Is Going Green as Easy as They Say?

Gretchen ReeseJanuary 28, 2021

The sustainability and electrification movement is here to stay – and one fleet manager that proves this in his day to day operations is none other than Fleet Manager of the Year award winner for 2020, Mark Stevens.

You may know Mark as the fleet manager for The City of Sacramento fleet, one that had been recognized for their strides in sustainability as recently as 2019. Mark is one person that certainly prioritizes electrification – deeming it a necessary step to do more for our planet and for future generations.

Here’s a quick summary of my conversation with Mark:

Sustainability is raring and ready to go – and it’s an exciting time to be in the fleet industry. With new technology and new sustainable policies in place – it’s sowing the seeds for a greener tomorrow. Here’s a few key pieces from my interview with Mark Stevens on the topic:

“I think that City Sacramento, we’re ahead of many of the mandated policies. Although they don’t necessarily influence our decision, we are aware and update our fleet sustainability policy to continue to move that bar forward, so we’re constantly making sure that we’re on that leading edge.”

“I think we can do our part to help electrify our fleet with the bottom line of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, and kind of as a partner with looking at Europe and some of the other countries that are doing this. I just think it’s fantastic that people are understanding that this is necessary and in the future, and so it isn’t necessarily competitive awareness, it’s more of a partnership if you will. So when I see them do what they’re doing, I just feel that we need to match that and do our part to help as well.”

Mark Stevens, Is Going Green as Easy as They Say? How to Get Started Adopting Sustainable Practices with Fleet Manager of the Year for 2020, Mark Stevens| Utilimarc Fleet FYIs Podcast

The beginning of the second season of the Fleet FYIs Podcast was an exciting one – as we were able to dig into a topic that’s taking the fleet industry by storm. If you’d like to have a listen, it’s available to stream on all major platforms – but if reading is more your style, take a look at this episode’s transcript below:

Is Going Green as Easy as They Say? How to Get Started Adopting Sustainable Practices with Fleet Manager of the Year for 2020, Mark Stevens | Fleet FYIs: Season 2 Episode 1

Gretchen Reese (00:06):

Hey there. Welcome to Fleet FYIs, the weekly podcast by Utilimarc that reveals how you can make the most of your data for smarter fleet management. My name is Gretchen, and every week you’ll hear from me and some of the industry’s finest in candid conversations that will shed some light on not only two decades worth of data insights, but some of the industry’s hottest talking points and key metric analysis with the aim to help you better understand your fleet from every angle. But before we begin, if this is the first time you’ve heard our show, thanks for stopping by. I’m so glad you decided to come along for the ride with us, but I’ve got a quick favor to ask you. Once you’ve finished today’s episode, if you could take a few minutes to leave us a review on your favorite podcasting platform, we would really appreciate it.

Gretchen Reese (00:51):

Give us a rating, five stars I hope, or tell us what you liked or leave us a comment or a question about what you’ve heard in today’s episode. But if we haven’t yet covered a topic that you’re interested in hearing more about, let us know we would be happy to go over it in detail in a later episode. If that sounds good to you, let’s get back to the show.

Gretchen Reese (01:16):

Hey there, and welcome back to a new season of Fleet FYIs. Before we get going for another exciting year of new content and guests tackling some of the most talked about industry news points, I just wanted to take a second to thank you all for all of your support during the last year when we initially launched this show. Honestly, we couldn’t have done it without you, and we’re always so thrilled to hear that you enjoyed the show and the guests and the topics that we’re bringing forward just for you. So with that, happy new year, happy 2021. A new year, which means a new season to get cracking on with. And one thing that you’ll probably notice going forward is that not just for Fleet FYIs, but for Utilimarc and the rest of the fleet industry as well, there is a huge focus on sustainability and fleet electrification that we just can’t ignore anymore, nor should we be. I mean, caring about the environment is cool, right?

