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Plans that pay

TORONTO, Ont. - The best laid energy conservation plans can blow up in your face if they aren't properly communicated.


TORONTO, Ont. –The best laid energy conservation plans can blow up in your face if they aren’t properly communicated.

Brian Death, vice-president of human resources administration with J. D. Smith and Sons knows this all too well. His company, in its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and lower energy costs, has accomplished some remarkable feats, which have earned it a Transport Canada Green Supply Chain award.

However, there have been some missteps along the way, he admitted during the SmartWay Transport Partnership’s Same Roads…New Challenges conference. One of the company’s green initiatives involved using onboard computers and scorecards to track drivers’ fuel efficiency.

“We hadn’t really talked to the guys about the scorecard and we had a major, major kerfuffle over this,” admitted Death. “It basically blew up and we threw it away. The lesson there was to consult with the community you’re measuring.”

Employee pushback

The company encountered similar resistance when pursuing other projects as well, including one that involved upgrading the heaters at its warehouse to lower the cost of heating for the eight hours per day the facility was not in use. An employee committee voiced concerns that working conditions would suffer if temperatures were decreased.

“We didn’t do a good job communicating what was happening and that we were really looking to make the biggest gain when they were home sleeping,” said Death.

Despite those early miscues, Death said the staff at J. D. Smith and Sons has come to appreciate the company’s environmental initiatives. They took great pride in the award and the company is now enjoying significant savings thanks to three energy management plans that were implemented at its facilities.

In one, the heating system at a warehouse was upgraded with a programmable thermostat to reduce the temperature during nonworking hours. The program cost $18,000 to implement and delivered $27,000 in savings the first year for an eight-month payback.

The second project implemented by J. D. Smith and Sons was the conversion of high-pressure sodium light bulbs in its warehouse to the more energy-efficient fluorescent variety. The project cost $197,000 to implement and now delivers annual savings of $74,000 per year for a 2.6-year payback.

Most recently, the company used those savings to fund upgrades to the heating system at its head office which also houses a six-bay garage.

It’s too early to pin down an ROI for that project, but Death said the company expects to reduce its $90,000 per year natural gas bill by 60%. Death said the key to successfully rolling out a green plan of any type is to “involve your employees early and often at every level. We learned that lesson the hard way.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Ellen Knickle, business improvement manager with RST Industries, a specialized transportation company that operates under the Irving umbrella. When pressed to reduce the fleet’s fuel costs, management decided it had no choice but to raise its owner/operator fuel cap.

“We had not increased the fuel cap in seven years and we determined we had to look at that,” explained Knickle. “That was the biggest change and the biggest risk that the project identified. We had some long, hard discussions to talk about whether we could afford to do that. Yes, it was going to decrease our costs but would we lose drivers as a result?”

RST decided to announce the fuel cap increase to owner/operators face-to-face, and the company’s general manager attended all but one of the regional meetings in person to take the heat.

“We wanted to be able to address questions up front and face-to-face,” said Knickle. “The critical factor, we felt, was that everyone gets the same message at the same time.”

It was a bold move, but Knickle said the company felt it was necessary in order to bring the importance of fuel management into the spotlight.

“We thought long and hard about incentives,” she said. “But we felt that it would be very difficult to manage because there are a lot of variables that will impact MPG. So we took a bit of a hard-ass stance and said we’re going to offer a disincentive to really get their attention.”

In addition, the fleet worked with its company drivers and owner/operators to improve their fuel mileage. Company trucks were governed at 60 mph, Tadger devices were installed on the fuel lines and driver scorecards that determine a driver’s bonus were revised to place more emphasis on fuel economy.

For owner/operators, RST: paid for Tadger devices; invited engine manufacturers to meet with O/Os to discuss maximizing their engines’ efficiency; and downloaded and discussed engine data to see where driving behaviour could be improved for better fuel efficiency.

The company also added a new line to its owner/operator pay statements, which shows year-to-date fuel purchased, fuel consumed, MPG and fuel as a percentage of revenue.

“We felt information is power, we wanted to ensure our owner/operators had the data at their fingertips,” Knickle explained.

RST’s fuel management program was rolled out in July. During the first two months, the company says it saved $147,094 in fuel. Fuel mileage has improved modestly as well: 0.1 MPG for triaxles; 0.16 MPG B-train; and 0.51 MPG on quads.

“Our MPG is not where we want it to be yet,” Knickle admitted. “We have a ways to go and we’re still working on that.”

90% People-ology

Jean-Pierre Rabbath, director of energy efficiency for SGT 2000, took a philosophical approach to fuel economy.

“We’re in the business of converting litres into kilometres,” he reasoned.

Since there can be a 30% fuel mileage gap between a fleet’s best and worst drivers, SGT 2000’s fuel mileage program consisted of “10% technology and 90% people-ology,” Rabbath explained. The fleet slowed its trucks to 98 km/h in 1993 and installed cab heaters for warmth.

It also began to track and monitor its drivers’ fuel mileage while preaching an anti-idling philosophy. SGT 2000 has instilled a corporate culture of environmental awareness, and has developed an “Idle Trail” in its community where it plants four trees for every employee.

Rabbath said the keys to successfully implementing a fuel management plan was to get buy-in from the top, right on down to the company’s 300 drivers.

“As far as I’m concerned, we have 300 buyers of fuel and 300 fuel managers,” he said.

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‘As far as I’m concerned, we have 300 buyers of fuel and 300 fuel managers.’

Jean-Pierre Rabbath


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