Planet | 01 Jul 2021

Greening the fleet: How Vodafone is driving towards a net zero future

Moving your company car and van fleet away from diesel and petrol isn't easy, but it's a challenge Vodafone is determined to overcome on its way to eliminating all carbon emissions from its operations by 2027.

Craig Login, Vodafone’s Property Contract Manager with responsibility for the company’s fleet of cars and vans, certainly practises what he preaches. As a passionate believer in Vodafone’s ‘net zero’ ambitions, he drives an electric car.

Reaching net zero carbon emissions will necessitate switching the company’s fleet of 1,355 cars and vans to non-fossil fuel energy sources – a big challenge, but one that Craig is taking on with enthusiasm.

“In 2020, 98% of all new cars ordered were either fully electric vehicles (EV) or Plug-in Hybrid Electric (PHEV) vehicles,” says Craig proudly. “Around 60% of the car fleet is now EV or PHEV.”

That’s led to an impressive reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of 520 tonnes.

So-called ‘mild hybrid’ cars, which use the combustion engine to charge the battery so drivers never have to plug in – are generally not low-carbon enough to warrant inclusion in the fleet, explains Craig.

As the range of the latest EV models has grown and the number of charging points has increased, employees have felt more confident and willing to ditch the polluting petrol and diesel engines for something cleaner and greener, he says.

That, and the fact that EVs and PHEVs attract a far lower rate of Benefit In Kind (BIK) tax meaning that most drivers are saving on tax – up to £200 a month in some cases – after making the switch, says Craig.

Vodafone employs around 550 people who need a car to do their jobs properly, and around 300 who have taken up the offer of a car as a perk. The fleet also comprises around 505 vans for engineers who need to be out and about maintaining the network and supporting customers.

While the greening of the car fleet is proceeding at pace, the van fleet presents more of a challenge, Craig admits.

“Our telematics data shows that our engineers typically drive 150-170 miles a day. Given that the best EV vans currently on the market only do about 200 miles a day in real-world conditions, that’s what creates the challenge for us,” explains Craig.

“But we feel confident that we can rise to it.”

This is particularly problematic for those engineers who may be called out at any time in an emergency. The last thing you want is a van with limited range in such situations, because it could jeopardise the engineer’s ability to respond quickly to a customer.

So how are we going to honour our carbon reduction commitments then?

Craig is confident new van models with superior range will come onto the market in time to meet the 2027 deadline. And if they don’t, Vodafone could potentially incorporate ‘van charging’ breaks into engineers’ working days as one solution.

An alternative is to use hydrogen-fuelled vehicles, which tend to have much bigger mileage ranges than EVs, says Craig.

“Hydrogen could be huge for us in the future,” he says, “enabling use to leapfrog EVs completely for our van fleet.”

Vodafone is planning to increase the amount of on-site electricity generation over the next five years, using solar and other renewable sources. Could the company also experiment with on-site ‘green’ hydrogen production that uses solar energy to power the units?

“That’s definitely a possibility,” says Craig, “and if we were to produce green hydrogen on-site we could potentially use it to power our hydrogen vans.”

Whether or not hydrogen features in the greening of Vodafone’s fleet in future, it’s clear that the EV landscape is developing as quickly as the technology is improving. And attitudes to EVs are changing, too.

“It’s amazing how quickly you get used to driving an electric car,” concludes Craig. “It makes you plan your journeys a bit more for sure, but that’s a small price to pay in the huge fight against climate change.”

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