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How to Create an Idle Reduction Culture in Your Fleet

Learn how creating an idle reduction culture in your fleet can save you money, while also getting the green PR you deserve.

Episode 135: Fleet managers often struggle to reduce fuel costs and vehicle maintenance. These days, the pressure is on for companies to look good in a carbon-conscious world, especially in the trucking industry. What can fleet managers do to solve both problems with one easy solution?

My guest today is Ron Zima, CEO of GoGreen Communications Inc. Ron Zima is also known as the IDLE FREE Guy™ and is the creator of the industry’s first idle reduction behavior modification program for fleet operators, IDLE FREE for our kids® for Fleets. 

Guest Website: GoIdleFree.com

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Transcript of Episode:

Jamie Irvine:

You are listening to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. And this is the show where you get expert advice about heavy duty parts that keeps trucks and trailers on the road longer while lowering cost-per-mile. Welcome to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. Today, we are launching a brand new weekly segment called Think Outside the Box. This is the place where we’re gonna challenge the status quo of the trucking industry. And I am very happy to have you here today. We have a guest today. His name is Ron Zima, the CEO of GoGreen Communications. Now, Ron is also known as the IDLE FREE Guy and is the creator of the industry’s idle reduction behavior modification program for fleet operators. IDLE FREE for our kids for fleets is what it’s called. And it is a program that is going to help all of us see a path to reducing our emissions by seeing the amount that we have our vehicles idling. So let’s bring Ron on the show and let’s challenge the status quo of the way things are in the trucking industry. Let’s see if we can make things better. Ron, welcome to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. So glad to have you here.

Ron Zima:

Thanks a lot, Jamie. First off, I want to thank you for having me, but secondly, I want to compliment you on the great question that you’ve put together. So yeah, great to be here.

Jamie Irvine:

Well, let’s get into those great questions then! So Ron, what is an idle reduction culture? Let’s start there.

Ron Zima:

An idle reduction culture is where fleet operations has sensitized its drivers to the impact of their unconscious idling behavior. And the fleet is maintaining an operation with very low engine hours lost to driver idling by choice, not power takeoff, not in motion, not stuck in traffic. This is where the driver is warming the truck in the yard, leaving the vehicle out in the coffee shop, parking lot idling, doing lots of idling in their own personal vehicles. That would be my definition.

Jamie Irvine:

Okay. So going with that definition then why is it important for a fleet to proactively create this culture? Like doesn’t that just happen on its own? Why is it so important that they’re proactive about creating the internal culture?

Ron Zima:

Well, first and foremost, it’s all about the bottom line. The top reason for creating an idle reduction culture is because of the bottom line. We recently published a white paper embraced by idle management experts in the U.S., and in it we report that the typical addressable opportunity for North American fleet operators who have not addressed driver idling behavior is about, are you ready for this?

Jamie Irvine:

I’m ready.

Ron Zima:

It’s about 40% of engine hours and it’s associated downstream costs on the operation and maintenance expenses. So that’s what idling is all about. It’s a big deal. And in addition, the U.S. Department of Energy has lots of research on the dynamics and the economics of engine idling, 6.6 billion gallons is what we spend idling in our personal and work vehicles across the U.S. and Canada. And we’re spending well over $20 billion USD on exhaust, parked, going nowhere. That’s about 33 million tons of CO2 annually.

And now further, this big cloud of exhaust continues to feed an asthma epidemic in our kids. We’re seeing 20 times more kids with asthma and related emergencies versus 50 years ago. And if we pose this question to your audience, for those who can remember how many kids were carrying puffers 30 years ago, versus the number of kids carrying puffers today? And much of it has to do with our unconscious idling and the exhaust that we’re putting out there around our kids’ schools. And I used to do it all the time. And incidentally Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the leaders in childhood asthma research are featured in our e-learning curriculum, which is a real eyeopener for student driver students and something few forget. And these are just a few of the reasons of why operators would want to create an idle reduction culture.

Jamie Irvine:

As you’re talking about that, my younger brother and I were seven years apart and our mother has asthma, so it definitely runs in our family. I have just a very, very minor version of it and really only affects me in really cold air. So if I’m playing hockey for example, and then I step off the ice, I’ll cough a little bit. That’s about the extent that it bothers me. My brother’s seven years younger than me. And I remember my mom telling me the story of going into the doctor, he couldn’t breathe. He was having all these issues. They took an x-ray of his lungs and there’s all these little black marks on his lungs. And my mom says, what is that? And the doctor says that’s air pollution. So just in seven years between when I was born and when he was born, it had gotten that much worse. And so now we go 30 years into the future to bring us up to today. And I guess we’re seeing the impact of that. So there’s a lot more at stake here for fleets and also for us as individuals than just that economic cost, there’s all this health issues that come along with that.

