Reducing Emissions Across a Fleet with City of Chicago's Kevin Campbell

This episode originally aired on June 5, 2013 on Green is Good Radio.

Today on GreenIsGood: The City of Chicago's Department of Fleet and Facility Management aims to conserve across a network of more than 12,000 vehicles.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re leaving the wonderful, warm climate of Stanford’s campus in California, and now we’re going over to the city of Chicago. We’ve got Kevin Campbell on, who’s the Manager of Fleet Services for the city of Chicago’s Department of Fleet and Facility Management. Welcome to Green is Good, Kevin Campbell.

KEVIN CAMPBELL: Thank you, John.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Kevin, you’re in a very interesting position, and you’re doing great work out there. That’s why we were so thrilled to have you on today, and we’re so proud to have you on today. Before we get into talking about the specifics of what you do and how you’ve transformed transportation in Chicago, can you share a little bit about your personal journey? People always want to know how did this person get this? Sustainability is still so new in this world, and the environment and leadership in these important arenas. People want to know how this person ended up here. So, can you just share your journey to where you are today?

KEVIN CAMPBELL: Sure. Well, I’m a lifelong Chicagoan, born and raised, and I studied engineering in college, and I actually worked as a design engineer for about seven years before coming on with the city. But I always wanted to work for local government here. I feel it’s an important position. I feel people can contribute and make the place they’ve lived in a little bit better, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so nice. We’re so appreciative again to have you on because these kinds of stories, there should be a Kevin Campbell in every city across America doing the great work you’re doing, so we’re so thrilled to have you on. Talk a little bit about the background of the city of Chicago’s fleet, and what type of vehicles and equipment did you begin working with, and how have you evolved them?

KEVIN CAMPBELL: Sure. Well, our department provides for all the vehicle and equipment needs for the city’s 30+ other departments, which are our customers. The largest of those are Streets and Sanitation, the Police Department, and the Chicago Fire Department. We also service the Department of Water Management, the Department of Aviation Fleets at both O’Hare and Midway airports, as well as sister agencies such as the Chicago Park District and the Chicago Transit Authority’s fleet of service and support vehicles, so all told we have over 3,000 police vehicles, 500 garbage trucks, 300 salt spreader trucks, 125 street sweepers, and over 100 ambulances, so the total fleet is well over 12,000 units, which includes purchased equipment, leases, and rentals.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: You’ve got a huge fleet underneath you.

KEVIN CAMPBELL: Yeah, it’s pretty big.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, wow, wow. So, talk a little bit about the policies that you’ve now started implementing to reduce. I mean, you have 12,000 vehicles you get to work with. That means when you make changes, you really get to move the needle, Kevin, which is great. That’s a very important role you’re doing out there, and your leadership is so important. What are you doing now to reduce vehicle emissions? How does that begin?

KEVIN CAMPBELL: Well, we’ve been proactively taking measures to reduce our emissions profile for many years. As you know, John, motor vehicles account for nearly half of air pollutants, so anything we can do to reduce our output is pursued aggressively. Starting in the early 2000s when I first came on, we installed diesel oxidation catalysts onto over 100 of our vehicles, and this cuts nitrogen oxide emissions by over 80%. We also switched to ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel well ahead of it being mandated by the EPA, and along with this, we implemented a diesel particulate filter retrofit program, which reduces by 98% the amount of soot that our trucks release. And we’ve been aggressively working to retire our older units and replace them with newer vehicles, which now come with this technology direct from the factory. In addition, we’ve implemented an idle reduction policy, which prohibits idling for more than five minutes in any city vehicle, and we’ve installed devices which automatically shut down the engine of any vehicle that’s left idling.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it, got it. When it comes to vehicles, I don’t know that much, but I hear with regards to sustainability and good environmental stewardship, I hear a lot of buzzwords. I hear the words downsizing, rightsizing, replacement cycles. Can you help ferret that out for our listeners out there? What does that mean, and how do you apply any or some of those terms to what you do?

