Can your vehicles pull their weight but pollute less?

Kristian Dando
Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The print trade has made leaps and bounds in cleaning up its act over the past decade or so, but it's an industry that is reliant on having to move large quantities of goods via road around the UK and beyond on a daily basis.

With petrol and diesel getting more expensive, and very little sign of the merciless price rises slowing down, it means that the cost of transporting goods is on a similarly unstoppable upwards curve — and greater costs potentially mean higher prices for customers.

Or do they? After all, necessity has always been the mother of invention and with margins being squeezed across the board, printers and other companies attached to the trade are having to come up with new ways to cut costs and get greener, too.

And as every business owner worth his or her salt knows, there are benefits to being greener aside from the purely altruistic. Efficiency and a healthy bottom line go hand in hand, and clients are demanding that their printers can make a strong and watertight case when it comes to their green credentials.

But, as Morrissey almost once said, some firms are bigger than others, and what might work for a large-volume magazine printer, that needs to transport many tonnes at a time, might not work for small outfit occupying a small unit on an industrial estate with a single van.

We’ve taken a closer look at some of the transportation options that could help your business get greener and leaner, and weighed up some of the pros and cons thereof. Of course, no single measure will be a panacea for your goods transportation situation, but they’re all options worth exploring. Fasten your seatbelts...

Tripping the light van-tastic
Electrically powered vehicles are one option for the trade, particularly companies that are dealing in smaller volumes of goods in a highly localised area. Electric fuel-cell technology is in its relative infancy and it isn’t at a level where printers could conceivably replace their entire petrol or diesel fleet with electrically-powered models, while the savings at the pumps will be offset by increases in your business’s electricity bills.

However, Benford UV, a small Buckinghamshire company which supplies ultraviolet dryers to printers, integrated a battery-powered Citroen Berlingo Electrique into its own fleet several years ago. Adopted by the French postal service, it is powered by a 162V cell and only has one forward gear.

"It’s used mainly for local stuff — but those sort of journeys are the ones that incur the most expense, so it comes into its own," says Benford UV sales and marketing manager Ron Ryan.

How far the Citroen Berlingo Electrique can go is dependent very much on how it’s driven — at 60mph, you’ll be lucky to get 30 miles out of it before it needs its constitutional six-hour charge, although at a typical urban cruising speed of 20–30mph, there is much higher yield, around 60 miles, a figure which the team at Benford UV says is about typical for the van.

The Berlingo Electrique has since been discontinued by Citroen — in many ways, it was a bit ahead of its own time — but with battery-powered cars like the Nissan Leaf becoming a more common sight, particularly on urban roads, don’t be surprised if the battery-powered van stages a major comeback.

Pros It’s a modern, PR-friendly and relatively clean and quiet way of getting print, gear and materials around on local journeys... just don’t take it on to the dual carriageway.

Cons No good for long hauls, difficult to come by on the secondhand market, and are they really that green? After all, the electricity that you’ve topped up overnight has probably come from a non-renewable source anyway. It’s easy to get caught short on fill-ups, too. Charging stations are few and far between compared to bog-standard garage forecourts, so, unless routes are well planned, you’re more likely to get caught with an empty tank.

Hybrid theory
While no major motor manufacturer offers a hybrid van direct from the showrooms in the UK yet, there’s always the option of retrofitting your current fleet to run on an electric and petrol or diesel hybrid motor. In fact, you may have already used the services of a hybrid van without even realising it — the Royal Mail has been using vehicles kitted out with fuel-cell motors to run alongside their standard combustion powerplants for some time.

It’s easier and quicker than you might think, too. Ashwoods, a firm which specialises in retrofitting existing vehicles and selling new, modified Ford Transits with efficient hybrid motors, claims it can get a van fitted with a fuel cell in just three hours.

However, by the company’s own admission, because of the way the technology works, it may not be the right choice for vehicles that spend most of their time on the motorway. But, as with fully electric vans, the vehicles really shine on short, urban journeys when cars are at their least efficient.

Pros Hi-tech, quicker than you might think to install; a winner with clients.

Cons Relatively expensive (unless you’re in the public sector, that is, where grants are available to convert vehicles), not as green as you’d think on long motorway hauls. Also, it won’t be as easy - or indeed, cheap - to fix as a standard, diesel-guzzling van in the event of it throwing a mechanical wobbly.

Rubber soul Of course, retrofitting your fleet doesn’t have to extend to dropping in dual-fuel engines - you could simply kit your vans out with better tyres. The Campaign for Better Tyres reckons that fleet managers could also cut vehicles’ CO2 emissions by up to 10%, reduce rolling noise by almost half, improve wet weather braking and handling, and reduce stopping distance by as much as 18m, simply by switching to a better brand of rubber. From November this year, it’ll be easier than ever to tell how your tyres perform, too, with new EU legislation making all tyre vendors display fuel efficiency, noise and safety figures at point of sale.

Pros It’s easy, relatively cheap when compared to more hi-tech ideas and can deliver surprisingly substantial savings.

Cons More efficient tyres will, unfortunately, cost more to buy in the first place. But if they wear better, make fuel go further and make your vans safer, is it a small price to pay?

Get a good rep
Sales forces need transport too, and making sure that your on-road team are keeping overheads to a minimum and are doing the most mileage for your buck is more important than ever.

The Toyota Prius, beloved of socially conscious celebs like Leonardo di Caprio and Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David might seem greener but, in reality, efficiency-focussed diesel repmobiles like Volkswagen’s Passat Bluemotion, Vauxhall’s Insignia Ecoflex and Ford’s Mondeo Econetic offer better economy and emissions than their heavy hybrid rivals (those electric cells are particularly weighty pieces of kit). This is thanks to minor tweaks to aerodynamics, weight-saving measures, fuel-efficient tyres and engine mapping, all offering enviable MPGs.