Ron Zima:

Absolutely. And shutting off our engines when we’re parked has been called the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to an environmental action that we can take outside of our homes. I mean, what else compares except maybe turning off the light switches around the house or turning off the water faucets when they don’t need to be running. You know, what’s really at stake for society at large, going idle free as we like to call it, is an enormous public engagement opportunity on reducing emissions and improving air quality. Right now, Americans and Canadians, have about a 6.6 billion gallon a year idling habit, which I’ve mentioned. And unfortunately, most fleet operators across Canada and the U.S., including our public government fleets are setting the wrong example for the rest of us, by idling a lot themselves.

Now these government fleets more than anyone else are responsible to set the example for fiscal and environmental responsibility and currently most public fleets aren’t doing that, but it’s a big opportunity. So they have really high rates of driver idling behavior costing a lot in fuel. We’re talking about what’s at stake here generating millions of tons of emissions, but here’s the real rub. Government fleets are setting the example for the rest of us. So here we are following their example, believing that, Hey, if I watch my municipal, my city fleet, or if I watch a provincial or a state fleet, I see them idling a lot, so can’t be a big deal. But when you talk to any of your OEM friends, Jamie in the parts world, or in vehicle manufacturing, they will tell you that idling an engine today, built in the last 10 years is probably the worst operating condition for that vehicle. And the colder it is, the harder those long idles are for that vehicle.

So if you really want to see this on display on a large scale, just look around big Northern cities, Edmonton and Calgary prime examples, but West Edmonton Mall, Jamie right in your backyard, take a look there and you’ll see what happens and it’s mind blowing when you see a parking lot of 20,000 vehicles and on any given day, there’s maybe five or 6,000 vehicles there, and several hundred that of them are idling with nobody in them and they’re in the mall shopping. So it’s really what’s at stake is public and engagement around our outdated beliefs and behaviors around idling an engine, which are completely outdated. And we can continue to do this in our cities and towns across the U.S. and Canada. But as it turns out, we’re idling most of this 6.6 billion gallons of fuel every year because of old idling myths, memes Jamie! Memes handed down to us from our fore bears in the carburetor age. Idling is good, restarts are bad and long warmups warm-ups are necessary. These are pretty much all false.

Jamie Irvine:

We’re gonna take a quick break. We’ll be right back. Don’t have a heavy-duty part number and need to look up a part? Go to parts.diesellaptops.com or download the app on Apple or Android to create your free account. Looking for high quality fuel injection for heavy-duty applications, having one supplier for fuel injection allows you to better serve customers by providing them with a complete line, which increases your sales and profitability. Learn more at ambacinternational.com/aftermarket. We’re back from our break. And before the break, we were tackling the issue of how or why a fleet would want to Institute an idle reduction culture inside of the fleet. We’re talking about the economic impact, and we kind of ended off before the break talking about some myths. Now you were saying that when it comes to some of the old memes that have been passed down to us from the past, from the carburetor age, and you talk about modern engines, one of the first things I thought of is in commercial vehicles, especially with after treatment systems, if you’re not running at full temperature, you are doing a lot of damage to that after treatment system and you’re gonna cause yourself a lot of problems. So what you’re saying is that the technology has changed, but our behavior is lagging behind and we need to update that.

Ron Zima:

Absolutely it’s really out of touch. Our behavior is completely out of sync with the technology. So we’re acting as if we’re still driving sixties and seventies technology, when it’s completely advanced. Fleet management needs to get the C-suite involved and really take a look at those idling figures for any fleet out there, because it’s gonna be a big opportunity to reduce a lot of costs and a lot of emissions. And we’re just not thinking about it because we just don’t think idling is a big deal.

Jamie Irvine:

Okay. So let’s break down the steps that a commercial fleet could take, or like you said, a government operated fleet like a municipality, what steps can they take to create this idle reduction culture and have it really be embedded into the fabric of the way that they operate their equipment?

Ron Zima:

Absolutely. So the very first step is getting the C-suite involved, the CIO, the CFO of the organization, they will be the funders of any program to reduce idling. And they need to understand the economics of idle. So fleet management, the fleet manager will often have access to that type of data, but may not be translating it to the funders of a program. So it’s really important they help the C-suite understand that driver idling behavior is probably the biggest cost avoidance metric in any fleet operations today, that’s our view, and how it is affecting their greenhouse gas emissions, their maintenance costs, life cycle costs, their image in a rapidly carbon constrained world. So the C-suite, if they’re aware of what’s at stake, they’re gonna be more likely to support.

Jamie Irvine:

Okay. So we’ve taken that step and our executives and our leadership group have said, all right, we want to understand the true economic impact. Now you said that the fleet maintenance people should have access to the data. Are they accessing that through telematics? Is it coming through information from the dealers? How are they going to assess the actual amount of idling and how do they do that step? And then how do they also go beyond just the obvious and show extended costs? Like you talk about with parts and maintenance and things like that.

