With plans to update its aging fleet with more than 100 Chevrolet Express Cargo 2500 natural gas-powered vans, telco giant AT&T has become part of a growing trend in the industry to go green. The company eventually plans to spend $565 million on 15,000 alternative fuel vehicles, reports GigaOM’s Katie Fehrenbacher, and this is the first of several steps AT&T will take to reach that goal.

The overall objective is to replace an aging fleet of gasoline guzzling vans over then next ten years. And though the company’s intentions are good, GigaOM points out how vehicles powered by compressed natural gas produce only about 20 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than vehicles that run on regular gasoline. Another challenge for the fleet will be at the pump – the number of stations that provide natural gas is a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands of gas stations around the country.

However, natural gas costs less – about $2 per gallon – and provides about the same mileage, a perk that many fleet owners would be wise not to overlook.

“Our compressed natural gas cargo vans will make it easier for fleet owners to meet their business objectives and make their transportation more sustainable,” said Mary Beth Stanek, GM’s director of federal environmental and energy regulatory affairs, in a press release. “Natural gas is an abundant and clean alternative fuel. Based on today’s CNG fuel rates and anticipated payback period, fleet investment in CHG can be quite affordable.”

As of Jan. 1, 2010, there were 10,864,637 fleet vehicles in the U.S., according to an Automotive Fleet census. With this many gasoline powered vehicles clogging the roads and spilling greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, any step toward greener fleets is a step in the right direction.

More about green fleets on The SmartVan.

More about ServiceMax.

ABOUT Sara Suddes

San Francisco-based contributor Sara Suddes writes frequently about small business, the economy and technology.