Bob Dylan was right. At least when it comes to climate change, the answer is blowin' in the wind. The less carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels to power daily life — which is what is meant by producing a “carbon footprint” — the less environmental damage will occur.
Sounds good in theory, but how do truck fleets contribute to this lofty goal? And, if not mandated to do so, why should they?
Fortunately, the answers do not have to be plucked out of thin air. The information needed to make changes to reduce the impact of greenhouse gases on climate change can be mined from readily available fleet operating data.
As to why bother, enlightened self-interest leaps to mind: reducing consumption of the fuel that produces carbon emissions also cuts fleet operating costs.
But wait, there's more. The digital evidence of what a fleet is doing to shrink its carbon footprint can be leveraged in other ways. At the very least, it can burnish a fleet's reputation as a good corporate citizen with impeccable green credentials.
Thinking more creatively, it can be the springboard for a fleet to enable its environmentally conscious customers to easily become involved in the arena of carbon offsetting. That's where a firm (or an individual) voluntarily chooses to invest in a renewable energy project by paying in funds representing the amount of carbon their own activities are still generating after they themselves have taken steps to reduce their carbon footprint.
That may seem far-fetched to anyone who hasn't even taken the first step of measuring their carbon footprint, but it is an effort in which some truck fleets right here in the U.S. are already engaged.
Going still further out on the green limb and starting now to measure, reduce, track and analyze a fleet's carbon footprint on an ongoing basis will also set a fleet up rather nicely to get involved (if they so choose) in the newly emerging market for trading carbon offsets.
And, while a federal mandate putting limits on the size of a fleet's carbon footprint is highly unlikely, who's to say such rules will not appear at the state or local level. In any event, having the tools in place now to trim and report one's carbon footprint can only help later.
While it may seem too easy, the fact is — presto — all of the above, except carbon offset trading, can be accomplished just by tapping the information technology fleets already use each and every day.
Relying on fuel usage (measuring the amount of carbon dioxide produced by knowing the gallons of fuel burned) to record the carbon footprint can even be done manually. But calculating it — and more importantly, tracking and analyzing it continually — can be achieved much more easily by using IT tools fleets already have in place.
Further taking the blue out of going green, your IT solutions provider or other vendor, such as a vehicle lessor or management services firm, may be able to provide this functionality as part of a package. Some suppliers are already marketing such functions and even branding these offerings while others could no doubt do so if customers ask.
Trucking solution providers already dipping a toe in these lucrative waters include PHH Arval, WebTech Wireless and Wright Express, but there's apparently no reason other firms could not help fleets accomplish this simply and inexpensively via IT.
Back in 2006, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) advocacy group launched a collaborative venture with fleet management services firm PHH Arval to boost the green performance of car and truck fleets operated by PHH Arval customers — nearly one-third of which are Fortune 500 companies.
According to EDF, the program seeks to “neutralize the climate impacts” of fleet operations by “measuring and reporting emissions, improving efficiency and purchasing carbon offsets.”
Participants benefit from an in-depth analysis of their operation coupled with recommendations to improve efficiency and reduce emissions. Emissions are measured and reported on quarterly and the fleet is advised on how it may offset remaining emissions, such as by contributing to investments in renewable energy sources.
And far from being pie in the sky, the PHH Arval initiative is committed to “identifying ways to reduce fleet emissions without increasing costs,” states the company. That is to say, you can go green without spending any green, and maybe even saving some.
In addition, the GreenFleet program is focused on outcomes, not specific technologies, as PHH Arval is fully cognizant that every fleet is different and therefore solutions for shrinking its carbon footprint may be too, points out Karen Healey, PHH Arval's director of product marketing for GreenFleet.
“We began the program with a pilot project three years ago,” says Healey, “and designed it for fleets operating everything from cars to heavy trucks. Along with designing it so that customers could get the biggest greenhouse gas emissions reduction at the lowest cost, we also made it outcome-oriented. That is, we do not focus on specific technologies, such as hybrids or ethanol, because each fleet operation is unique and there may not be payback for some solutions.”
According to Healey, the cornerstones of the program are:
Creation of a greenhouse gas emissions baseline for each fleet and ongoing reporting against the baseline.
Development of specific recommendations for increasing efficiency and reducing emissions through improved vehicle selection and use.
Advice on how to offset remaining greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing carbon offsets.
“GreenFleet is designed to help clients set appropriate goals, track results and identify cost-effective ways to reduce emissions,” she explains.
“On average, fleets in the program have cut emissions by 14% and in the process have reduced their lifecycle cost for operating vehicles by 4%,” Healey reports.
Since there is a direct correlation between fuel burned and emissions produced, the data used to draw the baseline and then report against it can be derived from a fuel-card system or transmitted by a vehicle telematics system, points out Vivek Khosla, PHH Arval's director of product marketing for trucks.
“Our recommendations to cut emissions are based on a series of questions determined by fleet type,” he relates. “Our goal is to provide advice that is actionable, taking into account the vehicles they have and the work they do so we can present a solution for each possibility. For example, we found one client operating medium-duty boom trucks was oversizing — spec'ing more truck than they needed.” Khosla adds that the smaller truck that was suggested got the job done while burning less fuel, which meant fewer emissions and less cost for the fleet.
By continuing to monitor GreenFleet vehicle performance, PHH Arval can make additional recommendations on specs to help further cut emissions. And for clients that wish to purchase carbon offsets to essentially counteract those emissions they can't eliminate, PHH Arval can measure that as well.
