How Progressive creates a greener fleet Featured

8:01pm EDT May 31, 2011
How Progressive creates a greener fleet

In 2008, The Progressive Corp. began looking at ways it could make the 3,500 vehicles in its company fleet more environmentally friendly.

You’ve probably seen the white vehicles with blue lettering around, or maybe you’ve even had to deal with one for an accident you were involved in. Either way, about 3,000 of those 3,500 vehicles are used by the company’s claims department and are constantly out and about. And in the past, many of those vehicles were six-cylinder Ford Explorers — large vehicles that use a lot of gas.

“When it comes to our fleet, this was an opportunity for us to look at what do we really need as a business as far as a vehicle and look at our costs and then look at emissions,” says Wanda Shippy, Progressive’s social responsibility manager.

Progressive's fleet operations team started looking at more fuel-efficient alternatives, and they discovered the four-cylinder Ford Escape, which is a less-expensive vehicle and is more environmentally friendly, so they decided to replace the Explorers with Escapes.

“The way that it happens is when those leases come up for renewal or replacement, we then make the transition from the six-cylinder to the four-cylinder,” Shippy says. “It’s a gradual process.”

By the end of 2008, Progressive had transitioned 9 percent of its vehicles. By 2009, it was at 28 percent, and by the end of 2010, it was around 41 percent.

The organization has embraced the efforts, but even though people wanted to make the change, it didn’t come without its share of challenges — the largest being how to identify realistic goals and how to move forward on those.

“It starts with understanding your business and knowing, based on the type of business that you are, where can you be socially responsible?” Shippy says.

Kathy Schulz is Progressive’s manager of travel and fleet operations, and she says it’s important to really look at your business closely before you make any major decisions regarding your fleet and sustainability initiatives.

“It’s important to understand your business, and every business is different, and they use their vehicles differently,” Schulz says.

She says they look at how much their vehicles are used and how exactly employees use them.

“There are opportunities, so not only could you reduce your carbon emissions by buying more environmentally friendly vehicles, but also, if you’re not utilizing to full capacity, reduce the number,” Schulz says. “That’s the greatest reduction in emissions by having less vehicles out there.”

To do that, Schulz says she looks at the costs and usage of all its vehicles, and she also looks at rental vehicle usage combined with fleet usage. While these numbers are important, they also have to keep the customers in mind.

“It’s a balancing act,” Shippy says. “You have to look at how many vehicles do you need in order to provide the service you promised when people purchased your (product), and then how can you do that by using them efficiently and having the usage high on the vehicles you have. [Look at] how many vehicles do you need to do that, and that can fluctuate as the business changes.”

It also comes down to weighing the initiatives against some of the organization’s core values, as well.

“We always want to focus on one of our main core values, which is the Golden Rule — to treat others as you would like to be treated,” Shippy says. “Our CEO constantly says just do the right thing. We make a decision that we think is right for the business and right for those that we serve every day.”

How to reach: The Progressive Corp., (440) 461-5000 or www.progressive.com

Find a plan that fits you

By Mark Scott

You can make a difference in the environment even if your business does not have a fleet of thousands of vehicles taking the road each day. That’s the message from Jason Mathers, project manager for the Environmental Defense Fund. The nonprofit organization helps businesses find solutions to environmental challenges.

“Anything an employee is doing for the company on behalf of the company, the emissions associated with that are part of the environmental footprint,” Mathers says. “Just because you’re not able to easily track something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

Figure out what impact your company does have in terms of the number of vehicles you put on the road and how much they are used. Encourage your employees to be better drivers by not speeding, idling or hauling unnecessary weight in their vehicles.

“You’re talking about vehicle efficiency and routing, driver behavior and all these things that have a very significant return on investment,” Mathers says.

If you do have fleets, look at the vehicles you have and whether a more fuel-efficient model could do the same job.

“If you can take a modest step over your entire fleet, that can add up to a significant impact,” Mathers says.

How to reach: Environmental Defense Fund, (617) 406-1806 or www.edf.org/greenfleet