In the wake of disasters such as the 2010 Gulf oil spill, it seems many consumers took on the belief that corporations and businesses have little social or environmental conscience and too often focus on sales and profit as the sole concern. Not only is that notion largely incorrect, it is wrong for the simplest reason: such an approach would be bad business.

Too often, businesses are lumped together as profit-driven enterprises with no thought of how their actions help or hurt the community. However, the business leaders that I work with and speak to on a regular basis understand that an active social conscience combined with broad community involvement almost always helps to improve the bottom line. At NCCI, we’ve identified four key elements that we believe define a successful corporate social responsibility philosophy.

These include:

• Community: A responsible company is involved in the communities where it does business.

• People: The best companies are committed to hiring and retaining a highly skilled and diverse staff.

• Practices: Leaders are known for integrity and the transparency of business practices.

• Environment: Responsible businesses are committed to conserving natural resources.

Perhaps the least tangible of these goals is the call to preserve natural resources. It can be hard to see how such a mandate — apart from encouraging an altruistic workplace — might be called a good business decision. Yet our experience might serve as a useful guideline for combining that altruistic calling with tangible business requirements.

For the last several years, our company has been actively engaged in pursuing green operations as well as encouraging practices that call on all of our employees to perform their responsibilities in the most environmentally conscious way.

To be clear, this was not a decision that we approached lightly. There were some considerable expenses associated with idea of greening our operations, and some thought the benefits might not outweigh the costs. The fact that employees were driving the project and volunteering to serve on committees and study environmentally friendly recommendations helped drive a positive decision.

To identify corporatewide initiatives, we put in place a new Green Operations team that is charged with evaluating green options and maintaining the company’s focus on being an environmentally responsible company. The areas they’ve identified range from the mundane to the truly unique, from changing to LED lights, setting all printers to print double-sided copies and switching the settings on desktop monitors to implementing innovative structural changes that reduce cooling needs in our data center.

We are justifiably proud of our employee’s interest and ambition in pursuing green initiatives and practices. Since the program’s beginnings, there have been literally dozens of new ideas from employees suggesting greener business practices. We have also earned recognition for our efforts, including a Green Plus Certification from the Institute for Sustainable Development in North Carolina, which works with several other prestigious institutions.

At this point, another CEO or senior manager might say, “This is all well and good, but how do you sell the green company idea to a board of directors, your owners or shareholders?”

The answer is simple. Like every other business decision we make, we look at the bottom line. What does the cost-benefit analysis tell you?

In the case of NCCI’s green initiative, we’ve realized some remarkable savings. For example, our paper costs were reduced by 27 percent in a single year. And more impressively, we’ve been able to realize an annual savings of $125,000 in energy costs to improve our bottom line.

In the end, embracing social responsibility and encouraging environmental awareness has brought our company numerous rewards — both fiscal and personal. There are tangible business savings that come from meeting our need to act responsibly and in an environmentally friendly manner. Moreover, this encourages our entire staff to renew its commitment to finding and suggesting further green initiatives that can be successfully implemented.

Stephen J. Klingel was appointed president and CEO of NCCI Holdings Inc. in 2002. Before joining NCCI, he was a leader with the St. Paul Cos. for more than 25 years.

Published in Florida

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

Published in Cleveland

When Mark Leuenberger was considering integrating GPS technology into part of Cox Enterprises Inc.’s 13,000-vehicle fleet a few years ago, he was looking at it from a customer service improvement standpoint. But in doing so, he discovered a way for the fleet to be more environmentally friendly, as well.

“As part of collecting that data, we monitored idle time, and that’s really where it came up, and we had a real opportunity to reduce our carbon output and create a fairly large green initiative with that,” says Leuenberger, assistant vice president of supply chain services and fleet management.

He saw that many of the drivers were idle more than they were driving, so they implemented GPS technology into 5,000 vehicles that sends alerts when the vehicle has idled too long and shuts it down. This encourages employees to finish paperwork up in the home instead of in the vehicle. They also implemented a new routing system that leads the trucks on tighter routes, which reduces the mileage and the amount of time the vehicles are on the road.

“Telling your techs where to go next and how to get there really has an impact on our green initiatives,” he says.

As a result of these initiatives, the drivers were able to reduce idle periods by as much as 84 percent, depending on the market. The new routing system reduced mileage by about 15 percent. On top of these reductions, Cox was able to reduce its fuel consumption about 8 percent, and it has reduced the overall fleet size by about 400 vehicles over the past few years, because not as many were needed anymore as a result of the efficiencies created.

