Research suggests that the fleet industry is beginning to take environmental concerns seriously.
Two major surveys of fleets have found that green issues are racing up priority lists.
In a survey of 694 companies questioned by GE Commercial Finance, Fleet Services, 90% said they felt environmental considerations would have a considerable influence on fleet policy over the next 12 months. This marks a rapid rise in the minds of fleet managers, as only 57% felt green issues would be important in the second half of 2005.
The results come from GE’s quarterly Company Car Trends survey. The same rise in environmental influence was seen in the survey’s list of issues that will affect transport in general over the next year.
Some 79% of respondents mentioned green issues, compared to 62% a year ago.
And 75% of respondents now include environmental impact as a factor when constructing a fleet policy, compared to 50% in the second half of 2005.
However, there is a serious gap between recognition of a problem and action to remedy it and this seems to be the area where fleets have to improve.
Of the fleets questioned, just 39% said they already had policies in place to combat climate change, 11% said one was being implemented, 32% that one was under consideration and 14% that they were aware of the problem but no action was planned.
GE’s findings are backed up by another survey by the UK’s largest leasing company, Lex. It spoke to 134 fleets, responsible for more than 40,000 vehicles, and found that 29% of fleets saw ‘going green’ as a key issue – putting it third on the priority list behind duty of care and running costs.
Last year, the same survey saw environmental issues in sixth place on the list while in 2005 it was eighth.
JON Walden, Lex’s managing director, is surprised that climate change did not factor even higher.
‘We were surprised that going green didn’t come out top of the survey, bearing in mind the exposure this issue has had over the past 12 months,’ he says.
Rich Green, managing director of GE Fleet Services, says the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change has been a vital catalyst for focusing fleet managers’ mindson climate change.
‘It’s had quite an impact in fleet circles,’ he said.
‘While the industry has talked about green issues for more than a decade, we could finally be at the tipping point where widespread, considered and effective action is taken.
‘The next two years in fleet will belong to environmental concerns in the same way that the last two have belonged to duty of care. In fact, many fleets are in a similar position with the environment today to where they were with duty of care a short time ago. They know that they have to take action and have some degree of expertise but are unsure of their next step.’
Nigel Underdown, head of transport at the Energy Saving Trust, also thanks the Stern report for increasing awareness of global warming.
‘There is barely a day that goes by when there isn’t something in the media about carbon,’ he says’
‘Extreme weather, such as Hurricane Katrina and the tornadoes in Kensal Rise have all made the issue more real in people’s minds.’
Stewart Whyte, fleet consultant and a director of fleet managers’ association ACFO, says there are a number of reasons why the issue of the environment has grown in the eyes of fleets.
‘The second round of vehicle replacement is one,’ he says.
‘Many company car drivers are now selecting their second car since the CO2 tax regime came into force and that focuses their minds.
‘Another factor is the ongoing development of both cars, a lot of them with advanced diesel particulate filters, and the whole Euro III versus Euro IV tax disputes. They have certainly helped.’
The wider media has also focused much more strongly on environmental matters in the last couple of years, which has helped bring the matter to the fore on a wide social basis.
WHYTE says there are myriad reasons for the inaction by many fleets.
‘There are people for whom changing anything is seen as expensive. They will only do it when someone puts a gun to their heads – it’s bad management,’ he says. ‘Some people still think it doesn’t affect them, but there is also a lack of resource to concentrate on these things.
‘People know it’s important, but when they get to their desks they lose focus through everyday pressures of work.
‘Many fleet managers are under-resourced and are not given enough support to be able to look at this strategic issue with the priority that society demands.
Rich Green says it is uncertainwhat action will be taken in the longer term.
‘While fleets are far ahead of other departments in most companies when it comes to green issues, very few have some form of formal environmental policy and these could start to become more common over the next year or two,’ he says.
Cost fears are a key drawback to tackling pollution from fleets, Nigel Underdown believes.
‘Our research has shown that many fleets feel that having a green fleet is going to cost and we fear they must be taking a narrow view of what constitutes a green fleet,’ he says.
‘This perhaps is holding many back. Replacing a fleet of upper-medium diesels with hybrids will for many increase costs unless they operate in central London and can offset the congestion charge.
‘The reality is that traditional technology still offers solutions, but a greener fleet isn’t just about vehicles – it’s about how they are driven and how much they are driven.’
This is due to many factors, including increased media coverage of climate change, pressures from society and the Stern report.