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Fleet decarbonization: Ready to make it a corporate priority?


February 19, 2024

In recent months, three things have happened in quick succession: COP 28, the holidays, and the launch of our fleet electrification research which explores organizational readiness.  

They are more connected than they might first appear!

COP 28 underscored the need to accelerate decarbonization; the holidays demonstrated the disjointedness of my own experience of fleet operations (more on that later); and our research laid bare the state of fleet electrification and the road ahead.

The research showed fleet decarbonization is more than just a response to regulatory pressure; it’s a key lever for future competitiveness—a corporate priority, not a sustainability priority.

But here and now, 60% of the organizations we surveyed say fleet decarbonization is currently a sustainability priority—not a corporate priority—and 35% say an unclear business case is a barrier to moving forward.

So, as I talk to my clients about shifting gear from sustainability strategy to corporate strategy, here are six things I’m counselling them to consider:

#1: Accept the uncertain business case (for now)

The climate transition, and fleet decarbonization as an essential element of that, bakes in an inevitable level of uncertainty. 

My clients know it.

The truth is, it feels uncomfortable to plan for a transition predicated on reasonable assumptions but also numerous unknowns, and to which companies must nevertheless, commit.

With companies that own, operate or rely on fleet operations increasingly setting Science-Based Net Zero targets by 2050 (Accenture’s Destination Net Zero research shows approximately 37% of the world’s largest companies already have public targets), they are relying on their supply chains to help them meet those targets.

That’s where the rubber hits the road. 

Because it means future revenue is already at risk. Put simply, if fleets don’t decarbonize to the timescales their clients demand, those clients will choose another supplier, which makes this a de facto corporate (not sustainability) priority.

And that requires accepting an uncertain business case, in the knowledge the path will become clearer, iteratively, and over time. But waiting isn’t an option, with the early movers already ahead.

#2: Line up your leaders

My clients talk about confusion about the focus of responsibility for fleet decarbonization. Does it lie with Procurement, IT, or HR? Who should be in the driving seat?

Here’s my response: when you think of fleet decarbonization as a corporate priority, this dictates the governance arrangements and roles required.

For instance, when you think about financing the fleet (e.g., owning, leasing or as-a-service models), the discussion is naturally elevated from fleet manager to chief financial officer (CFO). I am seeing this first hand, as I support my clients to bring these conversations to their CFOs—the same conversations that used to be held with procurement or operations.

Similarly, when you look at charging arrangements (at corporate buildings, at employees’ homes, out on the road) your chief human resources office (CHRO) will need to weigh in—as some of these decisions have impacts on employees’ conditions and experiences. 

Ultimately, it’s about thinking of fleet as part of a strategic enterprise reinvention—and bringing the right governance arrangements to bear to make that a reality. 

#3: Think ‘glocally’ and pilot to break the paralysis

It can be daunting to decarbonize your whole fleet. So make a pragmatic ‘glocal’ plan—one that looks globally at the opportunity but actively takes account of local practicalities. In some markets, fleet electrification is ready for rollout; in others, the infrastructure may not be ready but pragmatic advancements can still be made (e.g., scaling up biofuel usage while you wait for the electrification opportunity to mature).

Be pragmatic; start where you can. It’s better than waiting for the perfect solution—and the best way to protect your competitive positioning as others start to move. 

Turn to piloting as the antidote to paralysis, to help you test: Are your assumptions correct? Do you fully understand your requirements? How can you work with your stakeholders to learn as you go, and scale what you learn?

#4: Consult the experts from the beginning

Involve fleet managers and unions from the outset, for the invaluable insights and perspectives they bring. They know what works and what doesn’t, and how to roll out changes most effectively, with the right skilling to match.

With our research showing 24% of respondents citing a lack of understanding of the changing fleet management/usage patterns needed when using electric vehicles, it pays to prioritize a holistic plan for change management and engagement to plug that gap. 

Getting it right really matters: 59% of the executives we surveyed say fleet managers are resistant to electrification, plus 67% of vehicle maintenance staff and 63% of drivers. Why? Consider that just a third (34%) of fleet managers feel they have played a meaningful role in setting electrification strategy and have ownership of the process. 

This has to change for a successful future.

Get it wrong, and the whole program fails—one of my clients tells a salutary tale of five electric vehicles sitting in a depot because nobody wants to drive them!

#5: Challenge accepted paradigms and models

In a more macro sense, I ask my clients to use the fleet decarbonization conversation as a route to challenging their whole fleet paradigm as they look to be competitive for the future. 

Here’s an example: One of my clients has a long-established approach to leasing trucks for several years, before having the option to buy them at discounted rates. But what if a holistic fleet decarbonization strategy could challenge that?

For instance, what about mobility-as-a-service? Perhaps you pay per use, by distance travelled (instead of buying)? Or maybe you look to a multi-modal approach that brings in other ways of delivering fleet operations (maybe train, or even electric scooter!).  

#6: Partner, collaborate and learn together

At Accenture, we often talk about partnering for accelerating outcomes. Nowhere is this a more relevant lever than in fleet decarbonization, in which an ecosystem of partners for e.g., charging operations, accelerate progress and de-risk at the same time. 

So work to create your ecosystem of trusted partners, including a peer network for sharing learning and accelerating joint action. Think of unions as one of those partners; consider how to share learning across competitors, adjacent industries and beyond.

Think of it as coopetition—competing but also co-operating in ways that advance everyone.

And that brings me back to my holiday shopping—receiving multiple deliveries from different vendors in the same few hours—a scenario ripe for coopetition, surely!

In short, fleet decarbonization is a generational opportunity to redesign the whole competitive model for fleet-based operations, while accelerating the transition to Net Zero. 

It’s time to think on your fleet.


Sanda Tuzlic

Managing Director – eMobility Lead