Group having success in Gwinnett with no idling program

LAWRENCEVILLE - The metro area's nonprofit organization committed to better air quality and less traffic says some of its biggest success stories in its no idling program operate right here in Gwinnett County.

And according to Clean Air Campaign Director of Communications Brian Carr, the firms and schools participating in this no idling program are making a significant contribution toward combatting the area's air-quality-related problems.

"It's the transportation industry equivalent to office buildings turning the lights off when not in use," Carr said of the nonprofit's program, which gets participants to shut off their vehicles while waiting, loading or unloading. "And it's easy to participate in."

Like the ease of participation, the program is also easy to implement at businesses or schools, Carr said. All it usually entails is putting a human resource policy into effect which says trucks or cars left idling is prohibited. Any training related to that message would come after the policy went into effect.

That's exactly what Shumate Mechanical - a Gwinnett heating and cooling company - did with 240 of its service vans, trucks and pickups. According to Charles Decker, the company had no problem getting the program up and running.

"It improves the air quality, reduces our employees' exposure to emissions and conserves diesel and the life of the vehicle," Decker said of its no idling program. "And it makes sense with regards to gas prices."

According to findings by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that are endorsed by the Clean Air Campaign, if a vehicle is to be left idling for more than 30 seconds, drivers will generally save more fuel if you stop and restart the engine as opposed to letting it idle. The EPA reports that one hour of idling can consume more than a gallon of diesel fuel, depending on a vehicle's year and model, and can reduce the operating life of engine oil by 75 percent.

According to Eric Cox of Norcross-based American Coach Lines - a motorcoach travel outfit with buses and routes all over the country - the fuel savings related to a no-idling policy was enough to get it involved in this type of program a long time ago.

"This policy was already in effect and originally it had to do with fuel savings," Cox said. "But as a company with 2,100 coaches in our fleet, we've found that if we reduce idling by 90 minutes a today, it equates to 876,000 gallons of fuel saved a year," he said. "That's huge."

Cox said drivers for American Coach Lines don't idle their vehicles because it's covered in training sessions from day one.

"It's just something our drivers don't do," he said.

For Suzanna's Kitchen, which encourages mass transit use and carpooling and likes to participate in environmental wellness programs, an official said the company got involved in Clean Air's no idling program after one of its dock workers became ill from some truck exhaust fumes.

"We had lots of trucks coming in and out and we knew it would save gas and help the atmosphere," said vice president Norman Andrews. "And it's working very well at our two Gwinnett County facilities. Everybody pulls in and checks in and it's all good."

Carr said the no-idling business-to-business program started up five months ago thanks to a UPS foundation grant and is very similar to its still ongoing program in Atlanta-area schools. Carr said of the 72 schools participating by having no idle zones, half are from Gwinnett. He said the goal for the program is to get 125 schools signed up. According to Clean Air, vehicle emissions are especially harmful to schoolchildren since their lungs are still developing. Carr also said the group in 2009 would like to take the business-to-business no-idling program statewide if possible.

"The need for action is clear," said the Clean Air Campaign's Executive Director Kevin Green in a May statement announcing the program. "Unnecessary idling exposes vulnerable populations of children and adults to unhealthy plumes of toxic exhaust."