Last winter, Christchurch-based truck driver Surita Heyden joined Z’s team of ‘eco drivers’ in a challenge to find New Zealand’s most efficient driver.
One year on, Surita, her husband and their daughter have found themselves not only saving money on their fuel costs, but also driving more safely as a result of what they learned through Z’s training.
“We reckon we’ve saved more than $600 in fuel costs over the last 12 months, which is incredible. What’s also been amazing is the influence we’ve been able to have on our family and friends – just sharing the tips we’ve learned, and the money we’ve saved,” says Surita.
Figuring out that the most efficient way to drive isn’t about maintaining a constant speed was an important realisation.
“There was a real ‘a-ha!’ moment for me when I realised that it’s actually about throttle control, and not about travelling at a constant speed. Instead of driving constantly at 100km/h on the open road, which uses a lot of energy, I realised practising throttle control gives me all the momentum I need to get up and over a hill.”
Even though she already considered herself an eco- and safety-conscious driver, Surita is quick to point out that being even more eco-efficient has had its challenges.
“I’ve had to learn to check myself when I’m frustrated – you know, when you just want to floor the accelerator and get away from the slow driver in front of you.
“I’ve learned to be a lot calmer in the car than I was before, because my focus is different now – instead of trying to get from A to B in 10 seconds, for me now it’s about getting from A to B more safely, and while using less energy.”
Driving more defensively, keeping an eye on the hill (or slow vehicle) coming up ahead and adjusting your driving accordingly, are all important not only for being a more efficient driver, but also for being safer on the road.
“The fact that you’re always looking 20 seconds ahead has been great. It gives you a lot more time for decision-making, and means I can comfortably and safely apply the eco-techniques that we’ve learned.
“It’s also given me time to make good decisions – to observe what’s around me, and make better calls as a result. I’ve definitely found myself driving more proactively than reactively.”
Z’s Sustainability Manager, Gerri Ward, says while it may sound counterintuitive for a fuel company to help customers to use less fuel, the eco-driver training was a really natural fit for the company.
“As a kiwi company on the journey to running a more sustainable business, our sustainability programme has to include helping our customers to be able to reduce their own carbon footprint, as well as focusing on our own”, says Gerri. “It was a real buzz seeing how much Surita and the other eco-drivers gained from undertaking the training, and the benefits they’ve seen over the past year”. The proof has been in the pudding for Surita and her family, however, who say the evidence of the fuel – and dollar - savings they’ve made is what’s really driven the changes home.
“When I sat down and worked it out, I thought – I can have another good holiday every year with all the money I’ve saved! That was what really cemented the changes for me personally.”
Eco-drivers Surita Heyden (L) and Z’s Aviation Admin Officer, Christine Parker (R), met during the Z training and still catch up regularly for coffee.