"Going green" is no longer a fad for historically eco-conscious companies. It has become a key management directive for corporations facing higher costs, regulatory fines and potential customer backlash for being dubbed "polluters." Service organizations - utilities, telcos, home and office computer and equipment suppliers, etc. - with dozens, or even hundreds, of fleet vehicles on the road at any one time should especially be thinking about how to minimize their impact on the environment. It's not just a business decision based on avoiding fines or lowering costs. It's also a customer service and marketing issue. Consumers are increasingly paying attention to corporate citizenship and what companies are doing to become eco-friendly.
Outlined below are five ways companies can improve their green quotient.
1. Reduce fuel consumption - With oil prices hovering near $100 per barrel, this one seems like a no-brainer. But the strategies for burning less gas when driving are varied, and sometimes easily overlooked. Regular engine and tire service is paramount to ensuring vehicles perform efficiently, maximizing gas mileage while minimizing excess exhaust. Replacing a clogged air filter can improve gas mileage by as much as 10 percent, according to www.fueleconomy.gov, a joint project between the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. Reducing aerodynamic drag from things like roof signs or overly bulky side-view mirrors also helps vehicles reach their maximum miles per gallon.
Driver training on how to avoid wasteful gas usage practices and the use of GPS technology are less obvious, but equally effective tactics for reducing fuel consumption. Actively minimizing bad habits such as excessive idling and aggressive driving (speeding, frequent lane changes, excessive braking) can lower gas mileage by as much as 33% at highway speeds.
2. Plan better routes - Planning better routes for field technicians to maximize fuel efficiency starts with managing schedules. That is, greater overall efficiency arises from transforming fuel cost management into overall travel management by ensuring the right people with the right skills are doing the right things at the right time. It's true that companies can reduce total mileage by a few percentage points by minimizing unauthorized trips and helping drivers pick short routes. However, efficiently assigning tasks to mobile workers can reduce travel by as much as 20%.
Location-based services such as street-level routing (SLR) can help companies significantly reduce travel time and increase "wrench time" - time completing jobs. Combined with GPS, SLR not only lets managers know where technicians are throughout the day, it also ensures drivers travel the most efficient distances between jobs. SLR takes into account myriad variables including one-way streets, congested neighborhoods, slow-moving highways, etc. and calculates the optimal route each driver should take - reducing travel time and gas consumption and ensuring on-time arrivals.
3. Avoid multiple visits - Frustration with repeat visits because a job wasn't done right the first time is a fact in the field service industry. But one of the effects, aside from customer frustration, schedule delays and more time on the road, is more gas used to drive back to the job. Consider that if 5% of your tasks aren't completed on the first try, then you've increased travel by 5% and worse, you're completing 5% fewer new jobs.
The problem isn't just about field technician skill or lack of proper tools. It's about schedule management. Corporations need to ensure they're sending the right technician, with the right skills to the right job so the job is done correctly the first time. When you're dealing with hundreds of technicians and countless variables, your best bet is to automate the scheduling with automated decision support software. This will help prevent repeat visits and the resulting additional emissions.
On the other hand, early resolution can minimize the need to roll trucks. Occasionally, customer service issues can be resolved over the phone. By asking just a couple of the questions that cover the most common user-fixable problems (such as "Have you rebooted your computer?"), companies can reduce travel time. Moreover, remote diagnostics that allow companies to query equipment to determine whether it can be fixed remotely or it requires on-site attention also help organizations make smart decisions that can reduce travel.
4. Keep equipment in top shape - Equipment that is not at its best possible maintenance status wastes more energy. First, elevators, air-conditioners and just about anything else should be monitored closely (via remote monitoring if possible) and maintained more effectively to keep their energy usage at the most efficient level.
Electrical utilities managers are all too familiar with the need to keep cables, generators, transformers, etc. operating at maximum efficiency. This not only reduces overall operating emissions, but replacing old infrastructure is also the preventative maintenance that minimizes problems down the road.
5. Reduce unforeseen situations through analysis and planning - Service organizations can also use historical trend analysis, reporting, demand forecasting and planning to minimize unexpected situations that increase travel time. Improper planning can lead to situations where there is too much work for too few technicians, forcing technicians from other regions to be dispatched to the site.
Utilities, home and office computer and equipment suppliers and other service organizations would do well to study historical trends based on variables such as the holidays, seasonal usage, scheduled promotional sales, storm patterns, long-term projects, etc. to accurately determine future demand. They can then ensure managers adequately schedule technicians (based on shift, skill, etc.) to meet that demand. For example, if a utility doesn't have enough staff on hand for a future week of work, it can either relocate staff from another region or negotiate contracts with third-party contractors to ensure the work is completed. Automating demand forecasting and capacity planning helps service organizations match workforce capacity to fluctuating demand, which ultimately reduces unnecessary travel.
Going green requires commitment to eliminating wasteful practices. These five tips are a good starting point for taking a close look at what service organizations can do to burn less gas and minimize their carbon footprint. Doing so cuts costs, elevates productivity, increases revenues and assures customers that their service organization has committed to being a better corporate citizen.
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