Greening the Campus Fleet: Tips from
Dave Newport

illustration of online learning with computers and textbooks

In this week's news, the University of South Carolina announced its "Genesis 2015 Initiative," promising a 90% drop in carbon-dioxide emissions from its campus fleet in the next five years. This is the latest in several recent commitments by colleges and universities to green their campus fleets. Other colleges and universities have hesitated to take aggressive steps toward "greening" the campus fleet, but Dave Newport, director of the University of Colorado at Boulder's Environmental Center and co-creator and member of the Steering Committee of AASHE's new STARS sustainability ratings system for higher education, has some advice on where to find the low-hanging fruit in this effort.

Make Decisions Based on Data

Many campuses lack either a centralized fleet inventory or a purchase policy. "My sense in talking with fleet managers," Newport comments, "is that campuses are generally overstocked with vehicles. People get research money and they go to buy a vehicle. Somebody gets a big grant and thinks he needs a big van for the 20 or so trips that research will require." If vehicles can be purchased without a check against inventory and without lifecycle costing, this will contribute to both carbon waste and high long-term costs for fleet maintenance.

With resources more restricted than ever -- and with growing pressure toward environmental sustainability -- it's critical to ask the key questions:

  • How many vehicles do we have, and in what condition?
  • To what extent are those vehicles used?
  • Which vehicles are costing us in fuel?
  • How many vehicles does our campus actually need?
  • Do we in fact need that new or replacement vehicle?

When asked how campuses can make quick gains in fleet management, Newport quips, "That's easy. Don't buy cars. Don't buy trucks. The first question is, What can we conserve?"

Empower the Fleet Manager

Even given a thorough inventory of the fleet, little will be accomplished unless the campus fleet manager is empowered to craft and enforce a purchase policy. Newport notes that when he worked for a county government in Florida, the fleet manager had to approve every vehicle purchase. "This means the fleet manager knows what's in the inventory and what's not, and what we really need. That's step one."

"There's no magic bullet that we haven't tried already. Relentless pursuit of aggressive fleet management policies is what needs to be mastered."
Dave Newport, U of Colorado at Boulder

Lifecycle Costing

If "step one" involves empowering the fleet manager to make the buying decision, the fleet manager also needs to have the leeway to spend a little capital at the start in order to secure a vehicle that will last longer and save money in the long run. Lifecycle costing to show the total cost of a new vehicle is critical.

Quick Carbon Reductions

Some of the big steps toward a greener campus fleet are obvious, such as repowering the fleet by choosing to purchase an E85 vehicle instead of a petroleum gas vehicle. But there are other opportunities to make gains that are often overlooked.

For example, a critical source of wasted fuel is idling. Newport suggests finding "a delicate way" to establish a no-idling policy. Campus vehicles that are left to idle while the driver is outside the vehicle or perhaps talking on the radio can account for 20-30% of fuel use, a significant waste. And that fuel use is also getting zero miles to the gallon.