Gretchen Reese (02:09):

But I’m not asking you all to go out and hug a tree, though, it would be kind of funny if you wanted to. But one thing that I’d like for you to think about is this, sustainability and sustainable policies are much more achievable than one might initially think. I know that when you hear things like government mandates, new policies, and the, “You must be X percent renewable by X year and look for alternative fuel replacement,” that it can seem pretty intimidating. I’m very aware of that, but that’s where we’re trying to show you that sustainability isn’t just about purchasing the next release of electric vehicles from some of these massive manufacturers. Though, this could certainly be an avenue that you might want to pursue in the future. Instead, rather, it’s more about taking charge of your goal setting and understanding your key performance indicators, like fuel consumption and reduction of idle time, to mention a couple.

Gretchen Reese (03:01):

And those are what truly make a difference. I mean, baby steps, am I right? To help me dig in a little bit more to this topic and the future of fleet electrification as a whole, today I’m joined by Mark Stevens, manager of the City of Sacramento Fleet, best known for their GreenFleet achievements as recently as 2019, and a sustainability policy that paved the way for Mark to win the Fleet Manager of the Year award for 2020. So, without further ado, let’s get started.

Gretchen Reese (03:36):

Hi Mark. Welcome to the Fleet FYIs podcast. We’re so happy you could join us.

Mark Stevens (03:41):

Well, thank you. It’s great to be here, and I thank you for the invitation.

Gretchen Reese (03:44):

The pleasure is all ours. So, I wanted to get started, firstly, by congratulating you on winning the award for Fleet Manager of the Year last year, I mean, such an impressive accomplishment. Could you tell me a bit about what that was like?

Mark Stevens (03:59):

Well, it was a bit of a shock, when I was first contacted and told I’d been nominated, as well as a bit humbling, because I’ve never really been one to focus on or highlight any of my accomplishments. So it was a bit out of my comfort zone to talk about what we had accomplished. And I do say we, as our sustainability efforts couldn’t be achieved without a total team effort. So, and I can probably say I’ve got the best team in the business, it was a great experience.

Gretchen Reese (04:30):

That’s awesome. So can you tell me a little bit about the sustainability efforts that ended up getting you nominated and then overall winning the award?

Mark Stevens (04:41):

Well, I think the biggest impact for us typically revolves around our fleet replacement program. We can make the biggest and quickest impact by replacing our older gasoline powered vehicles, which is obviously pretty common sense, electrics, of course, and as we continue to purchase zero emission vehicles and alternative fuel vehicles. But we also constantly focus on all the other impacts and ways that we can affect our sustainability efforts such as, and this is a big key to our sustainability program, we’re monitoring our vehicle idling and our fuel consumption, our route optimization, our off peak EV charging, and then of course, new technology and all it has to offer. So, we’re constantly reviewing and running pilot projects for the new and innovative technology. So we’re always focused on what’s new on the horizon. So overall I think as a package, it’s what allowed us to be effective with our sustainability policy.

Gretchen Reese (05:49):

That’s awesome. And obviously you’re very aware that fleet electrification, sustainability for that matter, it’s a massive topic of discussion these days and for good reason, right? Everyone’s focused on, for the most part I would say, how they can make the environment a little bit better and more sustainable for the long run. So, do you think you could give me maybe a little bit of insight as to how this push for electrification sustainability affects you on a day-to-day basis?

Mark Stevens (06:17):

Well, as I just mentioned a minute ago, work on a day-to-day basis, just focus on what we can do with our reporting, our fuel consumption, our emission reduction, everything. And it isn’t just about big replacements, it’s everything you can do as a fleet manager to make sure that you’re focused on all the different aspects of everything dealing with sustainability. So, and we do this daily, and when it comes to our replacement, when it comes to our reporting, sending those reports to our end users, making sure they’re aware of vehicles that are idling for excessive periods of time, making sure we are. In fact, we’ve gone so far as to program our electric vehicles to start charging in the evening at off peak hours, so we can take advantage of the lowest rates. So just everything surrounding vehicle and fleet operations, I mentioned, route optimization, having a great telematics system that allows us to identify where vehicles are. So our users, if they have need of sending a vehicle to a particular area, they can locate their closest vehicle and reduce the response times.

Mark Stevens (07:37):

So just pretty much everything that revolves around operating a vehicle, we focus on on a daily basis.

Gretchen Reese (07:46):

Mm-hmm (affirmative). So with a movement that’s this size, right, and for myself personally, coming from a journalistic background, I always like to get to the root of it, what it’s coming from, who’s driving it. So in your opinion, because obviously you’ve been doing a lot with sustainability and that’s awesome, but do you think that it’s customer or consumer driven in terms of the movement itself? Or do you think it’s more the manufacturers trying to get ahead of potential mandates and looking for perhaps maybe more innovative technologies?

