More Americans than ever are driving hybrid, electric and alternative-fuel vehicles, and it’s reducing our use of imported petroleum. Now a number of big commercial fleets are also getting into the act; quietly leading the drive for green on a grand scale.

JOHN DAVIS: With millions of vehicles hitting the streets everyday – making routine deliveries, service calls, and business trips - America’s large fleet operators are in a prime position to lead by example and effect a clean change in our energy choices.

And many are doing just that, by joining forces through the Department of Energy’s national clean fleets partnership. Leveraging the resources of clean cities coalitions across the country, this program encourages private fleets to cut their petroleum use by adopting though alternative fuels and fuel-saving measures, shares best practices and operating tips information among fleet managers, and provides technical assistance and public recognition for their efforts.

Well-known national operators like UPS, Coca-Cola and Waste Management have long been recognized for their clean fleet practices. Since 2007, Coca-Cola has built the largest heavy-duty, diesel-electric hybrid fleet in North America. Alternative fuel vehicles make up nearly 10% of their heavy-duty truck fleet, and they plan on doubling that number over the next few years.

But smaller fleets can have a big impact too. 

Schwan’s 4,500 home-delivery trucks are a familiar sight in many parts of the country. They are as well-known for their ice cream as for their use of propane fuel, a practice they began in the 1970’s.

ThyssenKrupp elevator has cut reduced the petroleum use of its 3200 vehicle fleet by more than 20% since 2009. They’ve accomplished this by using more efficient route planning, down-sizing to smaller more efficient vehicles whenever possible, and by expanding the use of alternative fuels to power its service vans, pickups and shop vehicles.

TOM ARMSTRONG: It was important for us to analyze all the different types of alternative fuels and alternative fuel vehicles out there. Therefore we created what we call the “five c’s of analyzing alternative fuels: is it clean, does it conserve, is it cost-effective, does it make common sense, and can you actually commit.

JOHN DAVIS: ThyssenKrupp’s analysis led them to choose propane. In addition to a much lower fuel cost than gasoline or diesel, the availability of local propane fueling stations in cities where they operate was critical, as most of their service technicians drive the vans home at night and can’t always rely on a central company-owned fuel point.

Ryder has added a variety of natural gas vehicles to its fleet in several key cities, so commercial lease and rental customers can reap the benefits of clean alternative fuels and, in effect, test-drive them under actual work conditions. In addition to installing its own natural gas refueling equipment, Ryder is investing in the clean future of its operating communities by adding public-access fuel pumps at all of its CNG-equipped facilities.

Enterprise, the world’s largest car rental company, uses alternative fuels and clean technology throughout its shuttle bus fleet and now offers electric vehicles for rent in 9 major metro areas across the U.S….

There is no one-size fits all solution for bringing alternative fueled vehicles into the mainstream. Each of these companies chose the clean fuel that best fits their unique needs. But by choosing to make a clean fuel commitment for themselves, these green fleets are serving as a pace-setter for others to follow, and are providing long-term transportation solutions that will help us all breathe a little easier.