Is ‘Carbon Neutral’ a Realistic Goal for Fleets?
Whether by external mandate or internal initiative, more organizations than ever are monitoring their greenhouse gas emissions and general impact on the environment. As the world increasingly pushes for sustainable change, corporations and governments are setting goals to be “carbon neutral” or have net-zero emissions in the near future.
Major companies like General Motors, FedEx, Delta and Shell have publicly committed to reaching carbon neutrality as soon as 2030. Alongside this goal, they have shared plans to invest in green technologies, switch to cleaner energy sources and launch carbon offsetting initiatives that regenerate ecosystems around the planet.
For some other heavy-polluting organizations, GHG reporting and reduction may be done by obligation. In effort to monitor the footprint of the leading emitters in the country, the US Environmental Protection Agency requires carbon reporting from about 8,000 organizations. In either case, close tracking and reporting of emissions is necessary to back the integrity and transparency of these sustainability initiatives.
As these regulations get stricter and more common, one major concern is the validity of companies’ carbon reports. In order to avoid charges or sanctions, organizations could try minimizing or shifting around their numbers. For example, a fleet reporting on vehicle emissions could go completely electric and claim carbon neutrality. But, if this same fleet is relying on a dirty grid to charge all of these new vehicles, is their fleet really carbon neutral?
Tailpipe vs. Facility Emissions
Perhaps the solution to this problem would be for organizations to clarify exactly how they are carbon neutral. In other words, if their carbon profile is neutral or negative across the board, or if neutrality has been achieved at a specific scope. For example, an organization whose fleet emits net-zero GHGs is technically carbon neutral at Scope 2, but not the organization as whole.
This is the important difference between tailpipe and facility emissions. All internal combustion engine vehicles produce some level of exhaust at the tailpipe – discharging carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and many other pollutants. Organizations looking to cut down at Scope 2 may transition to cleaner vehicles such as CNG-engine vehicles, plug-in hybrids or all-electric vehicles, ultimately reducing their tailpipe emissions.
These vehicles are a viable option for companies facing regulations around fleet GHGs and looking to cut down as quickly as possible. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re off the hook, though. A fleet of 200 ICEV vehicles going all electric can definitely reduce their carbon footprint. But, then the question becomes whether they are charging those 200 new vehicles on a fossil-fuel powered grid.
For a fleet only required to report on Scope 2 emissions, this can be great news. However, the reality is that GHGs are simply being shifted to another source instead of completely eliminated.
A clean energy solution
At the end of the day, the concept of “carbon neutrality” is evidently ambiguous. As more organizations commit to this goal, specifications might be necessary to clarify what the objective really entails.
For fleets looking to go carbon neutral at all levels, the root of the problem is most likely their energy source. As long as fleets rely on dirty grids to power EVs, they will only be able to reduce emissions to a certain extent. The true solution would be clean energy for powering clean vehicles.
The case of Jersey City’s microgrid presents an attractive opportunity for other fleets to model. The city is set to build the first self-sustainable municipal microgrid in the country, creating power through solar panels. The clean energy produced will then be used to charge the city’s fleet of electric garbage trucks.
The key here is the combination of independent, renewable energy and a plan for fleet electrification. While these efforts take a great deal of investment, planning and support from stakeholders, they seem to be one of the most feasible paths to carbon neutrality today.