Mark Stevens (08:17):

Well, obviously, I think that the focus on global warming has had a tremendous effect on the momentum to a more sustainable future, and I believe that the sustainable effort right now is more customer and consumer driven, then the manufacturers or the OEMs, because of the government mandates. And they seem to be driving the factor for the manufacturer side of the equation, so right now I think it’s customer related. I would envision and hope that someday the consumer supply and demand model will eventually take hold and drive a sustainable momentum into the future for the manufacturers, but right now I think it’s customer based. I think you have people out there that are really concerned about the environment and really try to focus on what they can do with an individual, so purchasing EVs for their normal operations, I think, is helping to drive that right now.

Mark Stevens (09:15):

And I don’t think the manufacturers necessarily are, and I think the culture is beginning to change, but at first I think the manufacturers were strictly building EVs and focusing on EVs because of mandates and because of credits and so forth, that they were able to achieve from the federal government. So, but right now I think it’s customer driven, but I’m hopefully seeing a change in the manufacturers, I know right now several OEMs have multitude of EVs and hybrid vehicles available, so I think they’re starting to get the idea that this is the future. Hopefully so.

Gretchen Reese (09:57):

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, I mean, one can only hope, right? And speaking of government mandates, I’ve done a bit of research on the renewable fuel standard, the RFS for people that are more familiar with the acronym, how does that fit into something along the lines of governing either your decisions, or perhaps another fleet’s decisions, for sustainability in the future?

Mark Stevens (10:20):

Well, I think that City Sacramento, we’re ahead of many of the mandated policies. Although they don’t necessarily influence our decision, we are aware and update our fleet sustainability policy to continue to move that bar forward, so we’re constantly making sure that we’re on that leading edge, if you will. So the renewable fuel standard, as you mentioned, is one of the mandates, but I think we’re quite bit ahead of that curve, just because of our sustainability policy and the goals and guidelines we have established for vehicle procurement and alternative fuel use. We have mandates that dictate our replacement has to be specific, in fact, right now, all our light duty vehicles have to be zero emission, 75% of anything we purchase has to be zero emission vehicle right now, and 50% of everything we purchase has to be some type of alternative fuel. So we’re always trying to stay ahead of those mandates and try to be a leader in the industry.

Gretchen Reese (11:25):

Mm-hmm (affirmative), so does maybe some of your inspiration come from perhaps other cities or other countries? Or is it purely trying to stay ahead of the curve that you mentioned? Because there’s some countries like the UK, Boris Johnson, had just put out, I think it was maybe about a month ago now, that they were trying to basically be fully electric by 2035 and there’s other major metropolitan cities in Europe and even in the US or China that are doing the same. Is that maybe an inspiration, or is it just solely for the want and the need to be a sustainable fleet that you have?

Mark Stevens (12:00):

Well, I do take inspiration from the referenced on the electrification, of course, and not strictly from a competitive standpoint, but it’s really an us versus them, if you will, but really from a informative view and looking at what other countries are doing. I think we can do our part to help electrify our fleet with the bottom line of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, and kind of as a partner with looking at, like you say, Europe, and some of the other countries that are doing this. I just think it’s fantastic that people are understanding that this is necessary and in the future, and so it isn’t necessarily competitive awareness, it’s more of a partnership if you will. So when I see them do what they’re doing, I just feel that we need to match that and do our part to help as well. So it’s all kind of a two-edged sword there, we’re both ways from competitive and from partnering with them, so.

Gretchen Reese (13:05):

Sure, yeah. And so, just out of curiosity then, how do you feel perhaps some of the policies that Europe, China, the UK, what they’re putting in place, how do you think that’ll affect the US going forward? Do you think that it’ll start to rub off? I mean, “rub off”?

