Van insight: Eco Stars

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Van fleet operators could improve their fuel economy by at least 5% and reduce their annual CO2 by six tonnes per year by joining the Eco Stars fleet recognition scheme.

More than 200 organisations, collectively operating close to 20,000 vans, HGVs, buses and coaches, have already made significant savings thanks to the scheme.

Construction company HW Wilson, for example, has achieved a 17% fuel saving since joining the scheme two years ago (see case study).

The scheme, which is free to join, is currently being run in 12 local authority areas (South Yorkshire, mid-Devon, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Thurrock, Falkirk, York, Dundee, Warrington, North Lanarkshire, Sefton and Fife).

Schemes operated by councils covering Glasgow and South Lanarkshire are due to launch in early 2015, with more in the pipeline. Additionally, some schemes are diversifying to include taxis and private hire vehicles.

How it works

On joining, fleets are awarded an Eco Star rating – ranging from one to five stars – based on an assessment of their current operational and environmental performance.

Assessment is based on six areas: fleet composition, fuel management, driver skills development, vehicle specification and preventative maintenance, IT support systems and performance monitoring and management.

Those six areas cover best practice initiatives such as monitoring fuel use and raising fuel efficiency awareness with drivers (including training in safe and fuel efficient driving), using wholelife costs when selecting vehicles,
operating a robust service and maintenance programme  (including regular tyre inspections), utilising routing and scheduling systems to better manage journeys and telematics to monitor driver and vehicle performance, and the use of key performance indicators to record and report driver and vehicle efficiency improvements.

Fleet managers are then provided with a ‘road map’ that outlines the consultants’ findings together with tailor-made advice to help improve efficiencies and progress via assessment up the Eco Stars ladder to hopefully ultimately achieve a five-star ranking.

‘Real win-win’

Scheme manager Ann Beddoes, from Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council in South Yorkshire where the initiative originated, describes Eco Stars as a “real win-win”.

She says: “From a local authority perspective, Eco Stars can have a direct impact on reducing vehicle emissions, and hence local air quality – and from an operator’s standpoint, they gain independent advice about how they can improve their fleet efficiency, reducing fuel consumption, and ultimately influencing their bottom line.

 “Another real benefit of the scheme is that it opens a two-way communication channel between them and local councils which didn’t really exist before.”

The scheme does not adopt a ‘one size fits all approach’ – what is recommended for one member can be quite different from another, according to Beddoes.

SMEs see biggest benefit

Across the local authorities, Eco Star members include some of Britain’s best known companies such as: Alliance Boots, Amey, Asda, Dairy Crest, DHL, Greggs, Morrisons, Next, Sainsbury’s, United Biscuits.

A number of public sector organisations have also joined, including South Yorkshire Police, which in 2014 became the first constabulary to join.

However, consultancy firm Transport and Travel Research (TTR), which manages Eco Stars on behalf of local authorities, believes that some of the largest operating efficiency improvements generating financial savings and environmental benefits can come from smaller fleets (see case studies).

That’s because large well-known organisations, which have professional fleet managers, have almost invariably introduced many recommended best practice policies and procedures.

Morag White, Eco Stars’ field consultant for the north, says: “Often the use of vans and fuel is perceived to just be a necessary cost as part of the day-to-day business rather than an opportunity to adopt best practice.

”For organisations that operate a fleet which isn’t core to their business, it’s likely to be a cost rather than a revenue generator. However, it is amazing how much companies spend on vehicles and fuel without considering how these can be reduced through some planning and management. This is where Eco Stars can come in by helping to support when fleet management is not the primary task.

“There are 3.5 million white vans travelling around the UK and on average they travel almost 10,000 miles each year – that’s a lot of potential impact on local air quality.

“Eco Stars can support them in delivering a more sustainable future.”

Beddoes adds: “We’re currently working on a long term-vision for Eco Stars, given the recent increase in scheme numbers.”

Future funding is also being investigated as part of the long-term vision with the European Union having contributed to the setting up of the South Yorkshire and Edinburgh schemes as well as to schemes elsewhere in Europe.

Case study: HW Wilson

Fleet size: 13 vans

Joined Eco Stars: Two years ago

Rating when joined: One star

Result: 17% fuel saving

Construction company HW Wilson initially received the lowest Eco Stars rating due to its “relatively poor vehicle performance and a simple lack of records”, according to the TTR assessor.

Following fleet assessment, the company was provided with an improvement road map that included a spreadsheet to monitor individual vehicle fuel usage.

Data recorded over six months highlighted two key issues:

¦ Driving style contributed to poor fuel efficiency.

¦ Vans were often loaded to full capacity rather than just carrying tools and equipment needed on a per day basis thus unnecessarily increasing fuel consumption.

Philip Pearson, director of HW Wilson, says: “It was a bit of an eye-opener when we first started monitoring our vehicles. We hadn’t realised how much our actions impacted on fuel consumption. Using the spreadsheet gave us vital information to help improve efficiency and assist with buying decisions of vehicles due for renewal.”

