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Fleet Profile: Mitie

Date: 24 August 2023   |   Author: Rachel Boagey

Group fleet manager Heidi Thompson tells Rachel Boagey how the company aims to help decarbonise Britain by providing comprehensive net-zero solutions to customers and leading the way in fleet electrification.

With over 1,000 pure electric cars, vans and other commercial vehicles, facilities management company Mitie is believed to have the UK's largest fleet of zero-emission vehicles on the roads and has one of the country's largest workforces with approximately 64,000 employees working across the business.

A key focus for Mitie over the past few years has been decarbonisation services, where the company supports customers with decarbonising their operations and built environments and more generally helping them to reach their net zero goals. These services include heat pump installation, building living walls, solar PV and electric vehicle charge points installations.

As group fleet manager since 2018, Heidi Thompson is responsible for delivering Mitie's fleet strategy, running the day-to-day fleet operations, as well as working closely with the quality, health, social and environment (QHSE) and driver safety teams to ensure that the fleet remains fully compliant with safety regulations.

Thompson has been working for Mitie for 17 years, and throughout her time at the company, she has always worked within the fleet team, starting out in fleet by chance when she joined the company as an office junior straight after leaving secondary school.

"Through the years, I've gradually worked my way through a variety of different roles within the fleet business, including compliance, operations and safety. It's been a long and rewarding journey and has given me a thorough understanding of the end-to-end challenges within the industry," explains Thompson, who says time at Mitie as group fleet manager has been a wonderful journey filled with different learnings and challenges. 

She currently oversees a team of 14 colleagues who depend on her for a variety of things, from making challenging decisions quickly and decisively to providing training and best practice guidance for their personal learning and development. "No two days are ever the same, and I really relish the challenge of running a large-scale nationwide fleet operation," she tells us. 

Mitie offers a range of services to public and private sector organisations including cleaning, security, landscapes, waste management, engineering and of course, energy - essentially everything a business needs to keep its sites running. 

"To put this into context, our colleagues are responsible for looking after train stations, airports, schools, universities, hospitals, shops, and workplaces for some of Britain's biggest brands, with millions of people passing through sites we look after each and every day," says Thompson.

What that means for the company is a holistic focus on decarbonisation services, supporting customers with decarbonising their operations and built environments, and more generally helping them to reach their net zero goals. These services include heat pump installation, building living walls, solar PV and electric vehicle charge points installations.

The somewhat large fleet managed by Thompson consists of 3,170 cars which are a mix of operational service cars - used every day to fulfil work roles - and company cars offered to eligible colleagues as part of a perks programme. The company offers a wide range of manufacturers on the fleet, including Audi, BMW, Hyundai, Kia, and Tesla. 

"We have one of the biggest fleets in the country and our colleagues are based all over the UK - from the Highlands and islands of Scotland, all the way down to Lands' End," Thompson tells us. "Because of this, we know we can play a key role in leading the way in electrifying road use across the UK."

Putting EVs first 

The fleet's transition to EVs began back in December 2018 and since then Mitie has adopted an EV-first policy. "This means we will always deploy EVs where possible whilst we phase out petrol and diesel cars," explains Thompson. 

She explains that with such a wide range of electric models now available on the market, it has become easier for Mitie to offer electric alternatives that still meet colleagues' requirements. "For any colleagues that can't make the switch just yet, they are given one of the petrol or diesel cars that are already on our fleet, rather than a new vehicle," Thompson says. "I'm really proud that thanks to this approach, 85% of our car fleet is now fully electric."

While the company still has some way to go to change the remaining 25% of cars over to electric, it's definitely on the right track - having already this year added more than 224 electric cars to the fleet. 

And it's not just cars. "While we're accelerating ahead with our electric car commitment, with nearly 4,000 Mitie vans up and down the country, we need to switch those for electric as soon as we can too,"
explains Thompson.

Mitie already has 772 electric vans on the fleet which are used to support a variety of different teams. For instance, our Urban Landscapes service team uses electric Vauxhall Vivaro E vans fitted with solar panels on the roof to charge the battery-powered landscaping tools and equipment, such as electric trimmers, leaf blowers and lawnmowers. "We've also switched some of our larger and more specialist vehicles to electric as part of our EV transition strategy," Thompson says.

The Plan Zero goal

Plan Zero is Mitie's decarbonisation commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions for its operations by 2025. The strategy is focused on delivering decarbonisation, with specific targets in three key areas: eliminating Mitie's carbon emissions from power and transport, eradicating non-sustainable waste, and enhancing inefficient buildings to meet the highest environmental standards.