Mark Stevens (13:21):

I think it will obviously, countries and not getting into political side of things, but there are always things that the US is trying to be a leader, I believe, in many instances. And so that edge is there, that competitiveness, but I definitely think that you’re going to see our government understand that obviously we can’t continue to consume petroleum fuel and some of the potential health hazards, obviously, that we’re seeing and an environmental hazard. So I definitely will see and hope that our government will step up. And I know California, obviously have been following governor Newsom, he stated that there will be no gasoline powered vehicles purchased by 2040. So he’s pretty much created mandates along those lines already. So I think you’ll see other States follow and hopefully the federal government will help support that. And I do think we are understanding what other countries are doing, and I hope that that’s helping sway our decisions and some of our mandates.

Gretchen Reese (14:34):

That’s awesome. And I love that you brought up the mandates that California is putting forward, because I think out of most of the States in the US, California is very clearly a massive leader in terms of the sustainability front and electric technology mandates infrastructure requirements in the US. Could you tell me a bit about how that affects your fleet now, looking into the future, or maybe even just electric vehicle adoption, like a new mindset adoption going forward?

Mark Stevens (15:06):

Back in 2007, our City Council understood the importance of being the capital city, I would say, for the state of California. And they wanted to be on that leading edge, as I mentioned, of sustainability efforts. So this led to the creation and approval of our City Council and our Fleet Sustainability Policy. This is going back 14 years ago, so we are focused on being on that leading edge of sustainable efforts and we continue to update our sustainability policy to reflect the reference. In fact, this led to our effort to the City of Sacramento being awarded Number One Green Fleet in North America for 2013, and again in 2019, so we’re always trying to, if you will, lead by example. And I don’t see that changing in the future, obviously, we’re going to continue to do that right now. You know, I’m focused on, obviously, electrifying our fleet.

Mark Stevens (16:03):

I don’t think that, even though we have a zero emission vehicle section in our sustainability policy, I don’t see us migrating necessarily into the hydrogen side of things right now, just from being a government fleet. The cost for hydrogen fueling stations are quite high, so I think electrification right now is the most cost effective way for us to enter the sustainable market if we will. So, in fact, we’re focused, like I say, into the future as well, and right now I’m in the process of purchasing our first electric refuse truck. We have a rather large refuse fleet of over a hundred vehicles, so I think that’s the future, as far as refuse goes, I think electrification is definitely a viable fuel. It’s just making sure that we can get the technology to match the operators’ requirements for daily route utilization. So right now, we’re always testing pilot projects with companies. I’m being approached all the time to pilot some type of new technology.

Mark Stevens (17:20):

So we’re always interested in, and obviously want to work with manufacturers that are focused on sustainable technology. So yeah, that’s our future as well, so we’re always looking to the future to try and take the next step, if you will.

Gretchen Reese (17:36):

Mm-hmm (affirmative), as we should. So I know this is probably going to be really, really hard for you to do, but if you could pick just one aspect of your sustainability policy that we’ve spoken a little bit of in the last few minutes, but if you could pick one aspect of it that maybe more fleets you feel could try and aim to include in their fleet management strategy, what would it be?

Mark Stevens (17:58):

Ah, great question. I would say the one aspect of our policy that I do love to talk about, and it focuses not only obviously on our sustainable vehicle procurement, but it’s really the immediate steps that any fleet manager or anyone can take with your existing fleet, such as looking at idle reduction, and your fuel consumption, and your route optimization, as I mentioned. Rightsizing your fleet, you have too many vehicles in your fleet that are costing you money, and along with monitoring your driver behavior. So all these metrics are achievable with a telematic provider, so making sure that you have a system in place that you can monitor all this and then take the steps to establish goals and your KPIs to realize those objectives.

Mark Stevens (18:44):

So it’s probably, and again, it’s not necessarily one aspect, I guess, but there’s just so many and they all tie together, but it’s just taking that first step when people say, “Well, I just don’t have the money to start electrifying and so forth.” But there’s things you can do with your existing fleet, like I say, monitor your idling time, reduce your fuel consumption, that alone is going to help reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and reduce your operating costs as well. So, that’s a sustainable effort, so just establishing goals, I guess that would be my number one key focus is just making sure that you, as a fleet, you have a goal, you have key performance indicators you want to monitor and moving forward with the plan, I guess that’s key.

Gretchen Reese (19:38):

Sure thing. So, is there anything else surrounding the sustainability or electrification, because I know it’s a massive topic and one that we both share a passion for, and there’s no way that we can cover it in such a short time, but is there anything else that you’d like to add or that you’d like to note that you’re excited about?

