The main yard of the city’s Department of Fleet Management at North Throop Street and North Avenue looks about as ungreen as it gets—the sprawling complex features a megasize fueling station and warehouses stuffed with pollution-spewing trucks, snowplows, and street sweepers as far as the eye can see. That’s changing, thanks in part to Matthew Stewart, a 30-year-old employee leading the city’s efforts to minimize the carbon footprint of its municipal fleet.
Cars, trucks, buses, and trains produce 21 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Chicago. Years back, Mayor Richard M. Daley set a goal of lowering the amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the air, and he promised that city government would lead by example. But how do you take a fleet as massive as Chicago’s—7,800 vehicles, not including the CTA, that guzzle around 10 million gallons of fuel a year—and make it green? One car at a time, explains Stewart, a senior automotive equipment analyst. “It’s a slow process,” he says.
In 2010—with millions in additional federal funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—Stewart bought more than 300 new police SUVs that run on ethanol. The vehicles have saved the city fleet about 800,000 gallons in standard gasoline. Stewart also applied Recovery Act grants to retrofit 200 garbage trucks and salt spreaders with a supplemental engine and heating devices to help reduce fuel usage. And as a representative of a consortium of municipal fleets and private transportation companies, he oversaw the development of a hybrid hydraulic garbage truck—the first of its kind. At presstime, one was on its way to Chicago.
Stewart moved from Minnesota to suburban Wheaton in 1998 to attend Wheaton College. A part-time data-entry job at the DuPage County forest preserve district turned into a full-time position with the district’s fleet department after Stewart graduated. At the time, the district was replacing older cars and pickups with hybrids and vehicles that run on alternative fuels. When Stewart left five years later, half the fleet had gone green.
In 2006, he came to Chicago’s Department of Fleet Management. “I was given all the green projects because of my past experience,” he recalls. Since then, Stewart has drafted an ordinance legalizing Neighborhood Electric Vehicles, or battery-powered eco-friendly minicars for driving short distances. He also directed efforts to equip hundreds of older vehicles with shutdown devices to prevent idling.
This year Stewart seeks to boost the number of alternative-fuel cars and trucks and pieces of heavy equipment in the fleet, either by buying new or retrofitting the old with clean exhaust control systems and idle-shutdown timers. “This is not just maintaining a fleet or buying fleet equipment,” says Stewart. “For me, this is part of my life. It’s something that I can be proud of.”
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Photograph: Taylor Castle; Photo Assistant: Joshua Haines; Hair and Makeup: Nika Vaughan; Wardrobe: Tony Bryan; Furniture: Courtesy of Post 27