Supporting Green

You can lower your operation’s carbon footprint with propane.

By Jeremy Wishart

Green is “in” in supply chain management. A growing number of supply chain businesses have adopted an environmentally-friendly mindset, with a goal of reducing facility emissions and, in turn, shrinking their carbon footprint. Working toward a sustainable operation encourages worker safety and comfort. It also mitigates harmful effects to the environment and helps businesses win the respect of their customer and community.

There are limitless ways facilities can become “greener” or more energy efficient, one of which includes the type of equipment — and fuel — chosen to keep material moving day to day.

Propane is the preferred forklift fuel by a large majority of material handling professionals. In fact, 90 percent of Class 4 and 5 forklifts run on propane, according to data from the Propane Education & Research Council. The majority of fleet managers — 70 percent of fleet managers from the 5,000-10,000 pounds capacity range and 51 percent from the 10,000 pounds and up capacities — are choosing propane, too.

While propane is a long-established productivity driver for all kinds of facilities throughout the supply chain, it’s increasingly being incorporated into companies’ sustainability action plans because of its low-emissions profile compared to other fuels.

Environmentally speaking, propane has an edge over other forklift fuels. Propane has proven to produce significantly fewer emissions than other fuel sources. In fact, a comparative emissions analysis of forklifts conducted by PERC, in partnership with the Gas Technology Institute, found that propane forklifts produce 15 percent fewer SOx emissions, 17 percent fewer NOx emissions, and 16 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared with gasoline forklifts.

Compared to electric forklifts, propane can reduce SOx emissions by 76 percent. While it’s true that electric forklifts produce zero emissions during normal operation, their site-to-source emissions profile isn’t so squeaky clean. Site-to-source emissions for electric forklifts encompass emissions caused by electric generation and its transmission to the final point of use. Facilities also need to consider the emissions produced during battery production and their transportation.

The battery disposal process is dirty, too. When an electric forklift battery goes dead, facility managers can’t simply dispose of them without negatively impacting the environment. Because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers them a hazardous material, they have specific handling and disposal regulations attached. In many cases, proper disposal or reconditioning of the battery can be a costly proposition.

When working toward a more sustainable operation, it’s also important to consider how electricity is produced. In many parts of the country, electricity production still comes from coal fired power plants. When you factor the emissions profile of a coal fired power plant with the transmission and distribution losses of electric, the full scale of environmental impact is quite staggering.

Propane doesn’t sacrifice performance or break the budget. Even if sustainable practices are a company goal, green practices still have to make business sense. With propane, businesses can attain a sustainable operation all while maintaining performance and productivity levels, and even keeping costs in check.

Propane-powered forklifts ensure employees have all the advantages they need to work effectively, providing long-term productivity and performance, 100 percent power throughout operation, and the ability to push heavy loads at full capacity faster and longer than electric forklifts. Whether it’s a small task or a heavy lift, propane can handle the job at hand.

With propane, employees don’t have to worry about downtime for recharging. Electric forklifts, on the other hand, require hours of recharging and strict battery management. Plus, one propane cylinder typically lasts an entire eight-hour shift, so facilities can enjoy uninterrupted operational capacity. This is especially great for facilities that run operations 24/7, as propane can enable them to work around the clock.

In addition to keeping workplace productivity up, propane also keeps costs down. The fuel has no hidden costs and when compared with electric and diesel forklifts, provides savings throughout ownership. According to a survey from PERC, fleet managers rated initial capital cost as one of the top five important factors when purchasing a forklift. Electric forklifts, when compared with propane, have a 30 percent higher capital cost.

Plus, electric equipment is costly when you consider the utility costs of keeping them charged. Battery life and power output for electric forklifts also diminish over time and lead to future costs that can go overlooked, including additional expensive batteries. Charging electric forklift batteries when the remaining charge is too high or too low can reduce the lifespan of the battery by half.

In contrast, propane forklifts are known to have a much longer lifespan — which leads to additional cost savings over time. The life expectancy of a propane cylinder is actually three times longer than the life expectancy of an electric forklift battery and extends beyond the typical lifespan of a forklift. Additionally, propane-powered forklifts can be refilled at any time without affecting the lifespan of the cylinder.

Beyond the initial equipment purchase and the cost of fuel, the facilities are only responsible for the maintenance and storing the cylinders, which they lease from their propane supplier. Facility managers may also be able to lock in a fuel price with their local propane supplier, providing even more peace of mind.

Choosing the right forklift and fuel can significantly impact a business’ productivity, operation, budget, carbon footprint and overall ROI. Luckily, propane has proven to be a clean, cost-efficient, versatile fuel for a wide variety of material handling, distribution and logistics operations. Visit to learn more about propane forklifts.

Jeremy Wishart is director of off-road business development for the Propane Education & Research Council. He can be reached at