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18 May 21

How to reduce your fleet's CO2 emissions

15 steps to consider when developing a greener, more sustainable company car and van policy to achieve a smaller carbon footprint.

1. Measure your current carbon footprint

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it, as the saying goes, so the first step towards a more environmentally-friendly fleet operation is to calculate the CO2 emissions of your vehicles over their last typical year of operation (not coronavirus lockdown) to establish a baseline.

Thankfully, the calculation is relatively straightforward for Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles, and is based on the number of litres of fuel used for business journeys. Using fleet fuel card data, multiply the number of litres bought in a year by the appropriate figure below, and then add the totals:

  • 1 litre of diesel generates 2.68kg of CO2
  • 1 litre of petrol generates 2.31kg of CO2
  • 1 litre of LPG generates 1.51kg of CO2

2. Avoid business journeys

The business trip with the lowest carbon footprint is the journey that does not take place. The last year has shown how Microsoft Teams, Zoom and other online conferencing tools have managed to provide an alternative to meeting in person.

Maintaining discipline over which business trips are truly necessary, and conducting as many meetings as possible virtually, will significantly reduce corporate CO2 emissions.

3. Switch to shared transport

Busy mass transit, such as buses, trams and trains are more CO2-efficient than driving solo in ICE cars, so encouraging employees to travel for business by public transport and ideally use active transport, such as walking, cycling, e-bikes or e-scooters for the first and last miles, will cut fleet carbon footprints.

Research published by the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy reveals that the CO2 emitted per km of a medium sized petrol car is about 192g/km, compared to 105g/km for a bus passenger and 41g/km for a train traveller.

It is difficult, however, to measure the CO2 from multi-modal transport journeys.

4. Plan routes carefully

Plotting the shortest possible route is usually a good start point for reducing CO2. However, steering clear of routes and times of day when roads are likely to be congested is also important for driving down CO2 emissions. Vehicles are much more fuel efficient, and therefore produce less CO2, in free-flowing traffic – as the official urban and non-urban WLTP figures show.

The classic example is logistics and delivery firm UPS, which had an unofficial policy (now official) of not planning routes with left turns that would involve crossing a line of traffic. Put simply, UPS found that right turns were faster and therefore save fuel. In 2016, UPS calculated that its optimised routes saved it 10 million gallons of fuel annually, reducing its CO2 emissions by 100,000 tonnes per year.

The combination of journey planning software with historic route data captured by telematics systems gives fleet operators the tools to despatch vehicles along the most efficient routes at the most efficient times of day. A 12-month trial by Ford’s City Data Solutions in London found that a van could save 30 hours’ driving time per week by starting its working day two hours earlier.

5. Select fuel efficient vehicles

Official fuel consumption figures of new vehicles are notoriously optimistic, despite the change from NEDC to WLTP tests, but they do at least show how one vehicle performs relative to another. Choosing vehicles with the best official fuel economy is a good way to cut fuel bills and lower the total cost of ownership - Green NCAP provides a guide to the most energy efficient new cars. A saving of 0.1l/km or 0.1mpg between one vehicle and another may seem insignificant, but when multiplied across tens or hundreds of vehicles and thousands of kilometres, the carbon savings can be substantial.

6. Rightsize LCVs

Rightsizing light commercial vehicles to avoid excess volume and payload can add to CO2 savings. Where possible, choose smaller, more fuel efficient vans, so long as they are operationally fit for purpose.

7. Avoid sporty upgrades

Within the same vehicle ranges, certain specification upgrades can impact the CO2 emissions of a vehicle. Choosing bigger wheels, for example, typically increases fuel consumption. Analysis by Autovista found that fitting 18” wheels instead of 17” wheels adds about 2g/km more in CO2 emissions, while opting for run-flat tyres instead of the standard tyre repair kit increases emissions by about 1g/km. Even selecting a tow bar or a panoramic roof increases CO2 emissions by 1-2g/km because of their impact on weight and aerodynamics.

8. Pay attention to tyres

About 80% of the whole-life CO2 emissions of a car tyre is generated from its use (rather than manufacture, sale and disposal), according to the British Tyre Manufacturers’ Association (BTMA), so choosing tyres with a low rolling resistance makes a difference to campaigns to cut fleet CO2 emissions.

