In the four years that he's sought to reduce emissions and fuel consumption, ServiceMaster Fleet Design & Technical Support Director Jim Steffen often comes up empty-handed.
“The largest challenge we've faced is the lack of hybrid or electric commercial vehicles available in the sizes and classes we use,” he says. “They've been either too small, too big, or designed for consumer use, not as everyday work trucks.”
Most of the national pest control and lawn care servicer's vehicles are ½- and 1-ton pickup trucks. The rest are lawn service trucks using 14,500-lb. low-cab-forward chassis. All-electric and hybrid-electric are among the options Steffen's explored.
“Our first considerations for any new technology are ‘Can the truck still perform its required job?' and ‘Can we still deliver the requested service for the customer?'
“Other factors we weigh include the reductions of emissions and fuel consumption offered in our applications, vehicle availability and cost, service and parts support, grants and tax credits available to offset the premium paid for the vehicle, and the total cost of ownership over its lifetime compared to a standard truck.
“We identified some hybrid and alternate-fueled vehicles early on that didn't meet these criteria. We found that the most beneficial changes were things like electric spray systems and engine idle reduction, which offered emissions and fuel reductions we could implement fairly quickly on the widest range of truck applications.
“In our old lawn trucks, a power take-off on the transmission drives the spray pumps, which requires running the truck engine whenever spraying lawns. This is eliminated with the electric spray system. To limit idling, we installed a customized computer timing circuit that turns the engine off automatically after three minutes if the operator forgets to.
“But we're starting to see improvements,” he says. “We're working with several vendor partners on trucks that are expected to reduce emissions by 40% or more and fuel consumption by up to 30%.”
—Hooker is a freelance writer based in Oak Park, Ill.
How green is your garage?
Help's available for $100 a year.
A year ago we reported that Public Works Fleet Manager Allen Mitchell was using the nation's first LEED-for-vehicles standards to convert Snohomish County, Wash., vehicles to B20 biodiesel this year and, by 2014, B40.
We're happy to report that, since then, his operation has been rated three out of five stars by Evergreen Fleets, a national program that certifies operations based on their ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Mitchell's operation earned 70 of 100 possible points by following the program's best practices manual.
Though membership is open to any public fleet with five or more vehicles, certification isn't required.
Since its launch last year, Des Moines, Iowa; Chatham County, N.C.; San Antonio; Ohio Green Fleets; the Environmental Defense Fund; and Smith Electric Vehicles have joined — among many others.
Membership is $100 annually regardless of the number of vehicles a city, county, or state owns; certification ranges from $1,500 to $10,000 (and possibly more for operations with more than 2,000 vehicles).
Transit fleets aren't yet included, but the program is working to incorporate standards for them. Rented vehicles can be included in the program.
For more information, visit www.evergreenfleets.org.