Driving for Green: Alternative Fuels and Greater Efficiency Have Fleet-Management Practices on the Road to Increased Sustainability

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With its reputation as a leader in eco-consciousness, it's no surprise that Seattle was one of the first American cities to turn to biodiesel to power its fleet of municipal vehicles. In fact, when the city adopted its official Environmental Management Plan nearly 10 years ago, one of its foundational commitments was to "achieve an overall reduction in air emissions produced by city vehicles and to reduce the amount of fossil fuels purchased and used for vehicles."

Since that time, says Jamie Kaiser, the city's acting fuel manager, Seattle has made good progress toward its goal of "greening" its fleet, including moving to cleaner fuels, introducing more efficient vehicles into the existing fleet, and retrofitting those trucks responsible for the greatest pollution with devices that control their emissions.

Today, all of the city's diesel-operated tanks are converted to a minimum of B20, which means the fuel is 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum-based diesel fuel. Some have gone to B40, a higher concentration of biodiesel, and Kaiser says eventually all of the tanks and fuel facilities will be converted to B40.

"We started converting to B20 years ago," says Kaiser, "but we lost a lot of money in waste. The product wasn't what it is today. We'll go from tank to tank until we've converted all the diesel machinery to B40."

Managing and maintaining a fleet of more than 3,000 vehicles, Kaiser and her colleagues lead a number of green initiatives, including the conversion and purchase of a number of CNG, or compressed natural gas, vehicles, and a fleet "right-sizing" program that targets reducing the number of vehicles used by the city.

"Most of our new smaller vehicles [use] alternative fuels," says Kaiser. "And we have cut down the use of larger vehicles when not absolutely necessary. We even have Segway [scooters] for some of our uses."

In the early going, Kaiser says she experienced a bit of resistance to the change from some "die-hard employees," but that "little by little, we have won over most of them."

Overall, it's the right thing to do for the environment, says Kaiser. Plus, she adds, it makes sense in terms of fuel efficiency and helps to continue advancing the city's well-deserved image as a leader in sustainable practices.

Fueling the Green Doctrine

The next several years will be interesting ones for public park and recreation maintenance operations across the United States, as concerns surrounding the environment and global warming continue to grow.

As stewards of the natural environment, park and recreation professionals are committed to providing programs to better society. Just as new equipment and strategies are helping to streamline operations, newer technologies are being studied and looked at to help lessen our impact on the environment.

Today, petroleum-based gasoline and diesel fuels are the most prevalent energy sources used to power equipment and fleets of vehicles. However, when an emphasis is placed on reducing emissions and increasing fuel capacity, there are several other options available to consider.

It's important to note that while many of the following technologies will assist agencies in becoming more sustainable, they will also increase operating budgets. In addition, the logistics of a supply source for alternative fuels can be a limiting factor.

While many states are in the process of adopting or considering legislation to advance green initiatives, many still face issues when it comes to making sources more readily available for the general public.

LP/CNG

Liquid propane and compressed natural gas are viable alternatives for gas-powered vehicles. It is relatively easy to convert gas engines to operate on LP or CNG, and many manufacturers are building equipment that is LP/CNG-ready--everything from mowing equipment to trucks and tractors. …