Fuel efficiency appears on tyre labels, alongside grip in the wet, snow and ice, and external noise.

“There is a difference of 6% in fuel consumption between the lowest- and highest-graded tyres. This corresponds to a saving in CO2 emissions of over 10g/km for a full set of car tyres, correctly inflated,” said the BTMA.

It is also important that drivers check their vehicles’ tyre pressures regularly – under-inflated tyres create more resistance, which means the engine has to work harder and therefore burns more fuel, producing higher CO2 emissions. 

9. Keep on top of SMR

Properly maintained ICE vehicles will run more smoothly and fuel efficiently, so make sure service schedules are honoured.

10. Encourage a light right foot

The individual driver is by far the most important factor in determining a vehicle’s real world carbon emissions. Accelerating hard, excessive speed and engine idling all burn unnecessary fuel.

Telematics systems can record driver behaviour as a basis for measuring improvements and addressing drivers with the least fuel efficient techniques.

Coaching company car and van drivers in ecodriving, which is focused on better observation and anticipation as well as greater speed awareness, delivers average fuel savings of 15% on the day of training and up to 6% in the long term for fleets, according to the Energy Saving Trust, with parallel reductions in CO2 emissions.

Importantly, ecodriving is also safer driving.

11. Buy biodiesel

Biodiesel may not be as green as its name suggests, but blending renewable plant-based oils into standard diesel creates a renewable fuel that emits less CO2.

12. Go electric

Electric vehicles emit zero CO2 at their ‘tailpipe’, producing a huge CO2 saving for fleets. There is a risk that this will simply displace their carbon impact further up the supply chain to where the electricity is generated, but even EVs powered by coal or gas-generated electricity have a lower carbon footprint per kilometre than their ICE equivalents. Plus, across much of Europe power is generated without carbon emissions, either from nuclear generators or renewable sources, such as wind and solar.

Moreover, fleets and drivers that use smart charging to take advantage of off-peak energy generation can actually provide a powerful support to the renewable sector by creating demand when there is surplus energy supply.

13. Make sure PHEV drivers plug in

Plug-in hybrid vehicles are providing a zero emission stepping stone to full electrification for many company car drivers. But PHEVs only work environmentally if drivers actually take the time and effort to plug them in so that they maximise their zero carbon range. Evidence from fuel cards indicates that many PHEVs are never plugged in, which effectively creates an inefficient petrol car with the weight burden of a battery pack, thereby increasing carbon emissions.

14. Set maximum CO2 thresholds

Imposing CO2 caps on company car choice lists sends a powerful signal of corporate intent and accelerates the process of lowering carbon emissions. These caps should ideally also apply to employees who opt for a cash allowance rather than a company car – there is no environmental argument for displacing carbon emissions from a company car to a private car.

15. Keep vehicles for longer

The energy required to manufacture vehicles has its own carbon footprint, and this is particularly the case for the energy-intensive production of electric vehicles. Their large lithium-ion battery packs are to blame, requiring a mix of metals that have to be extracted then refined. As a result, the manufacture of an EV accounts for between one third and one-half of its lifetime CO2 emissions. The equivalent percentage for an ICE vehicle is significantly lower, at about 15-20%.

This means that it would take a typical electric car, such as the Nissan Leaf, two years to pay back its higher CO2 emissions during manufacture, compared to a typical ICE car. But over the first 150,000km the EV would produce half the life-cycle greenhouse gases of the ICE car, according to the International Council on Clean Transport.

There are, however, significant local variations. A Tesla, for example, made in Nevada using solar power would have a much smaller manufacturing CO2 footprint than an EV made in Germany in a factory powered by gas- or coal-generated electricity.

Overall, the longer an EV’s holding period, the greater the opportunity for fleets to amortise the CO2 involved in its manufacture across more kilometres, effectively shrinking its wholelife carbon footprint with every journey taken.

Images: Shutterstock, European Commission, International Council on Clean Transport, Our World in Data

Authored by: Jonathan Manning