The less carbon they produce, the less vehicle excise duty you’ll have to pay, too.

Pros Cleaner, greener and more efficient transport for your reps. Cheaper to tax and run. What’s not to love?

Cons Some of your sales force might be unimpressed at the dip in performance compared to standard models.

Economy drive
One of the easiest ways to achieve more efficient deliveries is to get your drivers taking to the road in a more fuel-conscious way.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, which runs a specialist course tailor-made for van and HGV drivers, reckons that changing drivers’ behaviour to be more efficiency minded can make at least a 10% reduction in the amount of fuel that your business uses, money that goes straight back on to your bottom line.

The thing is, how can you make sure that your fleet drivers are adhering to your measures when they’re out on the road? Well, GPS tracking devices can monitor how and where your fleet are driving, so you can be sure that your drivers aren’t taking liberties with fuel and wear and tear on your vehicles. But even these are fallible – illegal jammers are surprisingly easy to obtain, and will help drivers cover up what they’ve been up to.

South Wales based magazine printer Stephens & George is one company that keeps an eye on its drivers.

"We have a monitoring system in place that allows us to remotely check where our vehicles are 24/7 and how they’re being driven," explains Stephens & George spokesman Ben Powell. "Drivers are given regular updates on their personal performance. This also acts as a security measure, and we are able to track how deliveries are progressing."

You could even go as far as putting speed limiters on your vehicles, making sure that they don’t go over the optimum efficiency zone. Simply setting a limiter to kick in 5mph below the 70mph limit can reduce fuel consumption by 10%.

Pros Getting your drivers to take to the road in a more economical way doesn’t cost a penny, and can deliver real, tangible savings in fuel spending, not to mention wear and tear on your vehicles. And if getting them to drive more efficiently of their own accord isn’t successful, you can always put limiters on your vehicles.

Cons Once you’ve got your drivers up to speed (or not, in this case) on driving economically, it can be tough to get them to stick to the new style, without resorting to draconian measures. After all, when the pressure’s on to make that last delivery of the day on time, it can be difficult to keep the revs to a minimum. And, as we all know, bad driving habits can be difficult to shed.

Let’s work together
Service Graphics, part of the St Ives Group, prints everything from large-scale building wraps and window dressings to menus for Marks & Spencers’ cafes. It managed to cut its fleet of vans by a third, thanks to working with logistics companies and local installation companies as part of a wider programme of efficiency-boosting measures. Using third-party delivery services has helped cut costs and boost revenues, and ensured that customers are getting the same-day service many of them demand.

However, with most printers, outsourcing delivery or using their own fleet is very much a ‘horses for courses’ matter, as Stephens & George’s Powell explains. "Depending on the requirements of the delivery we will utilise third-party companies to undertake multi-drops. We keep the in-house option for priority deliveries."

Pros Using partners and third party logistics companies can help drastically reduce your own fleet, and can take some of the headache of delivering print away.

Cons The delivery is taken out of your hands and into those of a third party - can you definitely trust somebody else to make good on your promises to your customers? Confidence in your partners is absolutely essential.


Top tips for driving more efficiently

  • Plan journeys in advance, and steer well clear of notoriously congested areas and routes. Keep an ear peeled for traffic updates on the radio, or for updates from HQ.
  • Avoid cold starts, and drive away as soon as you can after the engine starts.
  • Keep the throttle smooth and steady, avoiding harsh, rev-heavy acceleration and lead-footed braking wherever you can.
  • Slow down. You’d be amazed at what shaving 5mph off your average speed can achieve.
  • If your van doesn’t enjoy the benefit of new-fangled ‘stop start’ technology, think about shutting the engine off altogether if you’re stationery in traffic, and it doesn’t look like moving in a hurry (providing, that is, it’s safe to do so).
  • Shed some unnecessary pounds. While it’s important to make best use of your van’s space and getting the most value out of journeys, don’t overload, and make sure stuff like roof racks are removed when they’re not being used. We’d probably stop short of advising that you suggest your drivers start dieting, to avoid offending their doubtless delicate sensibilities.
  • Make sure that your tyres are pumped up to the correct pressure. Any more or less and you’ll be wasting fuel.
  • Keep your vans well maintained and regularly serviced - this will ensure that they’re running at tip-top efficiency.
  • Hands off the air-conditioning - it’s a massive drain on a van’s economy, even if it ensures that your drivers aren’t working up a sweat on those hot summer days.

Red lorry, yellow lorry... green lorry?

Lorries are inherently not the most aerodynamic of shapes, but the new breed of ‘teardrop’ trailers are getting sleeker than ever - less drag, scuttle and shake means that they consume less fuel than their boxy forefathers, and they look much prettier than your bog standard artic, too. Virgin and Kingsmill are just two major
companies that have added these sorts of trailers to their fleets so far.

But more efficient transport by heavy goods vehicle isn’t just limited to aerodynamics. Vast 60-tonne lorries - a common sight on Scandanavian roads - capable of carrying far more goods than the largest trucks that are currently permitted on UK roads could soon be allowed, which could go some way to reducing the number of lorries on the highways.

At present, UK lorries can take up to 44 tonnes and be 54ft 1inch in length. The newer ‘super lorries’ would be permitted to be as long as 82ft 10in. Jack Semple, of the Road Haulage Association, believes "longer and heavier vehicles are more sensible", but they’ve faced some criticism from road safety groups and green organisations alike.

Meanwhile, in Sweden and Finland, the haulage industry has been lobbying for the legalisation of whopping 90-tonne lorries - probably a step to far for Britain’s bijou B roads.

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