With everything else in construction seemingly going green, the pressure is now on firms to reduce carbon emissions from their fleets

Bovis Lend Lease is embarking on a campaign to cut carbon emissions linked to business travel. Its senior management team is being put on a strict carbon-controlled diet, and the rank and file are being offered subsidised bikes, bike parking and showers. Staff will receive cash rewards if they choose an environmentally-sensitive company car, and the firm is reviewing its fleet of company cars with an eye to buying greener models.

It’s all part of the company’s strategy to cut its carbon footprint in the UK by 20% before 2010. The plan is to reduce emissions from business travel from 4%-5% of the total to 3%-4%.

Meanwhile, Skanska’s UK operations are following a green path first established in Sweden last year. Its goal is that, by the end of 2010, half its 1,100-strong fleet will comprise cars that emit 130g/km or less of CO2. In Sweden 45% of the fleet now comprises low-emission cars – previously the typical fleet car was responsible for 200g/km of CO2.

The construction industry has started to build greener buildings and is now recognising that it is time to be greener when getting to the site or office. As EU and UK legislation moves towards requiring businesses to monitor and reduce their carbon output, the proportion of carbon emissions related to company cars and commercial vehicle fleets – which can account for up to a quarter of total carbon footprints – will come under greater scrutiny.

There are three ways to reduce carbon emissions from transport. The most obvious is to switch to cleaner vehicles as Bovis, Skanska and roofing firm Ploughcroft (see case study) have done. An ever-growing market of low-emission fleet vehicles includes Volkswagen’s forthcoming gas-powered Caddy van, which the company says should halve CO2 emissions, and the Mercedes Eco-Start Sprinter.

The latest space-age technology can help companies reduce their overall mileage. Firms such as contractor Glencroft (see case study) are finding that satellite tracking systems cut fuel emissions and costs by highlighting wasted trips and monitoring fuel consumption. Finally, encouraging employees to drive more efficiently can also rein in carbon emissions.

Overall, the Energy Saving Trust (EST) estimates that companies can save 15% of fuel costs, which can add up to a saving of £90,000 a year for an average fleet of 100 vehicles. ‘There’s a suspicion that greener transport costs money, but in all the projects where we worked with fleets there have been significant cost savings,’ says Nigel Underdown, the EST’s head of transport advice. The Trust offers a free fleet review, including help in calculating carbon footprints, a telephone advice service and advice on choosing lower-carbon vehicles.

In all the projects where we worked with fleets, there have been significant savings

Nigel Underdown, EST

Underdown also points out that green cars save money in other areas. Cars with the lowest emissions do not attract road tax, for example, and companies can offset the full cost of buying the greenest company cars against their tax bills (only 10-25% of the value of less efficient models can be claimed back). There’s a growing choice of vehicles in the 130g/km emissions bracket, the level the EU hopes will become mandatory for all new cars by 2012, although some are available in the 100-110g/km bracket.

Employees can also benefit from the lower company car tax band of 10% that has been introduced for vehicles with the lowest emissions, and cars that emit less CO2 are also likely to be using less fuel. ‘From a driver point of view, everywhere you look, low carbon will cost you less,’ says Underdown.

Apart from sourcing environmentally friendly cars, fitting them with satellite tracking devices can help reduce emissions by providing data on the best routes as well as indicating whether drivers are using excess fuel by speeding or braking too much. Vehicles can be fitted with a GPS (global positioning system) to show their position and GPRS (general packet radio service), similar to that used by mobile phones, to send the data back to base.

The systems allow companies to either watch the movements of their vehicles live over the internet or get data summaries via email, including fuel consumption to compare against manufacturers’ recommendations for the vehicle, speeds, times, distances, and routes.

According to satellite tracking system manufacturer Quartix, the 20,000 vehicles owned by its customers emit 32,000 tonnes less carbon and use 12m litres less diesel a year. It says customers save 600 litres of diesel a year on average and save 1,620kg of CO2.

One of the most cost-effective ways to reduce emissions is to educate the drivers. The EST, which offers courses on green driving, put 3,000 drivers through a pilot scheme on driving more efficiently. The course covered techniques such as block gear changes rather than changing through each gear in sequence, and reading the road ahead to avoid sudden braking and acceleration, which increase fuel consumption. After a one-hour lesson, the drivers in the pilot were able to reduce their fuel consumption by 15%.

As Glencroft’s drivers have their every move watched by satellite and Bovis’s bosses swap plane and cars for trains and bikes, how many other firms will follow them down the same road? According to Underdown, it will be a high proportion: ‘The construction industry is going to be more reliant on the public sector for their business over the next few years than ever before, and it increasingly puts a very high emphasis on bidders’ green credentials.’ cm