on Apr 20th, 2009 in Strategy & Public Policy | 27 comments
 
Earth Day is celebrated on April 22 this year, making now an appropriate time for a blog on the Postal Service’s green initiatives. The Postal Service’s environmental efforts fall into many areas including:
  • Packaging — The Postal Service is the nation’s only shipping company to achieve Cradle to Cradle certification for human and environmental health for its premium products’ packaging. The certification means that more than 15,000 metric tons of carbon equivalent emissions are avoided annually.
  • Fuel use — The Postal Service has increased alternative fuel use by 41 percent since 2006, in part by using hybrid and ethanol vehicles and T-3 Motion electric vehicles. In some places, the Postal Service uses foot and even bicycle routes. The Postal Service plans to continue implementing green strategies to further reduce petroleum use by 20 percent over the next 5 years.
  • Facility energy use — The Postal Service has conducted energy audits and reduced energy use at its facilities. By law, it is required to achieve a 30 percent reduction in facility energy use from 2003 levels by 2015.
  • Recycling — The Postal Service annually recycles more than 1 million tons of paper, plastic, and other materials. It also offers recycling opportunities to customers including recycling bins for P.O. Box customers at post offices and a mail-in recycling program for e-waste (small electronics and printer cartridges).
  • Purchasing — The Postal Service has a Green Purchasing Team to bring environmental practices into its supply purchasing and contracting processes.
  • Building standards — The Postal Service’s new “green” lobby design incorporates low impact environmental materials such as linoleum and bamboo.

The Postal Service has won numerous awards for their green initiatives. In fact, just this month, the Postal Service accepted the California Climate Action Registry’s (CCAR) Climate Action Champion award in recognition for its leadership role in engaging and shaping public response to climate change and for substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet there may be opportunities for the Postal Service to promote sustainability beyond these successes. In a commentary in the New York Times, Postal Regulatory Commissioner Ruth Goldway proposed the government provide money to convert the Postal Service’s fleet to electric vehicles. Not only would electric vehicles save gasoline, but they would also be more suited to the start-and-stop driving practiced by the Postal Service. In addition, the Postal Service could help jump start green vehicle technologies. To support this electronic fleet, post offices could be retrofitted with solar panels to generate electric power. Perhaps customers could even recharge their cars when they stopped to buy stamps.

What do you think of converting the Postal Service’s fleet to electric vehicles? Would it be feasible to implement? Do you have other suggestions for green initiatives the Postal Service could pursue?

This blog topic is hosted by the OIG's Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).

27 Comments

Kudos to the Postal Service for its green initiatives and for its exemplary corporate responsibility vis-a-vis the environment. Alas, these efforts are not well known to the public at large. Perhaps the Postal Service should try to communicate its record more effectively especially in light of the sometimes not-facts-based allegations against advertising mail in terms of its carbon footprint. This blog should contribute to this issue -- set the facts straight.

I think the Postal Service ought to explore positioning itself as a natural "laboratory" for some of these new technologies (e.g., electric vehicles). But the Postal Service needs to pursue only technologies and strategic alliances that make "business sense" for it. The Postal Service should not be picking winners and losers.

Regarding the electric vehicles suggestion by Ruth Goldway, yes, the Postal Service seems to be a good test for that but only to overcome the "range anxiety" issue often associated with this proposal -- as most delivery trips are predictable and relatively short ( more or less 20 miles). But the refueling problem has not been solved entirely and new technologies and new thinking are still emerging. For example, people (e.g. Shai Agassi) are exploring whether the batteries can be replaced (within 5 minutes) instead of being recharged for 2 hours. Other technologists and business leaders are pursuing other visions and paradigms.

Yes, the Postal Service may be the right place but it may not be the right time!

I agree the Postal Service should focus on being cutting edge in the area of green initatives, not bleeding edge.

how about doing things that make sense, we were informed in our plan 5 yesterday that you plan to turn the temperature in our plant up to almost 80, after putting in a whole 4 new fans to cool us off..... that wont work to cool off anyone, when its 95 degrees outside, how about doing things that make sense, like having the dbcs, fss and afsm builders incorporate or upgrade the old machines to be more energy efficient, instead of killing the employees that do the work trying to save money, when in reality simple things can be done to save a ton of money that wont come off the backs of the people at the plants that work the mail. also a report from usps stated that a 40% energy reduction was accomplished by doing simple things at the gso plant in nc, doing this at each and every plant would save millions, not only that but the only energy saving plan we have heard was to punish us and turn up the temp to 80....

have the bathroom lights turn off when not in use, have the computers in the plant turned off when not in use, have the dbcs monitors turned off when tour 1 is done, as only 1 is used during tour 2 and only 4 are used during tour 3, get rid of all the printers on each dbcs, as you dont need them anymore, they are all old and inefficient printers that are not needed as each machine is now connected to a main computer that if needed can have a printer and each machine can print to if they need to do so.
find a way to get your llv's to be more fuel efficient and stop messing with things like ethanol that have been proven to not save a dime but ended up even less efficient than using gasoline..

also walmart and target are using ac systems that save over 60% over what they replace and the postal service should look at this and possible solar as the roofs of our huge plants could easily serve as a place for a solar panel array

making simple smart decisions can save tons of money

You're absolutely right that a lot of simple things can save energy. I'm not familar with the NC report, but a recent OIG audit report (http://www.uspsoig.gov/foia_files/DA-AR-08-003.pdf) looked at energy efficiency in the Northern Virginia area and recommended the Postal Service use low-cost ways to save energy.

