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Making all the green moves

October 20, 2008

PLU fleet on the move to green power

PLU’s fleet of automobiles and maintenance vans are on the move. They are, of course, moving up and down campus, providing transportation as part of Campus Safety’s “Safe Ride” program, or moving groundskeepers and maintenance workers (plus all their equipment!) around campus. The PLU fleet is also on the move – moving away from gasoline and towards becoming a largely electric or gasoline-electric hybrid service vehicles. It is a move by the university to continue to live up to its stated mission to “care for the earth.”The university now utilizes three hybrid Prius vehicles – one used by Campus Safety, and two used by the office of Admission. Of the 15-or-so vehicles utilized by facilities management, many of the worst gas-guzzlers have been retired, with all-electric vans and grounds carts in their place. According to Dave Kohler, director of facilities management, in recent years, this emphasis has cut the average age of the PLU fleet by half, so now the average is about eight years old.

This is, in part, because the university has changed its way of thinking when it comes to acquiring and using maintenance vehicles.

“We used to ask ourselves ‘how much can we spend for a vehicle?’ We’d try to save the university money by acquiring older ones,” Kohler said. “Now we ask ourselves ‘what is the cost of the whole life of the vehicle?’”

For Kohler, that means spending more money upfront on, say, a Prius or an all-electric maintenance van or grounds cart. But the university is going to get that money back during the life of the vehicle in the form of reduced gasoline and oil use, as well as reduced maintenance and repairs. But Kohler notes that it is so much more than that. It is about reducing the university’s carbon footprint.

“We make our systems last for years,” said Kohler, referring to both the gasoline and electric powered vehicles in his fleet. But he wants to see more emphasis placed toward utilizing the electric vehicles. He gives a lot of credit to Rob Benton, the university’s mechanic, for making that happen.

Kohler says Benton has been working closely with other regional universities to figure out the best ways to reduce the impact of vehicles on campus. In terms of what it means here – Benton has been making seeking to standardize the electric fleet as much as possible, so that maintenance costs stay low and our low-impact facility vehicles can stay on the road for years.