What do you think of when you hear discussions of sustainability? Recycling? Alternate forms of power? Going vegan? More cycling and walking and less driving? With spring approaching and another Earth Day next month, you can’t help but think of better ways to take care of the planet and its occupants, present and future. Where do you begin?
In Clearwater, Fla., vehicular traffic is responsible for 38% of citywide emissions. Not comfortable with that statistic, the city of Clearwater decided in August 2021 to adopt a policy aimed at converting 100% of municipal vehicles to alternative fuels by 2040, known as the Green Fleet Policy.
Sheridan Boyle is Clearwater’s first sustainability coordinator, hired in 2019. When asked what was involved in the planning of the GFP, she replied, “We relied heavily on nonprofit partners such as the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Electrification Coalition to increase our knowledge of green fleet planning and gain access to policies from other municipalities. The city also examined the success that the cities of Orlando, Winter Park and Largo have had with incorporating hybrid and electric vehicles into their fleets. A fleet policy from the city of Charlotte, N.C., was used as a model policy for Clearwater’s green fleet policy.”
Boyle added, “The desire to shift to a green fleet came about from city staff finding alignment in their goals and pushing forward in creating a policy. The city’s fleet manager has known the industry’s transition to hybrid and electric vehicles was only a matter of time. He looked forward to embracing the new technologies and the maintenance benefits both types of vehicles would bring to his staff. After completing a community-wide greenhouse gas inventory, the city’s sustainability coordinator knew that fuel for transportation is a leading source of emissions in Clearwater, and it has only increased in recent years. Transitioning the city’s fleet to low-carbon fuels would be essential to reducing the city’s personal carbon footprint while enabling the city to serve as a model for residents and businesses. City management also identified Clearwater’s fleet transition as an important task to remain competitive with neighboring municipalities. After discussing the mutual benefits, a green fleet policy was created to solidify the city’s intention. The green fleet policy directed the city to form a committee to assist departments with planning for this transition.”
Much discussion is needed when beginning — defining the situation, brainstorming for methods to implement change, prioritizing the plan, budgeting and more; the staff was eager to begin.
Boyle explained, “In order to demonstrate our commitment to the public and establish a goal to journey towards, the city wanted to create a target year to complete its fleet transition. After discussion among staff, we decided to focus solely on our light-duty vehicles (which we define as anything smaller than a three-fourths of a ton truck) due to the lack of availability of alternatively fueled heavy-duty vehicles at this time.
“By cross-examining the city’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goals and what would be practical based on the city’s vehicle replacement rate, a goal was created to transition 100% of our light-duty vehicles to alternative fuels by 2040. To help us meet that end goal, a second target was created that commits the city to purchase only alternative-fueled light-duty vehicles by 2028. Both commitments were then included in the green fleet policy.”
Such a large undertaking requires the experience and opinions of other departments, as well, and Boyle was prepared for their contributions. “In addition to making sure both our sustainability and fleet division guided the transition, we also needed guidance from both our finance department and city departments that work primarily in the field, requiring them to have dependable and sometimes operationally-specific vehicles. It was critical to hear the concerns and requirements of those later departments to determine if hybrid or electric-hybrid vehicles would best suit the needs of that department until more fully electric vehicles are available on the market.
“We are currently adding several hybrid vehicles to our police department each year. Hybrids are a great tool to help meet our emission reduction goals for specific departments that require a continuity of service at all time — while we eagerly await more technological development and options from the electric vehicle industry to meet the needs of those departments.
“That being said, charging stations are essential to have in order to incorporate electric vehicles into a fleet. Identifying the locations that our vehicles stay overnight assists the planning for charging station hubs. We are currently working with a vendor to include multiple level two charging stations in garages that house many of our fleet vehicles.”
As with so many other areas and businesses, the pandemic slowed many aspects of the GFP down. Boyle said, “We have definitely felt the impact of the changes that have occurred with supply and delivery. Thankfully, our fleet manager anticipated delays from the pandemic and brought our new vehicle request to our city council for approval earlier than usual. However, even with ordering early, we have still experienced a delay in receiving vehicles and parts. We speculate that some of this delay is due to the microchip shortage that hit the industry hard in 2021. Thankfully, we are starting to receive some of the vehicles that have been delayed. However, we expect vehicle procurement in 2022 will be affected as well.”
And, as expected, costs and upkeep/maintenance had to be considered. Boyle assured, “We will be replacing vehicles as needed. So much of the funding for these new vehicles will already be allocated. Furthermore, in recent years, we have seen the price of alternatively fueled vehicles become more and more comparable to that of internal combustion vehicles.
“However, we are also investigating more creative purchasing mechanisms such as leasing — a practice we have seen a few Florida municipalities have success with. Leasing electric vehicles through specific third-party vendors can allow a municipality to pass along the price reduction that comes from the federal EV tax credit — something a municipality cannot benefit from by purchasing these vehicles outright. In some of the cases we have seen, participating in a lease-to-own agreement of EVs can enable the acquisition of two to three vehicles for the price of one. We hope this difference will enable the city to use the additional funds to purchase more electric vehicle charging stations.”
Though the 100% goal is set for 2040, Boyle explained, “While planning is essential to meeting our end goal, we also recognize the need to remain flexible. The electric vehicle industry is rapidly developing — with more types of vehicles and greater battery capacity every year. Because of this, it has been difficult to plan too far into the future without knowing what vehicles will be available, what their battery capacity will look like and how quickly they may be able to charge. As a result, we will be developing specific plans for the immediate five years and looser, guiding plans thereafter. We will need to be constantly aware of the latest developments in electric vehicles and their charging stations throughout the next decade.
Boyle continued, “Incorporating alternatively fueled vehicles into a fleet is just one method of reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with transportation and there are additional practices organizations can implement to make an impact.”
In addition to directing departments to acquire alternative-fueled vehicles and electric vehicle charging stations, Clearwater’s green fleet policy prioritizes vehicle sharing among departments as well as the rightsizing of vehicles. Rightsizing refers to a fleet management practice that ensures vehicles are utilized by the right employees, at the right times, in the right locations, for the right amount of time based on the job tasks associated with use of the vehicles. In simpler terms, the fleet refrains from using a fuel-intensive vehicle when a more efficient vehicle could perform the same function.
“The policy also directs departments to submit an annual report to include aspects such as the gallons of petroleum-based fuels they have reduced during the current year as opposed to the last,” Boyle said.
Electric vehicles are by no means the only way to reduce environmental impact, although they are certainly a very important method. It’s to be hoped that wherever an individual or city begins in their determination to live more sustainably than in years, even decades, past, one step will lead to another and then to another — a snowball effect — even though snow is hardly likely in Clearwater.