The Power Of One: The Don Ostler story

This is my final few days of the relaunch campaign for Saving The World

At WorkPlease join me and win/help!  One point I make throughout the book is that 

one person, through leadership, can change how his/her company does business.

Today’s excerpt from the book focuses on the importance of patience, tolerance and 


Don Ostler is a saver soldier who used these three rules effectively to

evangelize a controversial idea. The delivery operations manager at Green

Mountain Coffee Roasters, Ostler oversees twenty‐four trucks driven by fortyeight

drivers covering four warehouses around the country.

Concerned about global warming, Ostler realized that transportation was a

primary driver of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters’ carbon footprint, so he

decided to try to cut transportation‐related emissions.

In 2004, Ostler started experimenting with mixing traditional and

nontraditional fuels, as well as placing nose cones on the front of his trucks to

reduce wind drag. None of these efforts moved the needle, but the process

educated him on the different variables that determine fuel efficiency. As he

pored over fuel data, he stumbled upon the culprit that generated most of his

fleet’s eco‐waste: engine idling during deliveries and pickups. This one factor

accounted for 30 percent of all gasoline used by his fleet.

Ostler also realized that his drivers tended to leave their trucks running the

entire day, even as they loaded and unloaded trucks during delivery stops.

Drivers believed that idling preserved comfortable temperatures in the cabin,

and that repeatedly turning an engine on and off could damage it.

Because Ostler knew these beliefs were long‐standing, he couldn’t simply

mandate change. If the drivers didn’t believe in an idle‐reduction policy,

they’d ignore it. Instead, Ostler decided to educate the drivers through a

curriculum of presentations, events, and progress reports.

So Ostler kicked off the company’s 2005 annual drivers’ meeting with a

fifteen‐minute PowerPoint presentation that offered up a few facts, including

how much fuel idling wasted, how much money that cost, and what it all

meant to the company’s bottom line.

Next, he asked drivers to explain why they idled during deliveries. They told

him what he already knew: climate control and engine wear. He responded by

giving several of them a homework assignment: Try turning off the engines

and testing climate preservation. Ostler promised that, in the meantime, his

maintenance group would research the issue of whether turning off the

engine created wear and tear.

Most of the crowd was visibly skeptical. But over the next few months,

drivers discovered that their cabins stayed cool or hot long after they’d

turned the engine off. Meanwhile, Ostler’s maintenance crew found evidence

that idling ran an engine hotter than normal and contributed to its wear and

tear in the long run.

Ostler presented his ongoing findings at quarterly warehouse luncheons,

during which he told drivers that while there might not be any individual

savings here, he was concerned about the big picture. The company should

do its part to help the planet because the planet needs help. This is what the

company stood for, and so should the drivers.

Ostler convinced several drivers to turn their engines off during deliveries.

But he still had skeptics, so he knew his job wasn’t done. Ostler’s presentation

at the next meeting focused on the accomplishments of a handful of drivers in

that first year. Then he created a scorecard system that helped each driver

measure his own idle time and fuel efficiency. One man, a vocal naysayer from

the beginning, was so impressed with these accomplishments that he

converted and soon became one of the no‐idling movement’s leaders inside

the company.

During 2006, the idle‐reduction program helped save the company 5,000

gallons of gasoline. Idling dropped from 30 percent of engine running time to

less than 10 percent. Ostler was so proud of his team’s accomplishments that

he created and distributed T‐shirts saying, “GMCR Saved 5,000 Gallons of Gas

Annually with Idle Reduction, and I Helped.”

The joke at the company is that the drivers have so bought into this

program that they now shut off their engines at a long stoplight. Once he

knew this program had worked, Ostler took up a new cause, evangelizing biodiesel

fuel to business managers at the company. Over time, he has helped

enhance Green Mountain Coffee Roasters’ image as a sustainable company,

adding to its longstanding reputation as a fair‐trade advocate.Through their persistent

efforts, Ostler and the rest of his Green Mountain evangelists helped the company finish 

at the top of Business Ethics magazine’s2006 Top Corporate Citizens list.