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Plan green Featured

2:33pm EDT February 22, 2011
Jerome Webber, vice president of fleet operations, AT&T Jerome Webber, vice president of fleet operations, AT&T

Jerome Webber approached the effort to green the vehicle fleet at AT&T Inc. just as he would any other business initiative.

“You have to learn before you leap,” says Webber, vice president of fleet operations in St. Louis for the Dallas-based telecommunications company. “If you have a simple fleet and all it is is several hundred passenger cars, then it’s probably pretty simple. But for most of the large commercial fleets, most of them have a somewhat diverse fleet that spans across the nation. Learn what works best for your fleet.”

AT&T began with a pilot project in 2008, placing about 100 alternative fuel vehicles in different departments and different locations across the company. The effort gained some traction and received a commitment from Chairman, President and CEO Randall Stephenson to spend about $565 million over the next 10 years to green the rest of the company’s fleet of nearly 76,000 vehicles.

“The commitment came from the top,” Webber says. “We did our work making sure our key stakeholders understood the success of the pilot we did in 2008.”

The lesson is that even with a project that attracts attention like an effort to go green, you have to take a methodical approach and look at how to properly and successfully incorporate it into your organization.

“It’s good to have some guiding principles,” Webber says. “Understand what it is that you are trying to do. Whatever it is you’re trying to do, you need to make sure you stay on task with driving your activities toward that particular set of guiding principles.”

Take the time to talk to your people and study the numbers so that you can come up with a plan that everybody feels good about and addresses any concerns that may exist.

“Give them a, ‘What’s in it for me?’” Webber says. “We have to make sure we connect the dots for them. How does this work for them? What impact does it have for them? We spend some time always making sure we educate them as to the effect it has on the overall business of AT&T.”

For AT&T, Webber focused on the savings that could be accrued through better fuel efficiency.

“A lot of the technologies we’re deploying have anywhere from a 30 percent to 50 percent impact on their operating costs,” Webber says. “That’s huge for a lot of these department heads that want to understand what does it do for them other than just say, ‘AT&T is greening their fleet.’”

But he also used the program to encourage employees in the company to alter the way they drive when they’re out on the road.

“We kicked off in 2008 a national anti-idling program that basically says, ‘Don’t idle,’” Webber says. “Employees that hear those kinds of things and see that a company of our size and stature is taking those kinds of steps to ensure that we are doing the right things from the standpoint of sustainability, they buy in to that.”

It’s OK to toot your own horn and talk about the good things that your company is doing when that helps boost your image with the general public.

“Customers want to know that they are dealing with a responsible and conscientious company,” Webber says. “When our vehicles are riding up and down the street, they are moving billboards. There’s a lot of people that get a chance to see that.”

In order to take advantage of these opportunities, you need to start with a plan.

“Just make sure people understand what you’re doing, what it’s about and how you’re going about it,” Webber says. “Your employees are one of your greatest assets to make this happen.”

How to reach: AT&T Inc., www.att.com

Find a 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, a nonprofit organization that 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 of 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.