As commercial fleet owners struggle to cut fuel costs and reduce their fleet emissions to comply with stricter air pollution rules, they are faced with a myriad of decisions. These include determining which alternative fuels and efficiency technologies make the most sense, from a business and climate perspective.
A free tool, launched by Business for Social Responsibility’s Future of Fuels initiative yesterday at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo clean fleet event in Long Beach, California, helps commercial fleet owners answer these questions and improve the efficiency and sustainability of their long-haul trucks.
The BSR Fuel Tool has been developed by technical experts and Future of Fuels member companies including PepsiCo, Shell, Suncor, The Coca-Cola Company, UPS, Volvo, Walmart and Westport. It provides data for fleet owners to measure the average climate emissions for the technology they use, understand the range of related environmental impacts, and implement practices to get the results they want from their fleet and suppliers.
“Life cycle emissions from the transport sector and the sustainability impacts of fuel are complex topics that depend on different inputs and variables,” Westport’s Karen Hamberg, vice president of strategy, told Environmental Leader, adding that the working group included engine and vehicle manufacturers, corporations with large fleets, academics and NGOs. “BSR’s Fuel Tool is an example of the value of cross-sector industry and academic collaboration to advance the understanding of alternative fuels and vehicles that … has resulted in an incredibly useful resource for fleet owners tasked with critical purchasing decisions.”
The Fuel Tool can help buyers purchase vehicles or fuels by allowing them to compare the climate benefits of different technologies. For example, a fleet owner in Texas might want to replace diesel tractors with compressed natural gas. That fleet owner can use the Fuel Tool to understand the average carbon emissions from current trucks in the fleet, and those of various natural-gas vehicle options with different efficiencies under consideration.
Many companies have set climate goals — even specific fleet emissions goals — but their buyers don’t know the questions to ask suppliers to determine which fuels will deliver, Eric Olson, BSR’s senior vice president, said in an interview with Environmental Leader.
“With the Fuel Tool, company X now has at their fingertips very specific measurements on the carbon intensity of different fuels and here are the questions you need to ask your suppliers to determine if they are really providing what you are asking for,” Olson said. “Rather than a statement of interest, they now have specific language they can put into a purchase agreement.”
Additionally, the Fuel Tool helps companies understand the high-, medium-, and low-impact sources of each fuel type and how to avoid the worst impacts. So a fleet owner might commit to renewable diesel and seek suppliers that can offer sustainably certified canola oil or even lower-impact fuel from used cooking oil.
It can also help with corporate fleet planning. The tool gives fleet owners the ability to choose the combination of efficiency and alternative fuel vehicles that is best for them by looking at climate benefits and risks associated with different technologies, Olson said. “In addition to making fuel and vehicle purchasing decisions, there is the question of how does my fleet need to evolve over the next five years? What share should, for example, be natural gas versus an EV-type option?”
For the past 18 months, BSR’s Future of Fuels has been developing and testing the Fuel Tool with UPS, Walmart, PepsiCo and the Coca-Cola Company.
“Having credible data from the fuel tool has validated our commitment and our investment in natural gas vehicles and infrastructure,” UPS’s director of global sustainability Patrick Browne told Environmental Leader. UPS has a goal of driving 1 billion miles on alternative fuel and advanced-technology vehicles. “This fuel tool will help fleets plan how their future purchases will minimize their environmental impacts.”
Another Future of Fuels partner, Walmart, recently achieved its 2005 goal to double fleet efficiency and is exploring renewable fuel options as part of the company’s goal to reach 100 percent renewable energy. “A full life-cycle assessment of a fuel’s sustainability is an extremely complex task, and this tool gives us directional results at almost the push of a button,” said Elizabeth Freithem, Walmart’s director of business strategy and sustainability for logistics, in a statement. “The tool will help us better understand the footprint of our current fuel supply chain and identify opportunities as well as in the evaluation of new fuels.”
And, if BSR and the Future of Fuels partner companies are right, the tool will also help drive other corporate fleets of all sizes to invest in alternative fuel vehicles and other technologies that produce less — or no — carbon pollution.
Transportation accounted for about 24 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide in 2015. Recent analysis from Lux Research says road transportation emissions be cut by 29 percent by 2030 through a combination of low-carbon fuels, alternative-fuel vehicles and improved fuel efficiencies. Best-case scenario: the Fuel Tool will speed the adoption of low-carbon alternatives by giving corporate fleet owners the information they need to invest in these vehicles and technologies.
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