In the United States, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by human activities increased by 7% from 1990 to 2014, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The majority of the increase during this time frame was due to carbon dioxide, which also accounts for most of the nation’s emissions. Electricity generation is the largest source of GHG emissions in the U.S., followed by transportation.
“All fleets should care about their carbon footprint. Specifically, many delivery fleets operate in urban and suburban environments where pollution concerns are significant,” said Pete Silva, a consultant and retired fleet executive with National Express, Aramark, and PepsiCo.
Beyond whatever your concerns or beliefs may be, the public is watching. Delivery fleets often operate with branded vehicles, and they are seen by thousands of eyes as they drive around your city. Operating a business in a socially conscious way can go a long way toward ensuring strong corporate branding and how your company is viewed by the public.
“Delivery fleets of any size should be monitoring their carbon footprint. Fuel is in the top three of a company’s variable costs. So from both an environmental and economic strategy, delivery fleets should be planning and implementing a carbon reduction footprint strategy," said Joe LaRosa, a global fleet consultant.
"It's a good idea to also document efforts related to reducing your carbon footprint to promote awareness and set a tone for carbon reduction for the company’s overall image."
Current U.S. regulations are contributing to emissions reductions, with GHG reduction goals impacting commercial vehicle makers and requiring them to reduce vehicle emissions by 2022 incrementally. For some time, emissions regulations mainly affected light-duty vehicles, but GHG Phase 2 is now moving these reduction goals to medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, directly impacting delivery fleets.
How are delivery businesses contributing to the climate crisis?
A small business fleet’s vehicles are essential to their businesses. But the same vehicles account for nearly one out of every four pounds of carbon dioxide produced in the U.S. alone, according to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists. The report noted that delivery vehicles, with their larger engines and extended driving hours, contribute carbon dioxide more than other vehicles.
A significant impact on fleet-related emissions now and in the future is last-mile delivery. Growth in last-mile deliveries over the next decade could contribute to greater carbon emissions in the world’s major cities, according to research published by the World Economic Forum.
The World Economic Forum projects a 36% rise in the number of delivery vehicles in the top 100 cities globally by 2030. Researchers estimate emissions from delivery traffic will increase by nearly a third, and congestion will rise by over 21%.
So, what can you do with your small business fleet to lower your carbon footprint?
6 tips to reduce your carbon footprint
There are several actions small delivery fleets can take today to start reducing their carbon footprints:
1. Determine your footprint.
Before you can do anything related to reducing emissions or your fleet’s carbon footprint, you have to know where you stand today to benchmark improvement and identify problem areas.
“Today, at a minimum, small delivery companies should start to benchmark their carbon footprint against competing and non-competing companies and ascertain the cost savings that can be achieved," LaRosa said.
"If a company has not considered measuring its carbon footprint, then it immediately needs to do a rough calculation. The calculation should be based on the amount of fuel consumed each month by utilizing the general carbon weight for both gasoline and diesel, which produce different amounts of carbon."
To start, create a complete inventory of assets. Next, calculate the emissions these assets produce – this can be done by the amount of fuel used, mileage, or money on fuel spent. This can be tricky, and there are several calculators available online to help, including one offered by Clean Energy.
2. Improve vehicle utilization
How your vehicles are used has the biggest impact on your carbon footprint. Vehicles that drive the most circuitous route with the most traffic will increase your carbon footprint.
“The top action a fleet manager can take that makes the most significant impact on lower a carbon footprint is focusing on improved routing to reduce miles driven,” Silva said. “Invest in routing software, track miles and out-of-route miles, and set goals to reduce miles driven and hold drivers accountable.”
Read more: What is route optimization?
3. Train your drivers
Adjusting driver behavior can make an immediate impact on a fleet’s carbon footprint through reduced fuel usage and idling.
“Another tactic for the immediate reduction in carbon footprint is to invest in driver training and promote awareness of how to properly operate and maintain vehicles," LaRosa said.
"For example, shooting for shorter or nonexistent idling time, avoiding jackrabbit starts and hard stops, and checking tire pressure levels daily. There are driver profile programs out in the market as well as driver training programs, both classroom and behind-the-wheel, that can be immediately implemented."
Related: How to retain your delivery drivers
4. Improve vehicle speccing & replacement
Aging vehicles produce more emissions than their newer counterparts. Newer vehicles are far more fuel-efficient and offer improved emissions technology.
Rightsizing your fleet is another option. This simply means ensuring you have the right vehicles to perform the job. Often, smaller vehicles with more fuel-efficient power trains can perform tasks as efficiently as larger models, if not more so.
“Consider lightweight vehicles and the use of smaller, more fuel-efficient power trains. Also, don’t be afraid to explore alternative-fuel and zero-emission options,” Silva recommended.
Often, driver preference plays into vehicle speccing, and fleets can get stuck repeating past decisions because they’ve worked in the past. But a midsize pickup truck or smaller van might perform just as well as the fuel-guzzling full-size option, especially if business needs and routes have changed.
The World Economic Forum has reported that in a scenario where electric vehicle adoption is mandated, there could be as much as a whopping 60% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.
“On a higher level of investment, delivery companies should consider utilizing either hybrid-electric or all-electric vehicles where it makes sense in shorter distance marketplaces,” LaRosa said. “As electric-vehicle technology keeps advancing and range anxiety diminishes, this should be immediately considered in the two- to five-year strategic plan. Longer than five years, fleets should consider the growth of driverless delivery methods.”
According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), there are 37 possible alternative-fuel vehicles available today that would fit the delivery fleet segment, providing plenty of options for fleet needs.
5. Invest in efficient fleet management
A strong fleet management program with either an in-house fleet manager or use of a fleet management company will help keep your fleet in tip-top shape, reduce emissions, and keep vehicles on the road longer, doing what you need them to do.
Part of fleet management is scheduling and ensuring that proper maintenance, both preventive and scheduled, is performed. When vehicles are running their best, they use less fuel and produce fewer emissions.
A properly run fleet management program will also be able to vet the right products and services, from route planning to fuel cards, to help save both time and money.
Read more: A beginner's guide to managing small fleets
6. Commit to your goals
Finally, to make any progress happen, a fleet must set goals and commit to them. Create goals to lower your emissions and reduce your carbon footprint and be sure to get key stakeholders on board, from purchasing to fleet management to drivers.
When everyone is on the same page with the same goals in mind, anything can happen.
There are more than 329 million people living in the U.S. as of early 2020, with around 2 million new people added to the population each year, according to Census figures. The number of vehicles on the road has continued to rise since 1990, hitting more than 272 million registered vehicles as of 2017.
Number of motor vehicles registered in the United States from 1990 to 2017 (in 1,000s)
“The most significant thing you can do today would be routing more efficiently," Silva said. "I saw a major home delivery company with two trucks on the same street once. It really pointed to routing issues for the company by not assigning those deliveries to a single truck."
While smaller businesses may be capital constrained, today's small business fleet managers now have access to affordable software and logistics technology, allowing them to take control – planning, monitoring, analyzing, and acting better and faster than ever before.
“To remain competitive, smaller business should utilize technology, which can be obtained for a reasonable investment, and train drivers to properly use the software and applications,” LaRosa said.
While vehicles are getting cleaner and emitting less, the more vehicles on the road, the more impact we are having on our environment.
It’s time we act now to make a difference for our planet and our future.