KEVIN CAMPBELL: Sure. These concepts go a long way towards reducing emissions. Downsizing a fleet requires analyzing the usage profiles and determining the minimum number of vehicles needed by each work group in order to complete their assigned task. The older vehicles are then retired from the fleet, resulting in reduced emissions. Now, rightsizing refers to providing the smallest, most fuel-efficient vehicle that is suitable for each application, so taking an administrative employee out of an SUV and putting them into a Prius is a good example. Of course, if a work crew needs a pickup truck, we don’t want to jeopardize their productivity, but if a downsized truck will work them just as well as a big diesel, that’s a change we’re gong to want to look at.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Do you have a team that’s constantly assessing the right size of vehicle for the needs of the participant?

KEVIN CAMPBELL: We absolutely do. When we’re looking to replace a vehicle, we determine the work that’s being performed and we try to get them into the smallest vehicle that will work for them.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is so interesting. What about managed competition? Is there something that you’re working that relates to core competencies and managed competition out there?

KEVIN CAMPBELL: Yep. Well, managed competition is definitely a focal point with our new administration, and we’ve been diligently working to determine which areas we’re most cost-effective in, and then we make sure we stay that way. And then the areas where we’re not competitive, we then analyze them to determine can we become cost-effective? And if not, it’s our responsibility to taxpayers to make sure they’re getting their value, so we need to either take a hard look at how we can get better, or if the opportunity is there to partner with an outside agency or service that can provide that at a lower cost and a higher quality, then we really need to look at that and make that move.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Kevin, for myself and for my listeners out there, it’s just fascinating what you’re doing, and the importance of what you’re doing is immeasurable. Are there Kevin Campbells in other great cities like New York, Miami, Philadelphia, Los Angeles? And do you have an organization informal or formal and you’re sharing best practices?

KEVIN CAMPBELL: Absolutely. There are several fleet organizations, 100 Best Fleets is one example. There’s also an agency called NAFA and then the American Public Works Association has a fleet group as well. I will say the fleet group nationwide is really very well connected; it’s very helpful. It’s something where I’m getting calls on a regular basis from other fleets, and then I’m also reaching out on a regular basis as well, trying to figure out what’s working and how can we improve our operation.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Is yours one of the biggest fleets in the nation that you manage?

KEVIN CAMPBELL: It’s certainly one of the 10 biggest fleets. New York and Los Angeles have large fleets as well, but we’re certainly up there.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, for our listeners that just joined us here on Sirius XM America’s Talk Channel, we are honored to have Kevin Campbell on today. He’s the Manager of Fleet Services for the city of Chicago. For those who want to learn more about Kevin’s great work and the other great work that’s going on in sustainability under Mayor Rom Emmanuel, they can look at www.cityofchicago.org. Kevin, you’re a humble guy; I can just tell the way you talk and you lay this all out, but you’re not only the Manager of Fleet Services for the city of Chicago. I want you to just take a little segue here in this discussion of all the great work you do there, and talk about your engineering side, your invention side, your entrepreneurial side. You also hold several patents for consumer and automotive products?

KEVIN CAMPBELL: Well, that goes back to my time working in the engineering field. I was in the automotive and consumer products field, and one of the nice things about working on product development is when it comes time to issue that product, they want to make sure to recognize all the inventors. So, I was lucky enough to get named as the inventor on several of the products that I had worked on in my previous life.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: As an entrepreneur myself, I know once you have that bug and that’s your DNA, how to figure things out and how to make a better mousetrap, I have to believe that has to be a benefit in your role in the city of Chicago, and how to make things always better, and how to reinvent and recreate what was once working, which now in modern times needs to be readjusted. I believe your DNA and your mindset get to benefit the city of Chicago in readjusting the fleets.

KEVIN CAMPBELL: Absolutely. A very interesting part of the job is that we can start from scratch on any of these projects, and figure out if there’s a better way to put it together. We work directly with the manufacturers and that background in product design has certainly helped me to do that.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is awesome. You know, there’s a concept out there that I’m not familiar with, but I’d love you to tell our listeners about. It’s called newer and fewer, newer fewer. What does that mean, newer fewer?

