Fleet car: Green sky

Broadcaster BSkyB's van and executive car fleets are at the centre of a campaign to achieve carbon neutrality across all its activities. But it's a hard road to travel, reports Richard Bremner.

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Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

It's not easy going green, especially if a large vehicle fleet is an essential component of your business. The fact is that no fully carbon-neutral car or van is available yet, nor is one likely to be in the near future - the potential technological solutions to the CO2 emission problem aren't sufficiently advanced. But that doesn't mean that significant steps can't be taken to reduce the carbon footprint of your fleet, now.

One company to have embraced this approach is media outfit British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB), whose business went carbon-neutral in 2006, the result of a carbon strategy that has brought it accolades, brand-awareness benefits and, above all, a useful shrinkage of its carbon footprint. Since December 2005, BSkyB has lowered the CO2 generated annually across all its activities from 44,000 tonnes to 36,000 tonnes, and it expects to eliminate some 225,000 tonnes of CO2 over the period 2006-11, either through reduced emissions or offsetting.

It has collaborated with consultancy The CarbonNeutral Company to devise a strategy and offset some 45,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide through investments in renewable energy schemes around the world, including a wind-power project in New Zealand and a micro-hydro initiative in Bulgaria. A major part of its strategy, says Fiona Ball, BSkyB's head of environment, 'is about making people aware' - something that with 8.5 million customers, it's in a strong position to achieve.

BSkyB's three-pronged programme starts with 'putting its own house in order'. It also encourages its suppliers and business partners to improve their environmental performance, and it is educating those 8.5 million customers to change their behaviour too. One initiative, for instance, has involved giving away 4,000 long-life light bulbs to its subscribers, with the message that the money and energy each one would save over 10 years was equivalent to leaving the company's set-top box on stand-by. Some 97% of the people targeted used the bulbs, and nearly three-quarters said that they'd become more focused on energy saving as a result. It's a wheeze the firm plans to repeat.

BSkyB's strategy affects every part of its business, including facilities management (waste reduction is the aim); internal communications (a carbon credit card has been issued, encouraging employees to go greener through lift-sharing and video conferencing); product development (it has halved the energy consumption of its set-top boxes, saving 33,000 tonnes of CO2 annually); marketing (green campaigns have been initiated to engage customers); and, of course, vehicle fleet management.

The incentive to tackle its 2,300-strong vehicle fleet is considerable, because transport and travel (including flights) contribute a hefty 47% of the company's total carbon footprint.

BSkyB operates 1,850 vans for its engineers, plus a smaller fleet of 400 cars for team leaders and board members. It is well into the process of replacing this fleet with the lastest models to achieve a lower carbon footprint and meet its self-imposed targets. To this end, says supply chain director Euan Smith, BSkyB has introduced an environmental component to its vehicle-selection process, which includes a questionnaire that potential vehicle suppliers must answer.

Questions cover areas like the carbon footprint generated during the vehicle's production (several of the manufacturers approached had trouble answering that one, says Smith), the emissions produced while running it, and the manufacturer's ability to supply alternative fuel models. The makers were also asked about water consumption and solvent use during production, as well as the more familiar measures like fuel consumption and emissions - and not just of CO2, but also nitrogen oxides, diesel particulates, sulphur oxides and hydrocarbons. BSkyB also asked them to cite the cost of offsetting the carbon impact of running the vehicle for 12,500 miles.

And it doesn't stop there - further requirements include fitting diesel particulate filters to its van fleet (DPFs trap and burn off particulates - PM10s - which are widely suspected of being carcinogenic); and compliance with the Euro IV emission regulations, which demand a reduction in the vehicle's non-CO2 pollutant output. There is a trade-off, however. Meeting this legislation actually results in a slight increase in CO2 emissions, so General Motors' Vauxhall brand, which won the tender, agreed to pay to offset this difference as part of the deal.

But Vauxhall's real deal-clincher was the fact that its Vivaro van can easily be adapted to run on B30 biodiesel, 30% of which is composed of organic plant matter derived from colza, rapeseed and sunflowers. By comparison, the more familiar variety of biodiesel available at your local filling station contains a modest 5%. Though a controversial fuel source - because cultivating crops for fuel can prevent cultivation of some food crops - biomass produces less carbon dioxide than fossil fuels when burnt because it releases CO2 that the plant absorbed while growing, rather than CO2 that was sequestered millions of years ago. Using B30, Sky believes, will halve the output of carcinogens, as well as reducing the vans' carbon emissions by more than 50% and improving fuel consumption by 9%. Not bad.

If this B30 is such good stuff, why aren't we all using it? Because many vehicles won't readily run on it and it's not widely available from fuel stations in Britain. So BSkyB will trial 160 Vivaros in a specific region - possibly the north-west - where it can bunker fuel supplies at a local depot. The vans can run on conventional diesel too, but if the trial is successful, the firm could establish more fuel bunkers and increase the number of vans running on B30 biofuel.

The modifications required to the Vivaro are slight - its engine's electronic control unit needs minor reprogramming, and the glow-plugs that heat the combustion chambers for cold starting must be enlarged. If the trial is successful, says Vauxhall, it will lobby the Government for fiscal incentives to use B30 in an effort to encourage its wider distribution and use.

