use through car sharing schemes, promoting increased use of public transport and better planning of visits and meetings. Looking in detail at the company’s transport requirements often throws up areas of inefficiency.
A business travel policy must be developed specifically to serve the needs of the company and staff. Organisational structure, type of business, accessibility of public transport and purpose of business trips should all be considered.
Ensuring that the vehicles are fuel efficient, suitable for their intended task and have the lowest possible emissions are all important, but driver behaviour is also fundamental to attaining high levels of fleet efficiency. Drivers must be made aware of efficient driving techniques, either by increasing awareness, or where necessary through training.
Training is important because no matter how efficient the vehicles a company operates are, they will all perform poorly with an inefficient driver behind the wheel. A green fleet should also be a safe one, with well trained drivers, encouraged to drive safely and not pressured to spend excessive hours on the road.
Green fleet management makes sense from both a financial, environmental and driver welfare point of view. It can lead to cost savings through efficient fuel use, improve staff morale by reducing driving time and improving safety, and lower carbon emissions.
Whether measures are taken as part of an overall management system or simply to reduce spending, improving performance requires fairly simple steps to be taken, which often lead to drastic improvements. But most important is will and planning from the top.