KEVIN CAMPBELL: Sure. Well, actually, it’s something that a lot of people are familiar with, it’s just they haven’t heard it conceptualized like that. The whole idea is just to get on an accelerated replacement schedule. You can shrink the overall size of your fleet by making sure that all the vehicles within it are more reliable. It’s something that rental car companies do. You rarely get a rental car that’s more than a couple years old because they’re always turning those around. They want to make sure they’re always running. So, by applying that same newer fewer concept to areas like garbage trucks, where we currently have a significant spare pool to cover for breakdowns and older vehicles, we can then reduce our overall fleet size, increase our reliability, and reduce our emissions profile by getting rid of those older vehicles, and at the same time we’re saving money.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it, got it. In Chicago, is alternative or electric vehicles or alternative fuels a big thing yet for you?

KEVIN CAMPBELL: Definitely, yep. We’re running three types of alternative fuels right now, ethanol, natural gas, and biodiesel. We’re using over a million gallons of ethanol every year. This is displacing over a quarter of our gasoline usage, and our CNG usage is around 50 gallon equivalents every year and growing. Our diesel fuel, we have a 2% biodiesel blend in there, so altogether, our alternative fuel accounts for almost one-third of our total fuel usage.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: And are electric vehicles also becoming popular yet in Chicago?

KEVIN CAMPBELL: Definitely. We have electric vehicles. We deployed five Nissan Leaf sedans in 2011. We followed those up with some of the new Ford Focus all-electric sedans, and those are also being very effectively deployed by several departments.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know more about vehicles than most anyone I could ever meet. For our listeners out there, that’s a huge benefit, including myself, who doesn’t know much about cars except they just want to get in them and make sure they go. In this state-of-the-art world that we live in now in 2013, Kevin, what should people be looking for in terms of if they want to live in their community and with their family, live a more sustainable lifestyle, what kind of vehicle in terms of the fuel it runs on, should people be looking to buy or lease right now?

KEVIN CAMPBELL: Well, I definitely have a high-tech recommendation, which would be electric vehicles. I really think they’re finally here to stay. I don’t think it’s just a trend. I know a lot of people are nervous about an electric vehicle with the range. It’s called range anxiety. Am I going to be able to get home? And it’s a real thing, so, you know, we’re working diligently to deploy more infrastructure so you can recharge when you’re at the mall, for example. But a lot of households, they say almost 50%, are two-vehicle households. So, what I would recommend, is if people could consider replacing just one of their vehicles with an electric vehicle, that would then be their commuting and short trip vehicle. They could still have their vacation and long trip vehicle, and if that mix could be implemented by a few million households, the difference would just be huge. But I also do have a low-tech suggestion as well, and that’s cycling. I really think bicycles are making a big comeback here, and it’s a continuing trend. Actually, our Department of Transportation is converting over 500 miles of vehicle lanes to bike lanes, and that’s going to be done here by 2020, so besides your two feet, there are few greener forms of transportation than a bicycle.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s really good. Now, let’s go back to electric vehicles, though. What is the city of Chicago’s experience with electric vehicles? Then talk a little bit more about where you’re going to be taking it in the years ahead.

KEVIN CAMPBELL: Sure. Well, the light-duty is looking pretty good. We want to keep growing that light-duty electric fleet, but we’re also looking to be early adopters of heavy truck electric vehicles. To that end, we’re working to build the first all-electric garbage truck in North America, and that should be coming online around the end of the year. If we can help push that technology so that electric vehicles become cost-effective in the truck arena, then I think that’s really going to go a long way towards helping to continue to reduce emissions.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: You talked about encouraging the driving of electric vehicles by helping people get over that whole, as you pointed out, I never heard that term, but it’s a very relevant term, range anxiety. Getting them over that, does that mean the city of Chicago and other cities are setting up more infrastructure so electric car owners can plug in?