So much for the frontline troops; what about the generals? BSkyB's team leaders - the managers who supervise the van-driving engineers - will pilot either Honda Civic or Toyota Prius hybrids, both of which emit a greener-than-thou 104 g/km of CO2, making them among the lowest carbon producing cars on sale today. And staff reaction to the change has been hugely positive, says Ball. 'People understand why, and they feel a part of it,' she says.

The company's small army of engineers has broadly bought into the green policy too, nobly forgoing the air-conditioning they'd hoped would be fitted to its new vans, in the knowledge that this would increase the vehicles' fuel consumption. BSkyB is training its engineers to drive more economically, too - more green van man than white van man.

How about the board? BSkyB's bosses are known to be some of the toughest commercial streetfighters on the block; will they be going eco, too? Yes - they will all be at the wheel of hybrids, including CEO James Murdoch, who already drives a Toyota Prius. There's a £1,300 incentive for employees who run private cars to switch to a hybrid - so far, 15 have taken up the offer - and the firm is encouraging cycling and public transport usage where possible.

But hybrids and biodiesel can only go so far. In search of the ultimate in available green vehicles, BSkyB is trialling a Smith Edison electric conversion of a Ford Transit van. It can carry 1,338 kg and is rechargeable overnight from a conventional 13-amp socket (just don't forget to unplug it before you drive off). It has a modest range of 150 miles and a top speed of a mere 50 mph, but the real problem, says Smith, is cost - at £36,000 each, they are three times the price of a regular diesel Transit. The trial will take place in the congested urban south-east, where it may well prove highly practical.

BSkyB staff also make plentiful use of taxis, and in June 2006 it switched to the Green Tomato taxi company, which operates a fleet of 65 Toyota Prius hybrids. An unexpected side-effect of this move has been to induce the company's previous preferred taxi company, Purple Cars, to introduce hybrids too - a good demonstration of how one firm's green procurement policy can persuade others to change.

BSkyB now uses both suppliers, and is asking its outside-broadcast vehicle contractors to go the same way. 'We're pushing in every area that we can,' says Smith, 'and dragging people with us, though there isn't a supplier that doesn't buy into this.'

But how about the bottom line? Is BSkyB's greener fleet saving costs? 'Not yet,' says Ball, 'because of the higher capital investment.' But, she adds, other green initiatives do - such as the chilled-beam air conditioning system installed in the company's West London HQ that has produced a £260,000 payback, and invoicing on-line rather than with paper.

Real savings from running a greener fleet look less certain in the near-term, but the company is certainly burnishing its reputation with the policy, recognition coming from no less a figure than former US Vice President-turned eco-warrior Al 'An Inconvenient Truth' Gore, who presented the firm with the Community Man International Climate Change Award. BSkyB has collected other significant gongs besides, and some of its initiatives are getting positive feedback from customers. If nothing else, BSkyB will surely gain itself a reputation as a top-flight corporate citizen, besides doing something positive about climate change.

FLEET-OPERATING COMPANIES THAT ARE GREENING AND CLEANING UP

TNT

Like Sky, delivery company TNT is spending money to reduce its carbon footprint. It operates a vast fleet of cars, vans and lorries (aircraft, too) and so is a significant producer of CO2 emissions. But it is taking steps to reduce not only the carbon emissions of its fleet but also the output of poisonous pollutants, such as diesel particulates. To this end, it is trialling the retrospective fitment of filters to many vehicles and replacing its truck fleet with 165 new vehicles that comply with Euro V emission regulations, ready for when these come into force in 2009.

The new trucks use a catalyst technology that can cut particulate emissions by 80% and oxides of nitrogen by 20%, as well as improving fuel consumption. But to work effectively, the catalyst needs urea ('AdBlue') as a fuel additive, which is not widely available. TNT has therefore installed its own mini-bulk filling stations at its letter-sorting centres in the Netherlands.

The company is also trialling CO2-reducing rapeseed biofuel for some of its diesel vehicles in the Netherlands, despite this fuel costing more than conventional diesel. For these vehicles, CO2 emissions are down 50%, and particulate emissions by 70%.

TNT has also bought two British Smith Newton electric 7.5 tonne lorry trucks. Besides achieving zero tail-pipe emissions, these are potentially more reliable, significantly cheaper to run and have a 50% longer projected life, owing to their reduced complexity and lower wear rates. Electric trucks are also exempt from the London Congestion Charge. These trucks are part of a 12-month pilot study which, if successful, could lead to TNT running as many as 2,000 electric lorries. An order that size could also bring the unit price tumbling down.

HERTZ GREEN COLLECTION

The so-called 'Green Collection' of rental cars offered by Hertz is proving to be very popular. The company's fleet of green rent-a-cars was 6,800-strong when it launched in October 2006, and has now grown to 10,800 offered across much of Europe.

They achieve a weighted CO2 output of under 140 g/km (the current sales-weighted European average is 162 g/km) and include cars like the Peugeot 107, Ford Fiesta TDCi, Renault Megane dCi diesel, Ford Focus TDCi, Mercedes A Class and the Toyota Prius. All vehicles achieve between 41.5 and 65.7 mpg on a combined cycle, though none, of course, is carbon-neutral.

Says Mark Tristram-Walmsley, Hertz UK's commercial director: 'The response to our Green Collection has been overwhelming. We are working with our major manufacturer partners on long-term plans to expand it to ensure that more and more customers can choose to make their own contribution to being eco-friendly.'

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