Director of Global Fleet Services, Ecolab
Congratulations! We were delighted when we learned that you had been selected as one of NAFA’s Sustainable Fleet Award winners. Tell us about the substance of the award.
NAFA’s Sustainability Award is a very important achievement for Ecolab because it recognizes our efforts to develop an innovative and effective program for our fleet. We are proud to accept this award and recognition.
Sustainability principles are core to Ecolab’s business operations and to what we provide our customers. In 2008, we developed a comprehensive fleet sustainability initiative aimed at not only reducing our greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), but also improving overall fleet operations by adopting eco-driving practices and focusing on safety. We anticipated additional benefits including improved driver awareness and performance, a reduction in energy costs and protection against energy price shocks in the future. We also felt it would help our customers see us as a responsible and forward-looking corporate citizen.
What were the steps Ecolab took to develop the sustainability program?
In 2009, Ecolab’s leadership council committed to reduce U.S. operational greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent per dollar sales by 2012 from a base year of 2006. Ecolab chose to report greenhouse gas emissions reduction performance via an intensity measure, based on Net U.S. Sales ($M). This approach allows the company to continue to grow, yet remain focused on energy efficiency. We launched a comprehensive fleet sustainability program, establishing a project charter and assembling a cross-functional team from the thirteen operational divisions, environmental health and safety, the fleet leasing supplier and corporate communications. Since 2008, the team has incorporated sustainability principles into a revised fleet policy, changed vehicle models, measured and managed the fleet sustainability program to meet business and sustainability goals. Drivers at all levels of the company also participate in surveys, eco-driver awareness and safety training, and continuous feedback via a fleet web portal. We also provided tools for each business to forecast and determine how to optimize their fleet to improve their results.
Ecolab’s U.S. fleet has more than 7,000 vehicles including cargo vans and trucks specifically upfitted to carry product, parts and deliver services to customers, as well as passenger vans, small utility vehicles and sedans delivering parts, sales and service to clients.
Our plans included right-sizing the fleet and redefining vehicle business requirements. We revised fleet policies to acquire more fuel efficient vehicles, focusing on procuring EPA-certified SmartWay vehicles. Then we moved from large to intermediate, to small vehicles; from 8- to 6-, to 4-cylinder engines in fleet vehicles. We selectively added hybrid vehicle choices to the fleet and continued acquiring flex fuel trucks and vans. We added diesel vehicles to the service fleet where size and cargo capacity was difficult to compromise. We piloted vehicle changes 6 months to a year, prior to full roll out of changes for a business.
We also changed designs moving from all steel upfitting to lighter weight aluminum and composite materials in most service vehicle applications. We changed service supervisor trucks to smaller, 4-cylinder utility vehicles. All 4-wheel drive vehicles were replaced by front wheel drive 4-cylinder vehicles except for positions frequently driving in mountainous terrain.
We leveraged the GPS results from one of our divisions, using their best practices to engage other divisions in enhancing route management, reducing idle time and expanding service to clients.
The Eco-driver training provided lessons for collision-free, environmentally-responsible driving. Drivers learned that controlling speed, anticipating traffic and accelerating and decelerating smoothly really do save fuel. Safer and smarter driving habits helped reduce Ecolab’s collision rate per million miles driven last year by 10 percent from 2006.
What effect has Ecolab’s sustainability policies had on its operating units in the U.S. and internationally?
Since 2006 this program has enabled our U.S. fleet to achieve:
- A 22 percent reduction in GHG emissions, normalized to sales
- An 18 percent improvement in average miles per gallon (MPG) per vehicle
- A 12 percent absolute reduction in GHG emissions
- An eight percent reduction in fuel consumed (1.4 million gallons) while the number of vehicles grew one percent and total miles driven increased nearly nine percent.
Our program not only reduced U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, it also decreased our dependency on petroleum-based fuels by improving fleet miles per gallon 18 percent to-date. Based on 2011 fuel prices, we avoided $3.1 million in fuel costs last year.
We took what we learned in the U.S. and in 2010 implemented fleet sustainability plans and policies in other regions of the world. We expect to achieve a 15% reduction in GHG emissions in those areas by 2015.
No wonder you got the award!
I am really proud of not just my team which is the administration, the management, and the procurement side, but the business units. A couple of businesses that really stand out in my mind are the early adaptors….our pest elimination division with progressive leadership. I am proud of their ability and willingness to change vehicle requirements to reduce fuel and embrace route management. Another business, equipment care, changed from 1 ton to ½ ton cargo vans and moved to diesel engines. Those changes have had a huge impact lowering fuel consumption in those businesses. Some of the changes have made them even more successful, giving them the ability to expand and service more customers, with the same size fleet. It has been great.
What do you think it is within you that has made you so successful? What is that drive?
I am a continuous learner, and like to apply what I learn to each assignment. I have had the opportunity to facilitate change in fleet operations for several different companies in the Midwest, the West Coast, East Coast and back. And I’ve even been able to have a career that spans from a small fleet to a large fleet, to a trucking, light duty and government fleet. All of these fleets were very complicated with a variety of vehicles and upfitting. I am really fortunate right now to be in a role, where we merged with another 4.5 billion dollar company, and our fleet in the global environment is almost doubling over night. I get energized, by these kinds of new challenges. It is never the same in the industry we are in. For me, the most rewarding is to collaborate with the businesses and bring value to facilitate a change that will help their business succeed.
How do you like to interact with your suppliers? What do you need from them to make your job easier and to make it clearer what you expect from them?
A collaborative approach is the best, mostly because what I know today may not be as up-to-date as what our suppliers know. I see the world from only my business prospective. They have so much more that they can bring to the table whether it is ideas, cost savings or strategies that they have seen deployed. And there is just a much better relationship when you are able to be upfront, truthful, factual about everything. That is what I expect from a supplier, as well as a professional business relationship. One that brings value to both, but challenges both of us, because what we might be doing today may not be the right approach down the road. I am looking for innovative ideas, looking for suppliers to bring solutions, and be a part of the solution.
Gayle Pratt is director of global fleet services, at Ecolab, headquartered in Saint Paul, MN. Since 2004, she has been responsible for the strategic management, direction, implementation, and oversight of fleet operations in more than 70 countries.
Gayle’s career includes 30 years in transportation and fleet management services in public, private and commercial fleet operations She is an active member of NAFA and has served the Association on the board of trustees for more than a decade.