A challenge of implementing greener practices is the simple — yet, complex — question of "Where do I begin?"

With a focus on greener off-road and heavy equipment fleets, the Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP) has developed its Green Fleet Initiative to guide the way. Still in its early stages, the initiative encourages and recognizes fleet managers in their mission toward a cleaner fleet, and lets them see the benefits of a greener fleet. Fuel savings, employee wellness and public perception are among the numerous benefits of implementing greener practices.

Whether the goal is cost savings, enhancing grant availability or simply to be seen as a more responsible fleet, voluntary investment in greener practices is on the rise. Working together, fleet managers and procurement professionals can take a more active approach to cleaning up fleets, and be recognized for their efforts.

Through its Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum levels, the AEMP program gives fleet managers a clear idea of what types of practices are crucial to a greener fleet. Three of the four levels require upgrading to engines meeting either Tier 2 or Tier 3 emissions standards, which requires the purchasing manager to work with the fleet manager to make things happen.

The City of Euless, Texas, was the first public fleet to receive AEMP's Green Fleet status, and achieved it at the Silver level. The quest towards Green Fleet Certification began with efforts to utilize alternative fuels and implement a written idle policy. To achieve the Silver level distinction, Kyle McAdams, Euless fleet and facility administrator, also had to upgrade at least 50 percent of his fleet to Tier 2.

In addition to recognizable benefits such as reduced fuel consumption and maintenance cost, greening a fleet also offers benefits not apparent on a balance sheet. In the case of the City of Euless, McAdams' team plans to use AEMP's Green Fleet certification to help distinguish them in the ongoing grant process for further alternative energy efforts.

Similarly, Lee County Fleet Management in Florida pursued a greener fleet for more than just the obvious benefits. There's a common — and unfair — view among the general public that heavy equipment fleets are leading contributors to pollution and greenhouse gas emission. Responding to this perception, Marilyn Rawlings, Lee County fleet manager, was driven to greener practices, and set a high standard for others to follow.

Rawlings is a firm believer in helping others green and improve their fleets in order to positively impact and boost the image of the industry as a whole. "There needs to be somebody who sets the standard, someone who throws down the gauntlet and challenges other governmental fleets to take action," she says. "We want to raise the bar and hopefully encourage others to do the same."

Lee County Fleet Management is the first government fleet in the United States to be recognized as an AEMP Platinum-certified Green Fleet. Lee County's heavy equipment fleet currently meets all governmental requirements for emissions, while the Platinum certification honors it for meeting all criteria designated by AEMP in its Green Fleet program.

To achieve AEMP's Green Fleet Bronze Level, either at least 50 percent of the fleet must be Tier 2 or better OR a written idle policy must be in place and enforced. Fulfilling both these requirements earns a Silver level certification. The Gold level requires at least 50 percent of the fleet to be Tier 3 or better AND that a written idle policy be in place and enforced. To earn Platinum certification, a fleet must also show 10 percent or more of the fleet uses diesel particulate filter (DPF), diesel oxidation catalyst (DOC) or interim or final Tier 4 technologies (in addition to meeting the Gold requirements).

Government fleets interested in applying for AEMP Green Fleet status can view details on the program at aemp.org. A few standard guidelines apply, and all diesel vehicles 25 horsepower and greater need to be included in the fleet application.

On January 1, 2013, changes go into effect for AEMP's Green Fleet program. These include new standards for meeting the qualifications on each level. It's AEMP's plan to redefine parameters every two years in an effort to encourage fleet managers to stay head of the curve, set goals and continue best practices. Additionally, certain fleets certified in 2011 will need to be re-certified, as the program will be coming up on its two-year anniversary of existence.

Stan Orr, CAE, is president and chief strategy officer of the Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP), Colorado Springs, Colo.