Fleets interested in (or tasked with) adopting sustainability goals have many factors to consider.
There are a variety of alternative fuels to choose from, and there is no ideal or prevailing option that works for all fleets.
Some suspect compressed natural gas (CNG) or biodiesel are the future; others believe that electricity will dominate. Fleet managers are resourceful people, but they are not fortune tellers — how do you choose?
Work Truck spoke with two fleets that have successfully adopted green fleet programs.
West Valley Construction
West Valley Construction is a construction company based in California with eight locations, specializing in infrastructure installation for water, wastewater, gas, power, and telecommunications.
The company manages a fleet of 1,200 across eight locations, including 500 on-road vehicles and 700 pieces of equipment. The vehicles range from Class 1 to Class 8, but the fleet primarily consists of Class 4 to Class 6 trucks.
Jimm Vosburgh, vice president of corporate assets for West Valley, said that electrification is challenging due to the company’s fleet makeup and application. Although a lot of progress has been made with new electric vehicles introduced all the time, most of the offerings do not fit within West Valley’s needs.
“It’s not as easy for us to go and buy a fleet of hybrid trucks as it is for a large delivery fleet with consistent routes,” Vosburgh said. “We’re in the medium-duty truck area, and we’re not super excited about all the options that are available today. We are seeing a lot of good stuff coming probably in the next year or two, so one of the things we’re doing now is focusing on infrastructure.”
The company has purchased hybrid and battery-electric vehicles, solar-powered EV charging stations, and is running renewable diesel on other vehicles.
Vosburgh said that Calstart, a nonprofit that promotes clean transportation, helped West Valley create a fleet sustainability plan. West Valley also joined the Global Commercial Vehicle Drive to Zero, an initiative from Calstart where fleets, suppliers, and government agencies pledge to speed up the market for zero- and near-zero-emission trucks, buses, and equipment. Through this initiative, West Valley aims to have a zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty fleet by 2040.
But it’s more than just buying new vehicles. Vosburgh noted that it’s important to find efficiencies in the fleet operation.
“We started tracking the idle costs and idle times, and then we started posting the vehicles that were idling excessively. This created a competition between drivers, and we cut our fuel costs by a couple thousand dollars a month right away just by doing that,” Vosburgh explained.
The company also rightsizes its vehicles, conducts timely vehicle inspections and regular vehicle maintenance, and promotes more efficient driving practices and routing.
At West Valley Construction, Vosburgh has the full support of the executive committee and board of directors, so maintaining a green fleet is part of the company’s strategy.
Customer support helps, too. Since the company often works with utilities, these initiatives are often seen as a bonus.
“A lot of the requests for proposals (RFPs) have a sustainability component, and we do pretty well on those. Sometimes your bid price is discounted because you have a sustainable plan, and it helps us win work,” Vosburgh explained.
Adopting a new plan or new programs can be daunting, but it helps to collaborate with peers. Vosburgh is active in his local NAFA chapter, and West Valley Construction holds a Sustainable Fleet accreditation through NAFA. The company has also been recognized with a Green Fleet Award from 100 Best Fleets.
Waste Management is the largest waste management environmental services company in North America.
The company purchased its first natural gas trucks in California in 1992 and began transitioning its entire fleet to natural gas in 2009. Currently, Waste Management operates the largest heavy-duty natural gas truck fleet of its kind in North America. At the end of 2019, Waste Management’s fleet included 8,924 natural gas trucks, and the company operated 145 fueling stations in North America, with 25 open to the public.
These efforts to adopt alternative fuels are part of a larger corporate goal to offset greenhouse gas emissions across the entire company. On the fleet side, this means transitioning 90% of its fleet from diesel to alternative fuels. Currently, 60% of the company’s fleet is CNG, of which 40% is fueled by renewable natural gas.
“Our goal of emitting fewer emissions requires an investment in a near-zero [emission] fleet. More than 90% of our fleet purchases are near-zero vehicles, which will allow us to reduce emissions associated with our fleet 45% by 2038, against a 2010 baseline,” explained Susan Robinson, senior director of policy and sustainability.
Although natural gas has been a significant component of Waste Management’s fleet, the company is continually evaluating new equipment and new fuel options to determine the right mix for its fleet operation.
“Currently, natural gas is the most economical and environmentally beneficial choice for our fleet, particularly when we can use renewable natural gas. In addition, Waste Management operates hybrid and hybrid-electric bulldozers at several of its landfills. We evaluate each type of equipment and the options available for maximum benefit,” Robinson noted.
Funding can be a challenge, primarily when the cost of new vehicles and new infrastructure are all accounted for.
“Grants and tax incentives can make a big difference in extending the value of your investment further,” Robinson noted. “Be sure to work with your equipment manufacturer and an emissions expert to evaluate the environmental impact of your options, and the cost to achieve the benefits you anticipate.”
The right alternative-fuel choice can vary widely for a fleet, depending on what types of vehicles are used, how they are used, and how your company operates. Robinson emphasized that fleets should consider the services that your fleet must provide and do the research to determine what options suit your needs. Don’t forget to ask for help, either.
“Work with national trade organizations to understand what type of trucks and fuel will work best for your particular fleet, and to help develop an environmental cost analysis,” Robinson advised. “Be sure to consider all of the impacts, including labor savings, community, and employee benefits.”