Corporate transportation energy management: Reduce your transportation footprint

May 11, 2021
Peter Garforth says the right usage data will guide an energy plan that can tackle the company’s internal impact and beyond.

The need to eliminate all energy-related greenhouse gas emissions from corporate operations over the coming 20 to 30 years is a growing reality for many corporate sustainability and energy managers. In many companies, one of the largest sources of emissions is one that is not even measured—the transportation needed to run the business. This aspect will come increasingly into focus in the coming years and is one we need to elevate on the priority list.

Globally, transportation causes more than 20% of all energy-related emissions, nearly all of which comes from some form of oil. Oil is on track to become the largest source of emissions in the next few years as the power industry world-wide reduces its use of coal.

Before looking at strategies to eliminate a company’s transportation footprint, it is worth looking at its components and how they could be measured. The first, and most obvious, comes from the fleet of vehicles owned by the company. This is likely already being measured and somewhat managed in the corporate energy portfolio.

Data on employees’ use of personal, rental, or transit vehicles on trips solely for company business, including commuting and various business trips, is pretty sketchy in terms of numbers and length of trips, vehicles, and fuels used and the subsequent cost and emissions impact on the business.

Supplier vehicles delivering good and services may be under lease agreements that carry with them the possibility of direct access to reasonable data, but most will not.

The last major category is the transportation taken by visitors and customers traveling specifically to meet with company staff or attend company events.

Buildings and industrial processes are getting more efficient in well-managed corporate energy programs. Power grids and natural gas networks are reducing their emission indexes with the increased use of renewable sources. As a result, it is increasingly likely that the total transportation or mobile carbon footprint of the company will be on the same or even larger scale as the stationary footprint.

As in all efficiency programs, the first thing is to define the efficiency unit of measurement. In most companies there are really three categories—Vehicle Mile Traveled (VMT), Passenger Mile Traveled (PMT), and Goods Mile Traveled (GMT), where “goods” is the company’s product or service on its way to the customer, or a third-party product or service being delivered to the company’s operations.

Energy Expert

This article is part of our monthly Energy Expert column. Read more from Peter Garforth.

Simply gathering the basic data on all the trips, vehicles, passengers, and goods in a comprehensive and systematic way will be a creative challenge. However, energy managers have a wealth of experience and new technical approaches available to get a complete picture of the real energy use, cost, and emissions impact of transportation.

Once armed with a view of the baseline, setting the environmental and economic framing goals for transportation’s energy footprint is essential, recognizing that net zero GHG by 2050 is likely to be one of them! This will be followed by simulating various combinations of all the possible measures that can be put in place over the next decade or two, to reach the framing goals. 

There are ways to make transportation more efficient, including eliminate the need for the journey in the first place.  If nothing else, COVID has taught us that a lot of work can get done without traveling. The next way is to shorten the trip. The third group of measures will explore ways to increase the PMT/VMT and GMT/VMT ratios wherever feasible.

Lastly, ensure that whatever vehicle is being used, it will be the most efficient with the least greenhouse gas emissions.  This will move vehicle choices toward low-carbon electricity, green hydrogen, biofuels, and maybe CNG.

Corporate transportation energy management is a rich pool of opportunity for creative program design that can have substantial environmental and competitive impacts. The demands on creativity will be magnified given that the majority of the company’s trips will be in vehicles not owned by the company.

It is time to embrace the largest unmanaged part of the corporate energy and carbon footprint and bring it into the rest of the energy program. It will be challenging, but it will not be boring!

This story originally appeared in the May 2021 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.

About the Author: Peter Garforth

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