One of the biggest things he says you have to keep in mind when rolling out new green initiatives is communication.

“Start communicating long before you implement the initiative,” Leuenberger says. “Prepare people for its coming and the why component of that communication is extremely important. You definitely want to lay out that this is going to be advantageous to you.”

For Cox employees, the changes gave them the ability to perform more work, which meant more money in their pockets. Additionally, it was simply the right thing to do.

While these are great reasons to make the changes, he says it also comes down to costs.

“It has a positive impact on vehicle repair costs and vehicle wear and tear,” Leuenberger says. “All that behavioral changing, all that doesn’t just save us the amount of fuel we burn. It has impacts in all these different areas, so you really want to communicate all the different areas of the job or the company where it has a positive impact.”

He says if you want to make green changes, you have to look at what the cost and return is.

“The biggest challenge is financial,” Leuenberger says. “You’re obviously not going to put in big components that have a negative impact.”

Another big key to implementing a greener fleet also comes down to leading by example. Cox has one of the largest executive fleets in the country with more than 600 vehicles and quite a few more on a cash allowance for driving their own vehicle. All of the cars in the company fleet must meet a minimum of 27 miles per gallon.

He says, “The company cars that are driven by everybody from our chairman all the way down to direct levels are fuel-efficient vehicles.”

How to reach: Cox Enterprises Inc., www.coxenterprises.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

Published in Atlanta

It’s all about the green at Frito-Lay North America Inc., but in this case, it’s not just money we’re talking. Instead, the snack-food company has taken green to its company fleet and made efforts to make those trucks and its delivery processes more environmentally friendly.

One of the biggest initiatives that they’ve implemented is electric delivery trucks, but they look at many different ideas when deciding what’s best for their fleet.

“[We] figure out what applications really deliver the best results, and we call those out and find the best of the best initiatives and pilot those and implement them into our fleets,” says Mike McConnell, the company’s director of fleet capability.

Pilot programs are critical to figuring out what works for your organization. McConnell suggests first looking at whether an idea meets guidelines from SAE International, a global association of more than 128,000 engineers and related technical experts in the aerospace, automotive and commercial vehicle industries. The organization focuses on lifelong learning and voluntary consensus standards development.

Then look at what works best with the routes your trucks take. So if your trucks do a lot of highway miles at high speeds, aerodynamic products are likely the best options. But on the other end, if they’re in the city mostly and do a lot of starting and stopping, the electric vehicles are good solutions. You may need to employ a combination of efforts depending on the different fleets you have.

“What we’ve learned is there is not one size that fits all to improve the fuel economy and sustainability of a fleet,” McConnell says.

It’s also important that you make you sure you test any initiative you want to implement. McConnell says Frito-Lay pilots its programs before rolling them out.

“The suppliers will all give you data, but their data could be skewed depending who they tested it with and how the truck was used, so we like to do our own in-house testing and we do a lot of that,” he says.

His pilot launch for the electric vehicles included 21 trucks in Canada, Texas, New York and Ohio. When doing a pilot program, it’s important to be rooted in data.

“We know cost of maintenance, cost of fuel, cost per mile — we have a lot of benchmarking and internal scorecards,” he says. “On any project, we’ll look at what those key performance indicators are and say, ‘OK, what are we looking for, what are the thresholds for this being feasible or not,’ and we’ll monitor that.”

Lastly, you have to look at how much payback you’ll get in terms of environmental impact and return on investment compared to how many dollars you invest.

“What we found is in the past, there have been tradeoffs where you have to spend money and not get a big return,” McConnell says. “We really have to be able to find win-win situations where we can make a significant improvement in our environmental footprint while actually getting great payback on the investment associated with the technology.”

For example, they looked at hybrid technology, and while many companies are investing heavily in that arena, it didn’t make sense for Frito-Lay because their drivers are stopped a lot when they’re in selling and delivering to customers.

For Frito-Lay, the biggest initiative that can deliver on both is electric vehicles for routes that are 100 miles or less. While there is an increased ticket price for the vehicles themselves, they can eliminate all the fossil fuel associated with the vehicle, and then the cost difference between electricity and diesel creates a significant pay back on that investment — the company reduced its fuel consumption by 8 percent and grew the business.

McConnell says, “It’s a pretty significant impact if you think about it, especially with the volatility of fuel prices now a days.”

HOW TO REACH: Frito-Lay North America Inc., (800) 352-4477 or www.fritolay.com

Find plan that fits you

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, www.edf.org/greenfleet

Published in Dallas