Short break holiday operator Center Parcs has invested more than £2 million in creating an environmentally-friendly fleet.
The company was already a strong advocate of green initiatives, being a low energy user in terms of running its own sewage plants and recycling water.
But when it came to developing an environmentally-friendly fleet that included electric vehicles (EVs), the holiday operator was thwarted by the technology available.
“The vehicles simply weren’t good enough when we started out,” explains Mike Henderson, UK project manager, operations, at Center Parcs.
“We have been developing an electric vehicle strategy for 10 years, but unfortunately back then there wasn’t a vehicle able to meet the criteria set by Center Parcs.
"Those that were available were milk float derivatives. It was another five or six years before we were able to start looking at vehicles that were fit for purpose.”
The Energy Saving Trust completed a Green Fleet Review of existing operations and CLM was appointed to source, manage and dispose of vehicles.
All petrol engined and diesel LCVs on the fleet were replaced with new low emission Euro IV-compliant diesel engined Ford Transit Connect and Mercedes Vito models.
The company now operates a fleet of 143 light commercials, which includes 25 EVs and 59 company cars, all of which are outright purchased. The penetration of EVs on the light commercial fleet is 20%.
The electric fleet, which consists of 22 Aixam Mega MultiTrucks and three Modec box vans, has been key to making the fleet more environmentally-friendly.
Guests walk and cycle around the company’s four villages, which are located in picturesque forests, and they have an expectation that Center Parcs will be similarly green.
Therefore, making sure its fleet mirrored these expectations and its own ethos was a key consideration for the company.
However, for its fleet strategy to be successful, Henderson highlighted the importance of seeking outside assistance.
“At the time of renewing our fleet, impartial advice was definitely needed.
Bringing CLM on board allowed an objective review of our current fleet operation and central to making our policy was the invaluable advice given by the Energy Saving Trust,” he says.
As part of an environmental fleet policy devised with CLM on its commercial fleet, which operates almost exclusively within each village location, EVs are to be introduced wherever practical.
In addition, and as a result of a separate change to the structure of its car policy by which low CO2 emitting cars are encouraged, Center Parcs has also seen an 8.5% reduction in CO2 emissions to date.
The Aixam Mega MultiTrucks have a range of 40-60 miles at a steady 30mph on a single charge.
They are used by technical services personnel at Center Parcs holiday villages to carry out maintenance work.
The Modec box vans have a range of up to 100 miles at 50mph on a full battery.
They have a payload of up to two tonnes and are used for food deliveries.
“We could not operate a 100% electric fleet, because of some of the operations our vehicles undertake, such as forestry work,” says Henderson.
“But in other areas, particularly around the villages where the topography allows, we now expect our electric policy to evolve over a period of time through the evaluation of our current vehicle fleet and the other options that are becoming available.”
Hoverever, Henderson concedes that Center Parcs’ EV strategy could not be considered a cost-effective route.
“The costs were very high and you cannot measure the success of our investment by any sort of potential financial return,” he explains. “This was more about making sure the fleet mirrored our own green values.”
Henderson recommends a three-pronged approach to transforming a fleet following the experience of Center Parcs:
Obtain objective expert advice such as that from the Energy Saving Trust to ensure your green policy is not only practical, but also having a meaningful impact into the ongoing and evolving fleet strategy.
The operators need to be involved right from the start in the selection and specification of the vehicles as they are the people who will use them every day.
An organisation should not underestimate the cultural change and impact of different types of vehicle and the training required to efficiently integrate the green policy into the business.
A network of local servicing agents able to support a green fleet that includes electric vehicles is essential.
Paramount and central is the ability to keep the vehicles operating to their optimum efficiency and safety, because without a network of servicing agents the down time and costs rise dramatically.
Help for fleets looking to go green
Reducing distances travelled and improving the efficiency of their mileage are the two basic principles fleet managers and their drivers need to employ for a greener fleet.
Both can produce dramatic results in terms of cutting fuel bills and reducing an organisation’s environmental impact.
There is a range of sources aimed at helping fleets and their drivers cut emissions and fuel use.
Carmakers, the Government through its Act on CO2 campaign, the Energy Saving Trust (EST) and Fleet News are all valuable sources on how to reduce a fleet’s emissions.
For drivers who need training in eco techniques, there is a choice of private companies as well as organisations such as the EST, who will train drivers at subsidised rates.
Typically, drivers can expect a 10-20% improvement in fuel consumption after driver training and, for fleets of more than 50 vehicles, the EST will carry out a green fleet audit to help managers cut emissions.
For those fleets with fewer than 50 vehicles, there is a free telephone advice line.
The EST’s Green Fleet Reviews provide organisations with tailored fleet management advice to help lower running costs, reduce environmental impact and enhance corporate social responsibility.
Funded by the Department for Transport, the Welsh Assembly Government, and the Scottish Executive, Green Fleet Reviews are carried out by specialists with a wide spectrum of experience working with a range of fleets.