By Mike Sheldrick
At the recent NAFA I&E in Orlando, we got a chance to sit down with CALSTART senior vice president Bill Van Amburg to learn about the NAFA Sustainable Fleet Accreditation Program, developed in collaboration with CALSTART.
Van Amburg says, “It will really give fleets the tools, the recognition and the way to measure their progress. This is what will help drive continuous improvement in the fleet world both for being more efficient and in having a smaller environmental footprint. This program gets you in at the ground floor if you are just starting out, shows you where you are and then equips you to make some smart choices to start improving both your bottom line and your environmental footprint.”
Q. Can you give us a little background on CALSTART?
A. CALSTART is a not-for-profit 5013C organization founded in 1992. Our role is to help build a transportation industry based upon clean technologies. Environment is always important to us as is the economy. We want to create jobs that clean the air along with greater efficiency. We have about 150 members — companies, fleets, and agencies — trying to drive constant commercialization and improvement of technologies and fuels that will lead to reduced emissions and higher efficiency.
Q. Is your reach beyond California?
A. We still have our headquarters in California, but CALSTART is not just about California. We have offices in New York, Denver and two in California. We have a lot of activity in Michigan. Our focus is North America, but transportation is a global industry.
Q. What are some of the recent significant programs that you have launched?
A. There are a number of programs that we are very excited about. Right now we are completing work we have done in China to bring together U.S. and Chinese companies in the medium and heavy duty arena, trucks and buses, to drive cleaner technologies and really export U.S technology leadership to Japan, creating jobs here. That has been really exciting; it was a partnership with the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Our national program in fuel cell and zero emission buses continues. We have had a partnership with the Federal Transit Administration for a number of years. That technology is greatly improved so we are starting to see the first products in transit buses with zero emission capability being rolled out. The same drivelines, the same technologies, can be incorporated into trucks. As a result, we are starting to see the first of the heavy duty zero emission technology move into the truck world.
Personally, I am most excited about two programs. One is our activity to bring incentives to the marketplace to help fleets purchase clean and efficient technologies more easily in the early stage of the market. We run incentive programs in New York, Chicago and California and we are trying to create them in other markets. We are looking at Texas, Georgia and elsewhere at the moment.
The other program that I am really excited about is the NAFA Sustainable Fleet Accreditation Program. It will really give fleets the tools, the recognition and the way to measure their progress. This is what will help drive continuous improvement in the fleet world both for being more efficient and in having a smaller environmental footprint.
Q. How will the Sustainable Fleet Accreditation Program work?
A. It is structured to really engage with fleets. We get fleets to do the two basic things that everybody should be doing: Measure your fuel burn and make a plan to reduce your fleet’s impact. That is really the starting condition and all fleets can do it and we want fleets to all do it and engage.
But then we look closely at their portfolio — the kinds of fuels they use, what kinds of vehicles they use — and we can actually give them a report card. It details where they are — their baseline — and where they actually could make progress in some or all of these areas.
Then, you come back in two years and show us what you have done. For example, using some different fuels, phasing in some more efficient vehicles, changing how you operate your fleet, how you train your drivers, implement idle reduction. Against the whole suite of things that you can do as a fleet we will measure you again and track your progress and then give you another report card.
The whole goal is to help fleets be able to, in a common sense way, make real progress on environmental improvement while at the same time being able to show a bottom line value to the organizations. So, at every step, the report card will help a fleet figure out where they stand and where they can make improvements.
Q. Is it possible that government policy might include sustainability requirements for fleets?
A. It is very interesting. Fleets are not the biggest market mover in terms of the total vehicles they represent on the road but they are early movers and they are important movers. I think what is so important about fleets getting engaged, is they control the levers. They can make the decisions for reducing their fuel use and finding ways to do it. If we can encourage and innovate fleets, they will start sending the early market signals back to the manufacturers – these are the kinds of things we want.
We want more volume and we want more tools. But fleets have really always needed a score card or some mile posts. What they have been struggling with is – “Well, gee, I have heard that fleet X bought a natural gas vehicle and fleet Y bought an electric vehicle. Does that make them sustainable? Is that a good decision to make?” What we give them is a real score card so that they can measure the meaningful things. There are a lot of ways of doing a meaningful thing. It could be buying an electric vehicle or maybe it means right sizing your platform and putting in a smaller vehicle. So, fleets have all of these tools and if they are the early movers they can really drive change.
What we would really like is to show that fleets can exercise leadership and real market force here. Eventually this can be a tool for fleets to be even more successful. For instance, let’s say shippers look at this program and say, “I like this and I would like to have the organizations that work for us really like to meet a tough metric, so we will only want fleets that meet accreditation to tier 2 or higher to be involved with us to be under contract. If you want to get a contract with us you must be accredited and at least be at this level.” It would be a powerful tool to drive change.
The sustainable fleet accreditation program itself is not going to be a market mechanism and we won’t have rebates or incentives built into the program. Those will be outside the program and tools that the fleets can use. What it does do, though, is set up the metric for both internal improvement and benchmarking yourself against others and your peers.
So, let’s say your company is a utility and you think – “Hey, I am doing pretty good. I am a tier 2 fleet.” It would be great for you to be able to look at your peers and see what they are doing. And all of sudden if you realize…. “Wow, most fleets like mine are at tier 3 or higher.” That realization can light a fire.
It can drive additional action and progress. The program provides a measurement tool that allows you to score your starting point, and then it allows you to benchmark your progress and make improvement over time.
Q. Is it possible that the sustainability effort itself could well be the incentive because, by becoming sustainable, companies can save money? A double green effect?
A. In an ideal world, a “green” choice would return “green “to your company. That isn’t true in every case because there sometimes is a higher cost of new technology in fuels or initial investment. But, in general, if you are more efficient and you are burning less fuel or you are shifting to a lower impact, lower cost fuel, you are saving your own organization money. When you start to lay out the lifecycle cost assessment of the vehicles in your fleet and you look at the totality of your fleet you can actually save money, and do good. That is what we hope to have fleets see in this program.
The first step is just get engaged. We have tried to create the Sustainable Fleet Accreditation Program so any fleet at any stage can get involved. Even if you are way down the sustainability track, the program can actually recognize and acknowledge what you have done and score it. If you are just getting started and you just want to get a first baseline, the program can do that too.
One of the key aspects is that the program gives fleets the opportunity to start measuring their progress and measuring where they are. As is often said, if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it; and you can’t make a plan to be successful. This program gets you in at the ground floor if you are just starting out, shows you where you are and then equips you make some smart choices to start improving both your bottom line and your environmental impact.