The transition to EVs, spurred by Thompson, is a big part of this decarbonisation strategy, given that as of June 2023, more than 98% of Mitie's total scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions originate from its fleet. "In a similar vein, we're also decarbonising our buildings by switching our heating systems to renewable electricity, while also using smart technology to improve energy efficiency," Thompson continues.

She tells us Mitie recently achieved certification by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), validating that the company's near- and long-term greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets meet its criteria and recommendations. "We're proud of this validation, as it demonstrates to our customers and colleagues that we have the appropriate plan in place to meet our net zero goals and support our ambitions to limit global warming to 1.5-degrees celsius," says Thompson.

Given the size of Mitie's fleet, it is ideally placed to trial new net zero innovations, which puts it in a unique position to be able to help provide knowledge to the industry, especially to other organisations with smaller fleets
than theirs. 

Thompson is a member of the Association of Fleet Professionals and attends committee meetings to share her knowledge and discuss the challenges of transitioning to EVs with her fellow industry peers. "At the end of the day, the more companies that switch their fleets to electric, the more vehicle manufacturers will invest in these models and the more charge points will be installed," Thompson says. "It's a win-win."

Decarbonising Britain

Mitie's mission, according to Thompson, is to help decarbonise Britain. "We do this by offering a whole range of net zero solutions to our customers to help them reduce their environmental impact," she explains. Part of this includes helping customers transition their fleets to electric by installing electric charging points and any related grid connections or electrical infrastructure work that is needed. 

"As a proud British company, we care about improving the communities where we work, and that includes reducing our environmental impact and improving local air quality," says Thompson. "And aside from the huge environmental benefits of electrification, it also makes financial sense for us to lead the way, thanks to the lower running and service maintenance costs of EVs."

Mitie has a strategic partnership in place with Lex Autolease, which provides all the vehicles for our fleet on a five-year lease basis. "We've been working really closely with them on the electrification of our fleet, and it's been great to have their support on this journey," says Thompson. Mitie also has a partnership with Allstar, the public charging payment solutions provider that its colleagues rely on to pay for using EV charge points outside their own homes. 

To make sure the fleet is practising what it preaches in regard to the adoption of EVs, Thompson says the company tries to encourage its customers and partners to commit to adopting EVs on most of its contracts where possible. A good example of this is when the fleet supported Royal London, the UK's largest mutual insurance, pensions and investment company with its EV transition strategy, by installing the first ten EV charge points at its office in Alderley Park. "We're also managing the EV charge point rollout for customers including the Environment Agency, Home Office, and National Grid. So far, we've installed 2,800 charge points across the country," says Thompson.

On a day-to-day level, the biggest challenge by far, Thompson explains, is EV charging. "Many of our colleagues don't have access to off-street parking - approximately 35 of colleagues don't have a home charger - which means they are fully reliant on the public network or client sites," she explains. This can be less reliable and more expensive than having their own charge point at home, so a solution Mitie has put in place is providing these colleagues with free prepaid public charge cards. 

However, some challenges are far more complex, Thompson notes. "We all know that electricity will play a big role in the future of Britain's decarbonisation, but electric vehicles, heat pumps and solar panels will all need reliable grid connections with the ability to export excess power," she says. 

"The very process of putting in place new connections to the electric grid or increasing how much power is being drawn down can be a challenge in itself. It's often a very slow and bureaucratic process, especially given how long it takes to get the legal approvals in place," adds Thompson.

Even with all the right approvals granted, Thompson adds that there is no set timeframe for Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) to complete the work needed to connect the site to the grid infrastructure and get chargers up and running. This is a major challenge for many organisations that are looking to electrify their fleets and ramp up the number of charge points they have as they are being slowed down by these processes. "The uncertainty around timings also makes the business case for investing in such decarbonisation projects less appealing," says Thompson.

The future of EV fleets is people 

The fleet industry is never short of challenges, whether that might be the fluctuating fuel prices, vehicle supply issues, or even skills shortages to accommodate the ever-increasing adoption of new technologies. 

But in future, the biggest opportunity for Mitie according to Thompson is achieving its Plan Zero target of having a fully electric fleet. Following closely in terms of opportunities is to continue sharing knowledge and providing decarbonisation services.  

"Right now, my number one focus is on transitioning Mitie's fleet to fully electric in line with our 2025 Plan Zero commitment," Thompson explains. "Alongside this, my personal goal is to also continue growing the team and support their career development - they are the future of EV fleets." 

One challenge Thompson and her team has encountered in particular is the shortage of specialist green skills and training needed to keep up with the scale of EV production needed to meet the government's target of only producing zero-emission vehicles from 2035. "We need to be promoting and facilitating the growth of specialist green skills now through apprenticeships, training programs and incentivised reskilling and upskilling initiatives to ensure that the automotive industry is a leader in the green economy revolution," Thompson concludes.