The conversation: “Economic driving results in so much more of a peaceful feeling”

17 December 2019

Nick Major – Corporate Affairs Director and responsible for sustainability within ForFarmers – is entering into discussions with colleagues about how they give substance to ForFarmers as a sustainable organisation within their work. This time he is talking to Erik Holterman, who has been driving a bulk truck in the east of the Netherlands for ForFarmers for more than 22 years.

Nick Major (r.) in conversation with Erik Holterman
Nick Major (r.) in conversation with Erik Holterman.

Nick: “What does ‘sustainability’ mean to you?”
Erik: “The first thing I think about is dealing with fuel as economically as possible and being careful with your materials. When I first started, we were really only focussed on one thing: delivering tons per hour. You had to deliver as much as possible, how you managed that didn’t matter. They first started talking about saving fuel around 2003. We were sent on a course and my former manager predicted we would be driving at least 5 percent more economically. We had our doubts at the time, but he was right.”

Nick: “So you needed to work on your style of driving. What did you and your colleagues think about that?”
Erik: “There was a bit of resistance to start with. ‘I have been driving for such a long time already and have never incurred any damage, so why do I need to do things differently?’ was a frequently-heard reaction. The course taught us to anticipate, release the accelerator earlier, keep your distance, those kinds of things. That took a bit of getting used to and you could often hear people complaining that: ‘they weren’t getting anywhere fast’. But I soon noticed that this method of driving was a great deal more peaceful. You end up with a much better overview, you feel less hurried, you won’t need to slam your foot on the brake all that often. I was arriving back home at night much less tired.”

A contest with yourself

The dashboard provides instant feedback
The dashboard provides instant feedback.

Nick: “Could you also see the effects on fuel consumption?”
Erik: “We were given a look at the figures per vehicle during team meetings. So if you usually drove the same truck, you could easily see how you were doing. But different drivers would often be driving the same truck. The trucks were kitted out with on-board computers a few years later, which would register your driving style and give you a rating. So we could then start to see the performance per driver.”

Nick: “What happened with those figures?”
Erik: “Initially they were shared during the team meetings. Now you discuss it in the work meetings with your manager. You are also given an objective in your annual HR cycle, for example that you need to score a minimum of 8.5. We now have an app on our phones, which is linked to the on-board computer. This app instantly shows you how you have scored on a number of points, including smooth driving, braking force, speed and fuel consumption. I really see it as a challenge to constantly improve my figures.”

Nick: “And do you manage to do that?”
Erik: “Not always and I have to admit, I don’t like it when I can’t. But it’s definitely also linked to the kind of journeys you’re doing. You can drive much more economically during long distance journeys compared to short trips. And you’ll also see your scores go down if you need to make deliveries at several different addresses within one journey.”

The shortest route is not always the most efficient one

Nick: “Apart from your driving style, are there any other ways of reducing your fuel consumption?”
Erik: “Yes, the route you choose certainly matters too. The route with lots of roundabouts may well be the shortest route, but it definitely won't be the most efficient one. It doesn’t result in a relaxing drive, plus your tyres will wear much more quickly too. And when delivering I try to park as close to the silo as possible, allowing me to use a short hose. The longer the hose, the more fuel will be required for unloading. Plus it would take more time and can negatively affect the quality of the chunk. But you are not always in a position to influence this. The situation at the farm is fixed. And not forgetting: sustainability is also about how the vehicles are maintained. We didn’t used to be particularly aware of this, we preferred to simply keep going. But we can maintain better control of the costs with good maintenance and that’s naturally in our own interest too.”

Nick: “Do farmers ever talk to you about sustainability or environmental issues?”
Erik: “Rarely, apart from recently during the farmers’ protests, I did hear from several farmers that they really appreciated ForFarmers’ support. I am actually very curious about how people are going to react to the government’s plans to tackle the nitrogen problem via the feed. But I can’t imagine a farmer is going to address me directly about that specific issue.”

A reward for good behaviour

Nick: “Do you get involved with sustainability at home too?”
Erik: “I have definitely started driving more economically at home because of my work. I also try not to throw things away too quickly, or to reuse them. I separate waste too, but surely everyone does that? Oh and one more thing, I have had solar panels installed on my roof.”

Nick: “Do you think ForFarmers sufficiently communicates about sustainability, that employees are sufficiently involved?”
Erik: “I do think they’re doing well, trying to get everyone on the right track. But everyone naturally has a different focus point. Most people do see the importance of sustainability, but start to lose interest when a little extra effort is required. We should really be stimulating good behaviour, for example with a day off, or a team outing or something. After all, we do this with the farmers too; a farmer placing a late order won’t get penalised, but he does get a discount if he orders on time.”

Erik Holterman (l) and Nick Major in the cabin
Erik Holterman (l) and Nick Major in the cabin.