There are no downsides to reducing fuel use, yet operators under daily pressure from all quarters may not always be able to find the time to figure out the steps they need to take, and implement them.
That is where the ECO Stars scheme comes in, explains Stuart McLean, sustainable transport delivery lead and linchpin of what is a well-established programme managed by TRL (Transport Research Laboratory).
Operators around the UK can participate free-of-charge, because the programme is funded by local authorities using government cash, he explains. In England, the money comes from DEFRA, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
“Councils have a responsibility under local air quality management legislation to review air quality,” he explains. “Where concentrations of certain pollutants exceed set objectives, measures should be put in place to reduce emissions, and be reported in a local air quality action plan.”
Such measures include encouraging van, truck, bus and coach fleets which are either based within, or regularly enter, the council’s area of responsibility, to embrace the ECO Stars programme. The ECO Stars fleet scheme has over 400 members running 23,000 vehicles between them.
Businesses are awarded a star rating ranging from 1 to 5 when they first join, based on an assessment of their current operational and environmental performance. An ECO Stars assessor rates each of their vehicles and how the fleet is run as a whole.
The assessment is based on six key pillars. As well as reviewing the vehicles, the ECO Star expert examines the operation’s approach to fuel management, including any measures it is taking to promote fuel efficiency and whether it monitors fuel consumption and expenditure.
“Some companies don’t monitor their fuel usage at all,” McLean remarks – a remarkable oversight given the impact fuel bills can have on budgets.
Also under consideration is any training being given to drivers to ensure they drive more frugally and whether there is an incentive scheme which rewards those who cut fuel consumption the most effectively. Under the microscope, too, is the firm’s approach to maintenance, including regular tyre inspections and wheel alignment checks. Underinflated tyres and wheels that are out of alignment can drive up fuel usage dramatically.
What use does the business make of IT? Does it have a routing and scheduling system in place to ensure that deliveries are made in the most fuel-efficient manner without compromising customer service? Does it use a telematics package to monitor drivers to ensure they are not speeding, taking bends too quickly, or accelerating harshly?
Another area the assessor examines is whether key performance indicators, KPIs, are in place to record and report driver and vehicle efficiency. Unfortunately they are often lacking, says McLean. An operator might keep an eye on the mpg of a vehicle but may not set a target for what it should be on a particular delivery run.
An ECO Stars consultant can look at the work a fleet is on, help it set fuel KPIs for key routes, review them regularly, and suggest ways they can be improved on.
As well as giving a star rating, the assessor will help create a roadmap to take the fleet to a higher level. “The progress being made is reassessed every six months,” McClean says.
Implement the steps suggested under the programme and you could cut fuel usage by at least 5% during the first year, says TRL; depending of course on how fuel-efficient your activities are in the first place.
“What we’re also doing is helping operators who run diesel trucks to switch them over to HVO,” McLean continues. Hydrotreated vegetable oil is a drop-in fuel that can be used instead of conventional diesel and can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 90%.
MOVING TO ELECTRIC
The next step is to assist them in the transition to zero-emission battery-electric (or potentially hydrogen fuel cell) technology, says McLean, as the end point for sales of new non-zero-emission vehicles draws ever closer. “Previously the 5-star rating required all your vehicles to be Euro VI,” he says. Now a percentage of them have to use an environmentally friendly alternative means of propulsion; battery-electric, for example.
Measures to cut fuel usage and improve operational efficiency should indeed be set against the background of the journey towards zero emissions, agrees Brian Robinson. The commercial vehicle and sustainability consultant works closely with the Zemo Partnership. It is an independent non-profit organisation which liaises with government, industry, and other stakeholders to accelerate transport towards the zero-emission finishing line.
He splits that journey into three stages: evolution, transition, and revolution.
‘Evolution’ covers steps transport fleets can take today to cut costs and their carbon footprint. It encompasses the use of everything from route optimisation and training drivers to drive more efficiently to the use of aerodynamic aids such as cab-top air deflectors and low-rolling-resistance tyres. The efficacy of aerodynamic add-ons is regularly disputed, with critics arguing that they are only effective on long-haul intercity runs at the maximum legal speed.
“They’re certainly more beneficial at higher speeds and should enable you to reduce fuel consumption by 8% to 10% on motorway runs,” Robinson says. “You’ll still see some benefit at lower speeds though, because you’re reducing drag. You won’t see your consumption get any worse.”
Driver training can produce fuel savings of up to 10%, he suggests, but drivers need to be monitored thereafter to ensure these savings continue.
The second ‘transition’ stage involves switching to renewable fuels such as HVO. “It means you save a lot of CO2, but the opportunity to save money is limited,” Robinson observes. HVO is more expensive than standard diesel, and Zemo has called for a fuel duty discount to encourage the use of diesel substitutes made from sustainable sources.
Finally, the ‘revolution’ stage means going battery-electric or possibly favouring hydrogen fuel cells, longer-term. While the latter technology is now being deployed in buses, it is some way away from being adopted in trucks and vans in the UK.
“If you are an operator with a truck that tackles short trips one day, and long hauls the next, then I wouldn’t recommend going battery-electric,” Robinson observes. “However, if you are a baker based 30 miles outside London, and all you do every day is deliver bread to shops in the capital, then I would.”
BOX: TELEMATICS CAN HELP
Safety and fuel efficiency go together. Drivers who avoid speeding, accelerating harshly, and taking bends too quickly tend to have fewer accidents and burn less energy, too, thanks to the smoother driving technique they have adopted.
Using a telematics system to monitor their behaviour at the wheel can help ensure that they adhere to this technique. However, it won’t allow a transport manager to see exactly what happened if an incident has occurred. Footage from onboard cameras will, however, and can be used as a training aid to help drivers avoid similar incidents in the future.
Fit a package from a supplier such as CameraMatics and you can see what happened instantly, without having to wait until the vehicle returns to the depot to download what the camera has recorded.
“A lot of drivers ask for cameras to be fitted to help ensure they are not blamed for incidents that are not their fault,” says CameraMatics co-founder Simon Murray.