Ron Zima:

Yeah. Well that’s again, excellent questions, Jamie. They have access to telematics data. So more and more, especially in the trucking world in the class eight world, of course we had the ELD mandates, right? So we’ve had many, many more fleets getting telematics coverage and taking a look at the data, but there’s a lot of fleet operators that aren’t looking at the data they’re overwhelmed with the data, but if they do take the time to look and if they have the analytics resources to look at the data, what they’re going to discover is if they haven’t addressed driver idling, it is a huge opportunity for them. So primarily through the telematics data, but also if they don’t have, let’s say they’re a vocational fleet that doesn’t have the best telematics coverage yet every fleet is measuring fuel burn. So that’s another way to measure the difference and to measure kilometers driven with the amount of fuel burn and to make some deductions that way. So there’s a number of different ways to slice and dice this, to get at exactly what the problem opportunity is for idle reduction.

Jamie Irvine:

It sounds to me like it’s a matter of just pinpointing and paying attention to the data. The data’s there. You just gotta actually say, okay, we’re gonna focus on it and we’re gonna extract it so that we can make some assessments. I was kind of curious, this is what they need to do. What do they need to avoid? Like, what’s that one thing that you see people do wrong when they first try to implement this?

Ron Zima:

Fleet managers need to quit thinking that they can create a culture around technology alone, thinking that they’ll be able to control a vehicle operators every move with some algorithm or automatic shutdown, most fleet programs focus on managing the asset versus managing the driver. That’s not our approach. We have a difference with that philosophy. One is it’s best illustrated by an industry anecdote that states the benefits derived from training and investing in drivers appreciate as they gain experience while vehicles do not, they depreciate in value. So if most of the fleet operators focuses using technology versus harnessing the buy-in hearts and minds of the drivers, the culture they’re gonna wind up with is one of poor communication and most likely poor performance. So specific to idle management, our years of research and practice in the field have clearly shown that fleets need to be straight with their drivers and reach them where they can care about idling and Jamie that’s at home and in their personal vehicles and fleet managers will know this, this will resonate with them.

Ron Zima:

Drivers really don’t care about the company vehicle or the company fuel bill anywhere near as much as they care about their vehicle or their fuel bill, it’s human nature. And it’s very powerful. So with our program, we evangelize drivers, our students, about updating their idle management skills in their personal vehicles, not in their work vehicles. And if you get school kids as the primary messengers on the best idle management for personal vehicle use today, you’ll have a powerful communication strategy with your drivers. That’s because what we’ve discovered over many years of practice and research is because there’s three universal values that we all share as drivers to one degree or another. How does my idling behavior affect the health of my kids, my cars, my cash. Now you’ve got driver’s attention.

Jamie Irvine:

So as you’re saying all that, a couple things came to mind. One, we have millions of commercial drivers. If you educate them, they’re gonna tell their spouses or their partners. So now you’re literally just doubling number automatically. Then if you can also educate them through the lens of the kids, and I’ll tell you once the little kids start to understand this, I can just picture that scenario where dad’s driving the truck, and the little six year old in the back is like, Hey dad, you’re idling, we should shut that off. Right? I mean, they do not hesitate to remind us, on what we should be doing. So I see why that this is a corporate and a commercial endeavor, but it also has to be a personal endeavor as well.

Ron Zima:

There’s gotta be personal buy-in. And when that happens, the magic happens. We’ve been told many times by skeptical fleet management of veterans, that why you get drivers to care about idling? How is that possible? Right. You know, it is possible. And in fact we’ve had people tell us union shops, won’t be for this. Why not? We’ve had blue collar union veterans, you know veteran bucket truck operator fall for this. Like you wouldn’t believe because when he or she understands what the impact is on people, they care about their kids or their vehicles. A lot of folks just don’t understand, even if they love cars and they really aren’t up to date on idle management in that late model vehicle, their minds are blown when they understand, oh my God, I need to idle as little as possible. And even in a really cold city or a hot city there’s ways, and today’s vehicle technology is built to be as as idle free as possible, so you’re gonna remain as comfortable in cold weather as well as hot weather with minimal idle time. And it’s meant that way for a reason. But if we really get that information in front of people in their personal vehicles and with some powerful messengers delivering that message, the magic happens.

Jamie Irvine:

You’ve been listening to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. We’ve been speaking with Ron, the CEO of GoGreen Communications. And if you’d like to learn more about what we’ve been talking about, getting this idle free culture embedded in fleets, but also in our personal lives, go to goidlefree.com. So that’s goidlefree.com. Links are in the show notes. Ron, thank you so much for being on The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I appreciate it.

Ron Zima:

My pleasure, Jamie, and wishing you and yours a safe and happy 2022.

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