More recently, vans have been fitted with trackers to ensure direct route optimisation between locations,  delivering further fuel savings with employee awareness boosted by league tables highlighting driver efficiency. Van sharing has also been introduced.

What’s more, an unexpected benefit, says Pearson, is that the company is now able to be more competitive with job quotes as mileage and fuel usage can be more  accurately gauged.

He says: “Our fuel saving was 12% in year one and we have improved that by a further 5% in the second year. That has meant we have cut our fuel bill by more than £2,000 enabling us to be more competitive and that is helping win business.”

Pearson concludes: “Our one star rating is just a start. We are seeing reductions in fuel costs, but we’ve a long way to go. We would recommend Eco Stars to any small business that operates vehicles.

“Getting free advice from the industry experts gives access to some of the fleet management techniques that the ‘big boys’ use – other businesses will definitely reduce their fuel consumption and save money just as we have.”

The company is due to be re-assessed early in 2015 and is hopeful that the initiatives  introduced and benefits seen will deliver a higher star rating.

Case study: Evolve Facility Services

Fleet size: 230 vans

Joined Eco Stars: May 2014

Rating when joined: Four stars

Result: 10% fuel saving

Evolve Facility Services has achieved a 10% fuel saving since joining Sefton Council’s Eco Stars scheme. 

The company, which provides in-house repairs and  maintenance to 30,000 properties across Merseyside  and Greater Manchester, had already recognised the  importance of being able to achieve efficient vehicle  planning and how driving behaviour could influence the bottom line as it had introduced telematics to the fleet in 2012.

Brian Gates, community development manager at Evolve Facility Services, says: “Telematics helped the business understand how the vans were being used, and led to an improvement in the deployment of vehicles and development in the driving skills of trades people.”

For example, as part of an operative’s induction into the business, their driving skills are assessed before they are allowed to get behind the wheel of a company vehicle.

Last year the business focused on bedding in the telematics system, understanding data and coaching drivers on what was expected of them, which helped deliver a 10% fuel saving.

Telematics reports are scrutinised with a focus on speeding, heavy braking and routes taken by drivers  to specific jobs. The net result has been an increase in productivity and fewer speeding tickets. Gates says:  “Our next step is to include driving style targets into  our existing appraisal and performance management system.”

Of Eco Stars, Gates says: “We had some fantastic guidance that has paid off quickly, such as the fuel saving. After implementing practices such as weekly vehicle checks ensuring tyres are correctly inflated etc., we have introduced a ‘WOW (Warehouse On Wheels) Van’.”  Previously staff would return to depots to collect materials, but now the ‘WOW van’ travels to where people are working, replenishing stock as required.

He adds: “Eco Stars has helped to demonstrate that there is a lot more we can do, especially in helping getting the most out of our operatives who are not primarily focused on how they drive.”

Case study: NHS Forth Valley

Fleet size: 65 commercial vehicles, almost all vans

Joined Eco Stars: June 2013

Rating when joined: Three stars

Result: Four star rating in May 2014

NHS Forth Valley has seen its three-star Eco Stars rating improved to four stars in a 12-month period, during which it replaced older vans with new, cleaner Euro5 emission models and rolled out telematics across part of the fleet.

The organisation provides a large number of health services to a population of almost 290,000 people across Central Scotland covered by Fife, Stirling and Clackmannanshire Councils.

Currently Eco Stars is only supported by Fife Council so only the 36 vehicles operating in that area are involved in the initiative. Vans are used for servicing the hospitals and health centres with patient meals, personal clothing, laboratory specimen collections, mail deliveries, pharmacy deliveries, waste collections and equipment deliveries.

Gerald Ferrie, transport and waste manager, says that NHS Forth Valley was keen to participate so it had a benchmark to work against as it “followed Eco Stars recommendations to improve our fleet efficiency”.

That strategy was rewarded with NHS Forth Valley’s reassessment to a four-star rating last year. That was recognition of the older vans being replaced, but Ferrie says the single biggest change was the introduction of telematics to almost half the fleet on a 12-month pilot.

He says: “These electronic devices help us to manage risk by monitoring the speed and driving patterns of vehicles. This information is also making a tremendous difference to fuel management and driver behaviour. The savings we make from fleet efficiencies go directly into patient care.”

With the pilot – which has also highlighted the amount of time vehicles spend idling and thus wasting fuel – nearing its conclusion, Ferrie says: “We are hopeful that after a review and assessment it will be possible to increase the proportion of vehicles which are fitted.”

NHS Forth Valley has also recently started to allow drivers to access their own information from the telematics system with Ferrie currently monitoring and collecting feedback. He says: “I believe it is a good way to ensure drivers feel part of the process and are included in the drive for better efficiency.”

Ferrie hopes other local authorities will join the Eco Stars scheme – including Stirling and Clackmannanshire Councils. He is calling on other public and private sector organisations to become involved.

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