By purchasing offsets, according to Healey, a company with a fleet operation invests voluntarily in an environmentally sound project that takes out of the global equation the equivalent amount of greenhouse gases that the fleet can't eliminate. “A good example is planting trees,” explains Healey. Reducing the carbon footprint and then paying to make up for what remains via offsets gives fleets two ways to tell the world — including customers and other stakeholders — how green they are.
Healey points out that were the U.S. in the sort of regulated carbon environment that exists in many European countries, companies that reduce their greenhouse gas output would receive “carbon credits” that could actually be sold or traded on an exchange. At least one — the Chicago Climate Exchange — has already been set up in the U.S. to register and trade carbon credits. Fleets looking to be out in front in the green arena may want to explore the trading avenue as well.
Wright Express is now marketing WEXSmart, a telematics option powered by Networkcar that provides wireless vehicle tracking and diagnostics to go along with its fuel-card offerings.
Jessica Roy, director of corporate communications for Wright Express, says data can be pulled either from the fuel card or the telematics system to help a fleet understand that “carbon footprint and fuel consumption are directly proportional — the extent to which you can reduce your fuel consumption you can reduce your carbon footprint.
“In addition, we provide customer reporting to enable them to take action and reduce fuel consumption,” she continues. The WEXSmart solution “allows customers to decrease consumption by getting a better handle on mpg performance, by becoming more proactive about vehicle maintenance, and by reducing both idling and unnecessary miles.”
While these automated systems make getting a handle on the carbon footprint simple, “most fleets don't realize the short return on investment (ROI) for these systems,” Roy points out. “With the fuel card, the ROI is immediate since there is very little upfront investment. With WEXSmart, we are seeing ROI break even in six months, and in some cases as short as three months, depending on the fleet,” she says.
The tools for tracking and analyzing data may be at all their fingertips, but different fleets handle them differently. “It depends on the company, the fleet manager and the time they have available to fully explore the tools at their disposal,” she points out.
“Some just want to take advantage of the extrinsic value of the program, which can be as simple as giving somebody a card. They know their behavior will be tracked. Others are more ‘super-users’ who, based on their business needs, will need more detailed information, such as on idling time. The beauty is it works for either type of need — using stringent controls or looking at reporting to track purchasing or to track activities more aggressively.”
WebTech Wireless, a telematics services provider, has put the fleet carbon footprint squarely in its sights with its “Telematics for the Planet” environmental-performance solution, which it rolled out just last month as “an end-to-end measurement and certification tool for green vehicle management,” says product manager Patricia Dijak.
“It directly addresses the major components of a green vehicle strategy: fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, driving behavior, maintenance, and carbon footprint,” she continues. “It is designed to help prepare fleets to take part in emerging ‘carbon economy.’”
Dijak says that the WebTech solution replaces manual tracking and calculating with vehicle-generated data and Web-based scorecards so fleets can measure existing performance, set realistic ‘green’ goals, report actual results and even certify vehicles to specific standards.
The solution includes a certification tool that identifies vehicles operating within regulatory standards or user-defined targets.
“Telematics for the Planet lets fleets make decisions that will have the biggest impact on reducing their carbon footprint and fuel costs,” she states. “It simplifies the management of key issues such as excessive idling and speed, inefficient driving practices, maintenance problems, and unnecessary miles.
According to Dijak, the solution's features include exception alerts to allow immediate response to critical concerns and route optimization that identifies options based on time, distance, or roadway conditions. “Real-time carbon calculations confirm emissions levels for efficient route planning and driver performance analysis.
“Depending on what strategy fleets want to pursue [to reduce their carbon footprint],” she continues, “reports can be very specific and along with driver, vehicle and route performance maintenance factors can be tracked to enable pro-active measures.”
Dijak notes that “interestingly enough, interest in this solution is coming from both transportation and government fleets. One manager of a grocery distribution fleet that operates in the U.S. and Canada said they see it as providing timely and reliable information in a form they can act on.”
While many fleet managers may not yet know their carbon footprint from their carbon offset, just as sure as oil comes out of the ground, that is changing and changing faster than anyone would have thought even a year ago.
Breaking a leg — mile after mile
Determined to jump on the green bandwagon in a big way, Harrisburg, PA-based Clark Transfer invited its customers — touring Broadway shows, the Antiques Road Show TV program, ballet companies and symphony orchestras — along for the ride.
The family-owned firm, which bills itself as a full-service international theatrical transportation and logistics service and uses owner-operators exclusively to haul its specialized trailers, launched its two-fold “Touring Green” initiative to help reduce the environmental impact of its operation in concert with its customers.
For its part, says executive vp Charlie Deull, Clark is working with owner-operators to “introduce new technologies, education and incentives aimed at shrinking the carbon footprint of trucking live entertainment.
“We can't control their fuel use,” he points out, “but we're encouraging them every way we can to reduce consumption, such as by cutting idling and making them aware of the EPA's SmartWay program.”
And to deal with the emissions that remain, Clark Transfer conducted extensive research of more than 35 firms before selecting South Burlington, VT-based NativeEnergy (www.nativenergy.com) as the carbon offset provider for Touring Green.
“We've identified an initial portfolio of projects offering short- and long-term offsets,” Deull advises. “Along with our direct corporate contributions, our customers can participate in the program by purchasing offsets from NativeEnergy.”
Participating productions can offset the carbon emissions from moving their shows with Clark Transfer by buying offsets via a one-and-a-half cent per mile charge per trailer billed separately by Clark.
Deull says Clark remits 100% of the amount received to NativeEnergy, which applies the funds to the selected group of projects. The current mix includes wind turbines, methane digesters on family farms and gas-capture projects at landfills. The offset firm reports to Clark and the Touring Green partners on the projects' economic and social benefits and, of course, their impact on carbon reduction.