Yes, in fact, it has before. According to the annual State of Green Business report released last week by the GreenBiz Group, the average fleet vehicle emitted 11.56 metric tons of greenhouse gases last year. This figure represents a nearly 5% drop over the 2009 level and an impressive 21% reduction from 2006 – the first year noted in the state of green business report series. The population of vehicles in corporate fleets has fallen dramatically too over this time period: from 3.4 million in 2006 to 2.7 million last year. As a result of these dual trends, total fleet emissions appear to have gone from 50 million metric tons in 2006 to 31.7 million tons in 2010 – a reduction of 37%.
These numbers certainly reflect the challenging economic environment of the past few years. Decreased economic activity leads to fewer deliveries, less sales representatives on the road, and maybe even a few executives forgoing a corporate car. Conversely, the credit crunch has pushed companies to hold onto their existing vehicle stock longer than normal, slowing the adoption more efficient models into fleets. What is really striking about these numbers is that as the economy started to recover, fleet emissions fell by another 5%.
Frankly, I was surprised to see the 2010 numbers come in lower than the 2009 ones – which were already down 17% from 2008. With the nascent recovery, I expected to see an increase in per vehicle emissions reflecting the fact that fleet operators are putting more miles on each vehicle. However, even when one accounts for economic actively, the trend is clearly down. Corporate fleets emitted 3.73 metric tons of ghgs for every million dollars of GDP in 2006. In 2010, it was 2.16 tons. We are clearly witnessing a structural change in the environmental impact of corporate fleets.
The fuel price shock of 2008 likely was the major impetus for the substantial fleet changes we are witnessing. It forced companies to take a fresh look at their fleet. Many companies followed the lead of Abbott Labs by right-sizing vehicles for the job. Four-cylinder engines, front-wheel drive and hybrid models increased. Larger SUVs were replaced by compact ones. The company minivan became less common.
Rising environmental awareness also has played a part. Companies are widely tracking ghg emissions from their fleet. The leading industry publication, Automotive Fleet, regularly highlights fleet teams who are successfully improving the environmental performance of their operations. The largest professional society, NAFA, has created an annual award to highlight environmental achievement. All the major fleet management companies offer greenhouse gas reporting and management services. And, most importantly, companies with large fleets are setting specific emission reduction targets.
Among the nation’s 20 largest fleets, four have company-wide greenhouse gas reduction goals of at least 20%. Pfizer, with 31,500 vehicles, has a 20% reduction target. Tyco, with 15,600 vehicles, has a 25% reduction goal. Cox Communications, with 13,000 vehicles, has a 20% reduction target. Xerox Corporation, with 10,400 vehicles, has a 25% reduction target. Clearly, some of the nation’s largest and most sophisticated companies believe significant reductions continue to be achievable.
Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) agrees. Even given the major progress this industry has made over the past five years, opportunities will be plentiful to further improve environmental progress over the next five years. The coming increase in vehicle efficiency, both for light and medium-duty vehicles, will enable companies to go well beyond even today’s top performing fleets. Improvements in hybrid and electric vehicles likely will present even more attractive options to cut fuel spend. The market for low-carbon fuels will continue to progress.
With a committed effort, the fleet industry stands to cut per vehicle emissions by another 20% in the next five years. EDF collaborated with Donlen to pledge to work towards such a cut at last September. Of course, we can’t do this alone. We welcome fleets large and small to work with us to achieve this goal. We invite you to learn more about this effort and get involved today by visiting http://www.fleetsforchange.com/ and letting us know that you want to be part of the solution.