Climate change is real for large institutions but it’s not making the case for cost-cutting fleets and consumers

Climate change polar bearWhatever you want to call it – climate science, climate disruption, or global warming – climate change is still coming up all over the map. Institutions of all types – large corporations, government agencies, research centers, and the United Nations – quickly set aside arguments that climate change isn’t happening. Their concern is whether it’s too late to stop devastating weather events, ocean acidification, melting ice caps, and massive losses of natural resources.

Most automakers and other major stakeholders tend to agree with making the case for climate change. Volvo Group renewed its partnership with World Wide Fund supporting its Climate Savers program. Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn says that climate change is one of his company’s primary concerns. Honda has been pleased to announce that it’s further reducing carbon footprint by building a wind farm in Brazil that will produce enough energy to power its car factory in that country. Alternative Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo has made a partnership with Carbon War Room and The North American Council for Freight Efficiency for the Trucking Efficiency joint effort. Thousands of diplomats from around the world are meeting in Lima, Peru to make a United Nations agreement on the long dragged-out debate on implementing its Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Even though ground transportation makes up a big share of greenhouse gas emissions, it’s been a very tough sell to gain green vehicle acquisitions from fleet purchasing managers, truck transportation companies, corporate and government procurement officers, car shoppers, and consumers with influence over what their peers may purchase. Declining gasoline prices recently have had a big impact on retail car buyer decisions dipping on hybrids and electric vehicles. Those pump prices may drop down to $2 per gallon by Christmas-time at some US gas stations. OPEC failing to cut down on oil production should have something to do with dropping gasoline prices.

Fleets are shying away from investing in natural gas vehicles and fueling, and to some extent propane, when they can better contain costs with fuel-efficient internal combustion engine vehicles. Consumers are facing similar challenges – the economic collapse of 2008-2009 is over, but the environment has definitely changed. There are still a lot of layoffs going on, sending kids to college is incredibly expensive, medical coverage hasn’t been turned around yet by Obamacare, and the cost of living can quickly creep up on each month’s bill-paying cycle for many Americans. Making an investment in a new vehicle technology is a tough sell, and the early adopters are done with their fascination with electric vehicles and other alternative powertrains.

So how does one make the case for green vehicle acquisitions in this landscape? Wearing my consultant hat, and being a rabid consumer of news and peer conversations on the topic, here are a few strategies that seem to be working:

  • Make the case for return on investment (ROI). Fleets are finding they can reach payback in about two-to-three years in duty cycles after making the acquisitions; sometimes that happens within a year-and-a-half. After that point, the fleet saves money on that vehicle acquisition through fuel cost savings and sometimes through reducing maintenance costs.
  • Green vehicles support the organization’s sustainability priorities. Many government and corporate employees will tell you impressive stories about their leaderships’ programs designed around handing over a clean environment to future generations. Their fleet vehicles make up a lot of that environmental impact, and today there are many practical and viable options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in transportation.
  • Don’t forget infrastructure. For alternative vehicle technologies to take off, they need a lot more fueling and charging stations out there. That takes a lot of funding and support, but the resources are impressive for those willing to build a network of leaders in the community. Go to your local Clean Cities Coordinator to get the ball rolling.
  • Speak to other reasons besides climate change. While many key stakeholders accept climate change as a given, some don’t and will shut down their attention and support if that’s the cause they’re asked to buy into. When you’re making the case for gaining funding support from your city council, corporate board, investors, or your spouse, also mention other top issues. These days, air quality and health hazards would make top of the list; independence from foreign oil imports still gains support out there (anti-OPEC is still a good one); and a broad sustainability perspective usually works, especially the idea of being responsible for what’s handed over to future generations.
  • Don’t forget economic growth. In this day and age of economic globalization, fast-changing technologies, and industry shutdowns, supporting clean transportation makes more sense. It’s usually part of political lobbying and grant funding applications; but it also goes over well with business leaders looking for growth opportunities as the economic landscape continues to become more of a moving shell game. Job creation, public and private investment, infrastructure development, training and education programs, and technology innovations generally support the case for growth in clean transportation.

One thought on “Climate change is real for large institutions but it’s not making the case for cost-cutting fleets and consumers

  1. What many e-believers (I am also convinced it will happen) don’t seem to see is that electric mobility has many other benefits besides less local CO2 pollution (the life cycle picture is not that positive unless the electricity is produced from wind or sun). One is the possibility to make cars much safer, even fault tolerant (something that can’t be done with a single central engine). Hence, this opens the path towards automated mobility (whereby the safety requirements are much tougher than e.g. in aviation). The cars can also be a lot cheaper to produce (as much simpler). The only issue today is that the batteries still have not enough energy density and they pose a safety hazard. This is not trivial to solve (chemistry!), but we are getting closer.

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