It's a small step, but an important one nonetheless. DHL, part of global package and mail delivery company Deutsche Post DHL, has converted its entire Manhattan delivery fleet to electric and hybrid vehicles as part of a pilot program to gauge their effectiveness in U.S. markets.

“Manhattan is our largest pickup and delivery facility in the U.S.,” says Karsten Aufgebauer, senior vice president and general manager of Area 4 (Northeast) for DHL's U.S. operations. “New York, as a community, is very green-friendly…we thought that the environment we're finding in Manhattan was the most suitable market.”

The deployment of the 80 vehicles, which include 30 Ford Transit Connect Electric vans and 50 Ford E-450 vans retrofitted with a hybrid powertrain, represents nearly 9% of the company's U.S. fleet, which numbers 890 vehicles. Aufgebauer called this program, which launched in the fall of 2011, a “first step” for the company as it continues to explore alternative power and fuels globally as part of its GoGreen campaign.

“There are many more pilots going on, like biogas, in many other countries,” Aufgebauer says. “As a company, we have a very, very strong commitment to sustainability…we're testing different manufacturers, different fuels. For instance, to the best of my knowledge, biogas is not available in Manhattan, but it's on every street corner in Brazil, so biogas vehicles in Brazil make a lot of sense.”

Deutsche Post's GoGreen campaign aims to cut CO2 emissions 30% by 2020. Among the global initiatives under the program are the use of biogas vehicles in Sweden and Switzerland; a German pilot project with 10 vehicles running on sustainably produced biogas; a pilot project in Berlin and in the Cologne-Bonn region to test an intelligent, dynamic route-planning system using GPS traffic information; testing of special aerodynamic components and vehicles in the U.K., Netherlands and Germany; ongoing pilot projects with hybrid vehicles in the U.K., Germany and Japan; and testing of electric vehicles in mail, parcel and express businesses.

The company operates more than 3,000 “non-conventional vehicles powered by alternative fuels or featuring modifications for improved fuel-efficiency” worldwide.