Ever Greener Fleets?

Business Insights

Air pollution is an environmental health crisis that kills up to seven million people every year worldwide. Public awareness of the dangers of air pollution and the damage climate change is wreaking on our planet have been raised to an unprecedented level due to the “Attenborough effect” and recent demonstrations, notably from Extinction Rebellion, which mobilised vast numbers of young people across the UK, protesting against climate change.

The adverse effect on health due to air pollutants is widely acknowledged. Reports cite respiratory problems, depression and a loss of intelligence, and more recently new research is raising fresh concerns about the impact of air pollution on young children. A 2017 study published by the British Medical Journal found a very strong correlation between high exposure to damaging road traffic pollution in London and a low birth weight of children born to those exposed.

As part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, in a move to help tackle the problem and as part of the government’s Industrial Strategy, the government has introduced a new policy, the Road to Zero Strategy.

The aim of the new initiative is to put the UK at the forefront of the design and manufacturing of zero emission vehicles, and for all new cars and vans to be effectively zero emission by 2040, ending the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans.

By then, the government expects the majority of new cars and vans sold to be 100% zero emission and all new cars and vans to have significant zero emission capability. By 2050 they want almost every car and van to be zero emission and at least 50%, and as many as 70%, of new car sales and up to 40% of new van sales being ultra-low emission by 2030.

In pursuit of this goal all new vehicle sales, both cars and vans are subject to an increasingly rigorous minimum emissions standard, currently Euro6, with the aim of reducing levels of harmful exhaust emissions, both in petrol and diesel vehicles. For diesels, the permitted level of NOx emitted has dramatically dropped to a maximum of 80mg/km, compared to the 180mg/km level that was required for vehicles that met the previous Euro 5 emissions standard.

The government’s target of the complete decarbonisation of road transport by 2040, tasks local authorities with the challenge of reducing nitrogen dioxide in our most polluted towns and cities. In London, where the pollution and congestion problems are so visible to the population and its public transport provision so excellent, it has been possible to introduce a congestion charging zone with relatively little backlash. However, other UK cities without London’s level of public transport provision, are also introducing clean air zones, Birmingham, Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester have already announced their plans and many other cities throughout the UK are expected to follow.

Clean air zones are set up in areas where air pollution exceeds European legal limits, and councils are taking action to cut emissions. This ranges from improving traffic flow to charging the most polluting vehicles (mostly older diesels) a daily rate. Charging schemes are also known as low emission zones.

Although not all clean air zones involve vehicle charges, increasing numbers of councils plan to impose fees for the most polluting vehicles that drive through the zone. Many plan to do so by using automatic number plate recognition cameras (ANPR) to track vehicles and check their emission rating.

A class of vehicle which will be widely affected is diesel vans, older vehicles in particular, the very vehicles which many businesses rely on to conduct their business. According to research commissioned for Clean Air Day 2018, vans are the fastest growing vehicle type in the UK and contribute 30% of the UK’s road transport NOx emissions, costing three times more per vehicle to UK health than cars.

16 of the UK’s largest fleet operators, are responding to the issue of poor air quality by signing the Clean Van Commitment and together investing an initial £40 million over the next 2 years to drive the increase in use of electric vans. Initial signatories to the Clean Van Commitment, which is backed by roads minister Jesse Norman, include ENGIE, Tesco, Anglian Water, Leeds City Council, Network Rail and Yorkshire Ambulance Service.

These initiatives are great but don’t overcome the reasons why many fleet owners are reluctant to commit to EV and Hybrid, as Chris Large, Senior Partner Global Action Plan, said, “Overcoming the issue of pollution from van fleets needs a team effort. We need new electric models coming to market, fleet operators to adopt them, and the charging infrastructure and clean electricity supplies to fuel them.”