Fleet sustainability is a hot topic for fleet management pros. Everywhere you look, there are articles and published recommendations for right-sizing your fleet, replacing inefficient or older vehicles, reducing miles traveled, or using alternative/cleaner fuels. And as the 2022 State of Sustainable Fleets annual report puts it, this past year is the one where “the petroleum-dependent transportation era started its decline, and there is no going back.”
Fleets large and small are now grappling with sustainability goals, with increasing pressure from management, government agencies, customers and other stakeholders to reduce vehicle emissions, address local air quality, and move to a cleaner future for transportation. Fleets are at the forefront of many environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reports and objectives, and fleet managers no doubt feel pressure to take on this new aspect of their jobs. A peek at any Fortune 500 company’s website will reveal their sustainability reports, emissions reduction goals and progress, and plans for the future of their fleet.
While a zero-emissions electric vehicle fleet seems like the obvious answer, real-world limitations still prevent fleets from adopting battery electric vehicles wholesale. For example, Waste Management, a national waste and recycling services firm, shared this in their 2021 sustainability report:
“Our Class 8 collection trucks are limited by legal weight limits on roadways that determine how much
various types of trucks can carry. In order to carry enough battery power and comply with these limits,
WM would need more trucks on the road to provide the same level of service.
These limitations, combined with the cost of the trucks to date, have been an impediment to the a
adoption of this technology. However, as battery technology continues to evolve, we expect electric
vehicles to become more compatible with our needs.”
As the report notes, batteries mean that electric vehicles are often much heavier than their internal combustion counterparts, and range concerns are legitimate for fleet vehicles that drive long distances. Heavy- and medium-duty electric vehicles are evolving quickly to better suit fleet needs, but for many fleets looking to reduce emissions, the technology doesn’t match their business requirements yet.
Fleets of all sizes can take meaningful steps to address vehicle emissions and meet ESG and sustainability goals. Let’s dive deeper into what emissions really mean.
What are fleet emissions or vehicle emissions?
When people talk about vehicle emissions, they often mean “tailpipe emissions,” the actual byproducts of burning gasoline that come out of the tailpipe of a car or truck. However, emissions associated with transportation also include the impact of manufacturing and delivering the vehicle, and in the case of electric vehicles, the emissions associated with electricity generation needed to power the vehicle.
There are two main types of emissions that fleet managers should understand:
Greenhouse gases (GHG): Simply put, greenhouse gases are those that contribute to climate change. Burning fossil fuels creates GHGs, which produce the greenhouse effect within Earth’s atmosphere, creating a warmer climate. Vehicles of all classes emit carbon dioxide (CO2), which according to the EPA makes up about 99% of the GHGs from a tailpipe. Greenhouse gases are emissions that act on a global scale and affect everyone.
Criteria/particulate pollutants: Vehicles also emit other pollutants that form smog and contribute to poor air quality on a local and regional level. Examples include particulate matter (PM10, PM2.5), nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and more. Criteria pollutants create hazards for local residents in the areas where they are emitted. Poor air quality and smog can have broad health effects on a population.
Fleet managers are more likely to be tasked with addressing greenhouse gas emissions from their fleet vehicles, which is what we’ll primarily focus on for this article. However, Merge anticipates that local governments and regulators may enact rules around criteria pollutants for areas where air quality is a big concern.
What can fleets do about vehicle emissions?
There are several ways that fleets can address vehicle emissions, make progress on ESG initiatives, and create a cleaner transportation strategy. Here are a few steps the experts at Merge suggest:
Step 1: Measure your emissions.
You know and we know: you can’t impact what you don’t measure. Many fleet vehicles travel more miles each day than a personal vehicle. In addition, fleet vehicles often idle more than personal vehicles, whether at the jobsite or because they are being used as “mobile offices.” How can you capture data in a more precise and actionable way than an estimated miles per gallon or using EPA fuel economy ratings?
The good news for fleet managers is that if you have telematics, you are likely already measuring your emissions. Many fleet vehicles have telematics devices installed to capture safety data, routing intel, driver performance, and operations management metrics. Using telematics data is a great way to find out how your fleet is performing in terms of emissions and set sustainability and emissions reduction goals.
Step 2: Understand your data and your options.
Once you’ve measured your baseline, it’s important to dive deeper to truly understand the profile of your fleet. You need to know what emissions mean for your business today, and what it could mean in the future if you pulled various levers. Merge can help you get a better understanding of your baseline, look at your fleet on a vehicle-by-vehicle basis, and weigh your possible actions against your business needs.
For example, Merge is working with SafeHaven, a pest control company whose fleet is made up of both pickup trucks and delivery vans to better understand their fleet emissions and utilization. We installed telematics devices in each vehicle and tracked them for three months during the company’s busy spring season. The goal was to determine which SafeHaven vehicles would be good candidates for replacement with a fully electric van or truck based on utilization. Here’s what we found:
If all of SafeHaven’s vans and trucks were replaced with electric vehicles, they could achieve a 56% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (this calculation takes into account the source of power generation).
SafeHaven’s territory is massive, encompassing all of the metro Dallas-Fort Worth area, so not all vehicles are good electrification candidates with the current range of the Ford E-Transit van. If pickup trucks could meet the duty cycle of some of SafeHaven’s vans, the Ford F-150 Lightning would be a good fit for electrifying additional routes.
Fleet data analytics is a great step for fleets looking to address ESG goals and reduce their emissions in a thoughtful and measurable way that also meets their business needs.
Step 3: Take strategic action.
Once you have a good idea of where your fleet stands, which vehicles are candidates for electrification, it’s time to take action. We all know the last two years have been a struggle for vehicle purchasing. Supply chain challenges and demand have made it hard to get your hands on gas vehicles, let alone EVs. Merge recommends a pilot program with select drivers to help you “try before you buy.”
We recently launched an Electric Vehicle Pilot Program (EVPP™) with Solace Pediatric Healthcare, a home health provider in the Denver area (read more about it here). Four Solace drivers were chosen to test the all-electric Volkswagen ID.4 AWD, and Merge installed temporary home chargers to help them meet their daily route requirements. We also provided access to public DC fast-charging stations so they could charge during the day if needed. Telematics devices are tracking EV charging and vehicle performance for the duration of the pilot so Solace can make a confident decision about how to introduce additional EVs into their fleet.
Merge’s EVPP™ is a low-commitment way to take strategic action on vehicle emissions and target the vehicles in your fleet that are ready for electrification.
Merge knows that not all fleet vehicles can be converted to EVs today. Fleet managers are juggling a lot of priorities, and addressing emissions is just part of the story. By looking at your data, understanding your options, and taking appropriate steps, fleets can reduce emissions, create sustainable programs, and meet organizational ESG goals.