KEVIN CAMPBELL: Absolutely. So, the city is working with businesses to make sure if they’re putting in parking that they’re allocating a certain number toward electric vehicles. Also with the parking garages downtown, all of the parking garages have to have a certain number of spots, and, incidentally, they’re usually premium spots, very close to the ground floor, very close to the elevator, so that we’re encouraging people that if they pull into that parking garage with an electric vehicle, they get free electricity during their stay.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: No way. That’s just wonderful. And that’s just going to continue to grow, you believe? The proliferation of those opportunities is just going to continue to grow in Chicago?

KEVIN CAMPBELL: I really do. I mean, household charging, if someone has a garage that’s pretty easy to implement, they just need to figure out at this point the street, how people are going to be able to charge on street parking, but I certainly think there’s a lot of technologies out that are going to assist with that implementation.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, I’m sitting here in Manhattan today, Kevin, and I know Mayor Bloomberg has installed more bike lanes and more biking opportunities, as you just pointed out the opportunities to bike. How about in the city of Chicago? Is that something you and the mayor have been working on in the city of Chicago, more biking opportunities and creating more biker-friendly areas in Chicago?

KEVIN CAMPBELL: Yeah, I was fortunate enough to attend the Sustainable Operations Summit in Manhattan last year, and actually President Clinton was one of the speakers there as well, and I came back just so full of so many ideas that we could implement here and it was just one of those great networking events, to see how sustainability not only applies to fleets, but just to so many other different areas. So, it was really an eye-opener for me, and we’ve used that momentum to try and implement a lot of these programs that New York and a lot of other cities are working on.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: With regards to bicycles and Segways and other great things.

KEVIN CAMPBELL: Right.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re down to the last couple minutes here, Kevin. Talk a little bit about the importance of car sharing, and how have you implemented that in the city of Chicago?

KEVIN CAMPBELL: Sure. Well, we actually, for both car sharing, where we’ve partnered with an outside party to use their vehicles at an hourly rate during the workday, and then we also have a carpooling program where we take our own vehicles and we make them available for longer trips. Both of these systems use online reservation programs, and we found that each shared or pooled vehicle can replace up to five signed units. So, as you can imagine, we’re very briskly working to expand both of these programs, and the great thing about the car sharing program is the same vehicles that city employees are using during the workday, they’re now being used by the general public on the evenings and weekends, so it’s really working out to be great program.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. That is just awesome. You know, I want you to share two or three more things. Kevin, there are a lot of young people out there that want to have the ability to make a difference like Kevin Campbell. They want to be the next Kevin Campbell. Give them some of your pearls of wisdom that the young college students and high school students that listen to this show always write in, and they want to try to figure out what path do I have to take to be the next Kevin Campbell? Can you share that with our listeners?

KEVIN CAMPBELL: Sure. You know, I have three young children, and I’m so pleased to see that schools are now concentrating on what they’re calling here in Chicago STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. I really do feel that no matter what field you end up going into, if you can pick from those areas, at least from my personal experience, they can be applicable no matter where you end up. My personal recommendation is if you have an interest in one of those fields, to definitely pursue it because there’s just really no saying where it can take you.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: And last but not least, last 30 seconds or so. What can people do to minimize their own vehicle emissions?

KEVIN CAMPBELL: Well, it goes back to a lot of those commonsense things. Walk when you can. Take public transportation. If you must drive a vehicle, select the smallest one that meets your needs. The whole concept of new urbanism, which I think is really great. Some people ask me what is new urbanism, and I tell them to picture the set of Sesame Street. It’s a bunch of apartments, businesses, parks, walkable neighborhoods. The closer you live to your workplace over a span of decades, by that one small decision, you’re going to be reducing your emissions profile significantly.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Kevin, the world would be a better place if we had more Kevin Campbells, for sure, this country would be a better place. I want to thank you for joining us. You’re always welcome back on Green is Good. Kevin Campbell, please go look at his great work and the mayor’s great work at cityofchicago.org. Kevin Campbell, you are a sustainability superstar and truly living proof that green is good.

KEVIN CAMPBELL: Thank you very much, John.