Recently, the Environmental Defense Fund launched a campaign to encourage business owners to improve their corporate fleet efficiency. Telecommunications giant AT&T; is already ahead of the game in this arena. Last week, the company announced that it had placed its 1,000th alternative-fuel vehicle into service. This milestone vehicle is a van that operates on compressed natural gas (CNG) in the Oakland, Calif., market.

According to Jerome Webber, vice president of AT&T; Fleet Operations, “The deployment of our 1,000th alternative-fuel vehicle signals a demand for cleaner alternative fuels that are less volatile in cost and that can be tapped here in America, right now.”

AT&T; has more than 77,000 vehicles in its fleet but is in the middle of a 10-year, $565 million project that will replace more than 15,000 of these vehicles with more fuel-efficient models. This new project began in 2009 and will be complete in 2018.

The company plans to spend about $350 million for 8,000 compressed natural gas vehicles. The vehicles will be sourced from a domestic automaker and then a U.S.-based third party will convert the vehicles to run on CNG. In addition, AT&T; will work with natural gas companies in the construction of up to 40 new CNG fueling stations.

AT&T; is also planning to spend $215 million for 7,100 alternative-fuel passenger vehicles. The initial phase will consist of the fleet’s current passenger vehicles being replaced with hybrid vehicles. As electric vehicles and other alternative fuel options become available, AT&T; will reassess their plans.

These fleet changes will save 49 million gallons of gasoline during the 10-year program period and reduce carbon emissions by 211,000 metric tons. For comparison, this would be the same as removing more than 38,000 passenger vehicles from the road for one year.

The program may also create or save nearly 1,000 jobs in the first five years alone. AT&T;’s research shows that these 1,000 jobs will have an average annual compensation of $55 million and generate nearly $9 million in annual tax revenue. At a time when unemployment is hovering near record highs, anything that can create new jobs while reducing a company’s environmental footprint is welcome.