Last reviewed 18 July 2017

The use of fleet vehicles has continued to be a pressure point for organisations wanting to improve their carbon footprint. A wholesale move to electric vehicles may be possible for some, but not for all businesses. Dave Howell reviews how fleet users can improve their environmental credentials today.

Environment managers have long been tasked with improving the environmental credentials of their organisations — none more so, than across their vehicle fleets. The determination to reduce emissions is constantly ongoing, as Government targets are worked towards, which require an 80% reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2050. Car fleets have come under the spotlight in recent years as electric and hybrid vehicles have become viable alternatives to petrol or diesel.

The Government has also moved to revise its Air Quality Plan, which all businesses need to pay close attention to, and the plan to introduce real driving emissions tests. The establishment of Clean Air Zones (CAZ) is central to this new plan.

On CAZ, British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA) Chief Executive Gerry Keaney said: “We’ve long called for a national framework that would require consistent Clean Air Zone (CAZ) emission standards, so it’s good to see this being published. Many of our members are already meeting the standard required by the Mayor of London for his zone which is set to be introduced in 2019. Rental and leasing companies will be able to offer cars that are 100% compliant with this or any other CAZ that uses the Euro 6 emissions standard. We now need to ensure that zones are consistent across the UK — not only having the same emissions standard requirement, but also in terms of their signage, enforcement and penalties for non-compliance.”

Ensuring a company fleet is fully compliant with all regulations is of course essential. Managers must also consider their organisation’s wider transport needs and assess how changes to environmental legislation could impact them pre- and post-Brexit.

Another area that needs to be considered is how the so-called “grey fleet” of vehicles that employees use for work should be managed. All employers have a duty of care towards their employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires every employer to carry out an assessment of the risks to the health and safety of their employees, or themselves, while they are at work and to other people who may be affected by their work activities. This includes any driving activity on the road.

From an environmental point of view, grey fleet vehicles tend to be older than those used in company fleets and therefore close tracking of these older vehicles’ CO2 emissions is vital. Some companies have moved to a hybrid model where vehicles are either rented or leased to give employees more options when driving for work-related business.

Often tasked with improving the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) of their organisations, environment and facilities managers have been increasingly turning to more sophisticated systems to improve their overall green credentials. One way is carbon offsetting. Here, the company employs another business to remove carbon from the environment for them. For managers to effectively operate schemes like this, it is critical to know the fleet’s greenhouse gas (GHG) baseline to enable them to buy enough carbon offset credits to render their fleet of vehicles carbon neutral.

Reducing emissions

The options to reduce emissions are many: taking a step back and carefully assessing an organisation’s emission levels today and how the fleet is currently structured, will give the data required to make changes that could have a major impact on emissions and potentially reduce costs.

Using technology can also help fleet managers reduce emissions and improve fuel efficiency. Adaptive cruise control not only enables drivers to set a target speed, but as its name suggests, it can adapt to the driving conditions on the road ahead. Managers who are approaching the replenishment of their fleet vehicles should look for this feature that is available from all the major fleet vehicle suppliers.

Paul Gilshan, CMO of Tusker, a customer service-focused company which manages fleets of cars for organisations within the public and private sectors commented: “Manufacturers recognise the importance of low CO2 cars to reduce carbon emissions and are constantly updating their ranges and developing technology to improve their offerings. As a result, there is a huge range of lower emission models available on Tusker’s car benefit scheme for instance. Models range from high performance sports cars and SUVs, to family cars and super minis.”

Gilshan continued: “Tusker has partnered with Chargedev to offer a discounted rate for the installation of electric charge points at the driver’s place of work or at home. Government grants are also available to help with the cost of installation, with £300 per socket available to employers and as much as £500 for employees’ home charge points.”

Clearly, making investments in the right places is vital to achieve emission targets and enable fleet managers to take practical action to support CSR. Thinking about more driver training for instance. It is estimated that improved driver skills could offer a saving of between 10% and 20% in fuel consumption. Fleet managers should contact the Energy Saving Trust that has courses specifically designed to reduce fuel usage with simple changes to driving habits.

Plugged-in fleets

The ultimate goal for many managers with fleet vehicles is to move to all electric to remove all CO2 emissions. Currently, this isn’t a practical option for many, but technology is improving rapidly. The current focus is to remove diesel vehicles from the roads.

Hybrid electric vehicles look set to stake a huge step in that direction, as data published by the European EQUA Index data published by Emissions Analytics concludes that hybrid electric vehicles will soon overtake diesel for motorway and urban fuel economy.

And for fleet owners, all electric vehicles are increasingly coming into their field of view. The plug-in car grant, which currently stands at 35% towards a car up to a maximum of £4500 and 20% (up to £8000) for vans will continue to push fleet managers towards electric vehicles.

With the Government pledging to invest £35 million into the low-emission vehicle sector, this should ensure that charging stations continue to proliferate. For fleet cars, battery technology has progressed and now offers around 100-mile range on a typical all electric car. The private sector is also expanding its support: E.ON has launched its own charging points.

Phil Gilbert, Director of Energy Solutions at E.ON told The Telegraph: “We’re seeing huge growth in the number of new electric vehicles on the road, including hybrid technologies and pure electric vehicles from manufacturers such as Tesla, BMW and Mitsubishi. As this growth continues, we want to offer our business customers the ability to take full advantage of the financial and environmental benefits of charging their fleets or their employees’ cars at work, or offering a charging service to their customers.”

Environment managers are literally in the driving seat when managing their fleets to reduce emissions, improve efficiency and reduce costs. Making smart purchases and taking an integrated approach to their fleets will bring the environmental benefits they are tasked with delivering.