Jack Johnson, CTO & Cofounder, Volta Power Systems.


The pressure to maximize and demonstrate sustainability efforts is the highest it’s ever been. Companies and government organizations are setting aggressive CO2 reduction targets as part of their ESG goals. The U.S. government has set a zero-emissions benchmark for 2035. Corporate shareholders are demanding a reduction in emissions, and communities are no longer tolerating the fumes and noise generated by idling vehicles. In response to these pressures, companies and municipalities need to take a holistic approach to evaluate the action steps that make a real impact, not just those that look good in the public eye.

For many fleets, transitioning toward a full-EV standard is the latest megatrend for mitigating emissions and complying with federal and state regulations. Going fully electric is a recognizable solution with high visibility. Community members and governing bodies alike look at electrification and see an eco-friendly solution. However, the conversation about sustainability doesn’t center solely on emissions; it’s also about financial feasibility and the relative cost per pound of CO2 emissions eliminated.

Realistically, the right solution is industry dependent. What might be good for a fleet of locally operating Amazon delivery trucks probably won’t work the same for a fleet of utility vehicles. Looking at the numbers, many industries using specialty vehicles—utility trucks, fire apparatuses, ambulances, etc.—generate a lot of their emissions, idling at a standstill.

When considering a greener alternative to a fossil fuel fleet, it is best to determine the primary cause of emissions first. Likely, the primary cause will fall into one of two categories.

Fixed Route Fleets

For fleets where the primary job is transit along a predetermined route with predictable stops, full electrification is often a great solution when considering cost and emissions reduction. These vehicles either idle very little or can be turned off when not driving, and battery range limitations aren’t a problem because their daily routes are predictable.

When all your emissions come from propulsion, then the premium cost for an all-electric drivetrain is worth it. These vehicles can pay for themselves in less than a year on fuel and maintenance savings alone. In addition, much of the energy for these vehicles could be generated from renewable resources, depending on a community’s power supply.

Park And Work

For fleets of specialty vehicles—such as work trucks, fire trucks and emergency vehicles—most emissions are produced from idling during work activities. These vehicles will only drive a few miles each day to the worksite or an emergency site. Then, they sit tight and idle for many hours because they need constant power to run hydraulics, pumps, A/C or medical equipment.

In these cases, the premium of an electric drivetrain robust enough to move a very heavy truck is typically not the best use of resources. Fleet managers won’t see nearly the reduction in emissions for an idling fleet as they would a highly mobile one, making it difficult to justify the cost of full electrification when compared to the pounds of CO2 actually being eliminated.

The Dangers Of A Greenwashed Solution

If you’re not yet familiar with the term, Greenwashing is the “practice of making a product, policy, activity, etc. appear to be more environmentally friendly or less environmentally damaging than it really is.” In order to meet the environmental expectations set by their stakeholders, some fleet owners are looking for whatever market-available solutions can check the box and make a big PR splash. This includes the early adoption of specialty electric vehicles with very high price tags but only modest emissions reductions. This practice could be problematic because it promises a greater reduction in environmental impact than is actually delivered, causing the organization to overspend while lagging on the goals set by stakeholders or government organizations.

Consider the recent electrification of a fire truck in Los Angeles. Purchasing the single EV truck cost the city about $1.2 million and a conservative estimate would be that it reduces yearly emissions by approximately 60,000 pounds of CO2. In comparison, a hybridized system could be installed across an entire fleet of 75-plus fire trucks for a similar cost and reduce millions of pounds of emissions yearly just by cutting idling.

In cases like fire departments, hybridizing the fleet is both financially and environmentally sustainable, especially compared to other “flashier” solutions. One has to wonder if the choice to electrify a single fire apparatus rather than hybridize an entire city’s fleet was the best use of taxpayer dollars. Making a splash with a fully electrified fire truck might do more greenwashing than actual emissions reduction.

Sustainability Is Not All Or Nothing

When it comes to sustainability efforts, it’s risky for companies to select a solution that doesn’t have as great an impact on their emission reduction goals as they anticipated. When measuring progress toward CO2 targets, companies may find that the ROI of their emission-eliminating investment just isn’t there. Full electrification or hybridization are not the only options when solving the idling fleet problem either. The Department of Energy’s Clean Cities initiative is an excellent resource for calculating your specific cost of idling and finding a broad range of anti-idling solutions.

It’s clear that the goals set by governing bodies, companies, stakeholders and community members are trending green. Fleet directors have an opportunity to consider how they can maximize an impactful solution as the world moves toward a more sustainable future. There are many options available to organizations dedicated to reducing their environmental impact if they remain open to transitioning away from an “all or nothing” mentality when it comes to electrification. The key to long-term success will be to find solutions that are both financially and environmentally sustainable.

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Jack Johnson, Forbes Councils Member

?  Read More  Sustainability & LEED Innovation, /innovation, technology, standard ?Fleet directors have an opportunity to consider how they can maximize an impactful solution as the world moves toward a more sustainable future.