Mark Stevens (19:58):

Yes. I guess I’d say if that is… People are unsure, and as I just mentioned, if they’re not sure where to start with their sustainability policy, you need to have something vetted and approved by senior management. One fleet manager, and I won’t mention names right now, but I will steal some of his thunder, but he has a very simple saying that says it’s a top down mandate and bottom up sell. So you need to make sure that you have management approval, they understand what you’re trying to do, and create some type of a policy, whether it’s approven just in house, whether it’s approven by the city manager, city council, commission, whatever that may be, but once you have that policy in place, then you can begin to work with your customers. So they can understand the importance of your sustainable efforts, and I’d be more than happy to share our fleet’s sustainability policy with anyone if they’re interested.

Mark Stevens (20:56):

Just send me an email and obviously I’ll send you a copy, but it’s just somewhere to start. You have to have that plan or that goal in place to say, “Okay, these are achievable results. So these are our goals down the road. 10% of our light duty fleet, we’re going to electrify.” And the one question I do get asked quite often is, “I just don’t have the money to start buying electric vehicles.” Well, that’s really not necessarily the case, because if you have any type of data, obviously, as a fleet management operation, you know what your operating costs are for your internal combustion engines, for gasoline powered vehicles, and when you can put the numbers to the operating cost of an electric vehicle, and there are numerous agencies out there now that have been utilizing electric vehicles for years, do you know what those costs are?

Mark Stevens (21:47):

So those payback periods, whether it be two years, in our case it’s about just a little over two years, we can pay for that electric vehicle, even though there were higher initial upfront costs, in the long run the overall operating costs are much lower. So you can justify the cost of electric vehicle. You just need to put that together in a spreadsheet and prove to management that, “Look, we can buy electric in our fleet. And the more electrics we buy, the more money we’re going to save.” So you just need to take your data and put that information together, and that’s probably key. You just have to get started, you have to do something. And I think that’s an easy way to do that, is you can, with your own information, you can prove that, “Yes, senior management, we can buy electric vehicles. And here’s how we can do that. Here’s how much money we can save in the long run.” And the longer you operate those electric vehicles, the more money you’re going to save. So it’s a win-win.

Gretchen Reese (22:45):

Absolutely. I mean, data is key to everything, right?

Mark Stevens (22:47):


Gretchen Reese (22:48):

So it seems, and so you mentioned email, but just for anyone that would like to continue this conversation outside of Fleet FYIs, which I’m sure there will be quite a few, what is the best way to get in contact with you?

Mark Stevens (23:03):

Best way is through my email. It’s M Stevens. That’s

Gretchen Reese (23:13):

Sounds good, that’s fantastic. Well, Mark, again, I’d just like to thank you for your time to join me on Fleet FYIs. We’ve had such a great time hosting you today.

Mark Stevens (23:21):

Gretchen, thank you so much. It was a pleasure.

Gretchen Reese (23:32):

When I think about what it means to be a sustainable fleet or even just sustainable in general. I think that Mark absolutely nailed it when he spoke about focusing on what you can do initially, and then forming a plan to take it one step further. It’s almost like asking for paper rather than plastic bags at a grocery store, and then looking to purchase a reusable bag for your main groceries and perhaps even your produce when you’re ready to ditch the store provided bags altogether. Sometimes all it takes to truly become sustainable is simply knowing that you can be. I mean, you can take baby steps at first, start with your core KPIs, like Mark was mentioning, reducing your idle time, reducing fuel consumption, and a few others, and then go from there. And who knows? You might find yourself just like Mark, looking to add alternative fuel vehicles and assets to your fleet on a regular basis. But who am I to predict? Only time will tell.

Gretchen Reese (24:27):

Hey, there. I think this is the time that I should cue the virtual high five, because you’ve just finished listening to another episode of the Fleet FYIs podcast. If you’re already wanting more content head over to, which is Utilimarc with a C, U-T-I-L-I-M-A-R-C dot com, for the show notes and extra insights coming straight from our analysts to you. That’s all for me this week. So, until next time, I’ll catch you later. 

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Gretchen Reese

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