A great way to save money for the PO would be to shut the heat OFF from fall to spring in the plants, those DBCS machines produce enough heat to warm the plant. No wonder most of the clerks wear shorts through the entire winter and have fans going, it is so hot. I'm sure the utility bill would decline tremendously. And the savings could repair the roof in our plant. There are SO many leaks and all this plastic to keep it from dripping on the machines. Wouldn't it be smart to repair the roof instead of replace DBCS machines, I'm sure they are not cheap. Not to mention, safety. Nobody want's to be electrocuted! Simple things could go a long way.

Using the heat from the machines to heat facilities in the winter sounds like a win/win proposition. Keeping thermostat settings at a consistent level would help harness some of this excess energy.

If the Postal Service reallty wants to go green, how about getting rid of some of those pointless checklists that we Postmasters have to fill out everyday? 9 forms everyday, multiplied 300 days a years, multiplied to 37000 offices. That adds up to a lot of trees and energy we could be saving for a supposedly green organization.

Despite my sarcasm, it would make a lot of sense. It's not just the packaging and vehicles that need to be looked at.

Skippy, that's a good point. Combining forms or finding alternative ways to track things might save a lot of paper.

Let's limit your data entry to what is relevant. Then let's build you an electronic form for submission to save paper. However, be mindful that behind electronic alternatives to hard copy is also an energy-using infrastructure. Cyberspace requires equipment, etc. that uses energy which in its turn creates pollution. While your current 9 paper forms may be recycled, the energy used -- to run data storage equipment and the facilities that house them, etc. -- does not grow on trees.

That is true, RealityChecker. When people criticize the Postal Service or printed communications for not being green enough, they often ignore the environmental deficiencies of electronic alternatives. After all, paper doesn't drain power when it is idling on a desk.

Or just better yet, let's get rid of some of these checklists, and there will be no energy used.

Dispatch log- I am in a level 11 office. I send out one hamper a day, no more, no less. It gets combined with mail from 11 other offices at a "Hub Office" before going to the plant. Why do I have to fill out a form everyday stating this? A large office with a varying amount of outgoing equipment might have more of a need for this, in case something doesn't arrive at the plant.

Another example is the CPMS report. I have to print it out and fax it everyday. The infrastructure is already there, so it is not like we are using more energy to just look up our all clear report. It's not like I am going to go home if I haven't received the all clear. Why can't I just look it up and see that it is all clear without faxing it? If there is a problem, my scanner ID is on the report, so they will know who to ask about it.

Quality and service protection logs. Like I said, I am at a level 11 nondelivery office. more than 3/4 of the questions have N/A next to them. Let's just make one consolidated checklist that covers all the bases.

Great suggestions. Does anyone else have ideas for forms the Postal Service could reduce?

What about the emoves 1412? What if there was a way to shrink down the 1412 to list just the AIC's that were used for the day. This way, other information such as money order numbers and miscellaneous AICs won't have to be printed on a seperate sheet. You could probably include the drawer balances for each clerk on here too so you won't need a seperate tally sheet.

The POS 1412 could also use some condensing. Although it has been awhile since I printed the end of the day stuff on POS, I can remember that there was a lot of information on there that didn't have to be printed every day.

The biggest paper waster of all (outside all of the senseless checklists of course)is the minimum quantity numbers on the quick picks. I recently ordered a pack of 3575z's. The mimimum quantity is 250. Do you know how long it will take for me to go through 250 of these forms in a level 11 office? The form will probably be obsolete by that time. I use no more than a half dozen a year.

Give me some time, I bet I can come up with more.

These sound as though they are great suggestions. I wish I knew more about OIG retail forms. I wonder if there is a way for offices to just print out rarely used forms.

Turn off the lawn sprinkler systems. It doesn't make sense to try and eliminate jobs and make the grass grow so you can mow it. Let nature do the work. I'm sure it will save the USPS millions in energy and water consumption.

That's an interesting idea. I know in places like Las Vegas the city encourages people to use native plants, which are more suitable to the local climate and require less watering. Perhaps there are ways to landscape that require less upkeep.

The Postal Service may be taking steps to be greener, but are there any initiatives to go beyond mail bound to paper products? In other words, is the Postal Service looking at anything beyond moving the tangible?

I understand RealityChecks comments as there is a cost to running a Data Center, but electronic data would not inherently require the distribution center layout that the physical mail does, thus allowing for a more consolidated physical infrastructure.

I know there are Federal, State, County, and Local Governments looking for ways to continue to provide services with smaller budgets. Mail being a healthy expense for notices, etc. Delivery of some notices are courtesy and may be done away with as a cost savings measure, but some are mandated and must be delivered to individuals. In some cases delivery of electronic notices would meet requirements (for some there are likely statutory reasons that this cannot be done, and some are are likely trying to address via some type of legislative change). As these agencies lessen what they send and/or move as much as they can to electronic means, it will only lessen the volume the USPS has to work with, hence less revenues as well.

Is the USPS talking to government agencies at various levels to see what it might be able to provide? Is the USPS aware of such initiatives and that it could affect it's future?

As a trusted physical handler of mail in the industry there may be oppurtunities that the USPS could pusue in the electronic arena.

If a company like Zumbox gets enough big businesses to utilize there service and if they can overcome the potential security and legal concerns of goverment agencies, they could possibly capture a good amount of mail market. One would think the USPS might be able to offer such a service to Government entities that might offer security in line with government's needs and allow these government agencies to have a standard electronic method of disseminating such information to constituents at a much lower rate than the traditional method. Having a standard solution/method geared towards government's needs might lessen the plethora of systems, home grown and off the shelf, that government agencies will likely end up with. No doubt that these systems will cost money, for some it will be worth it, if not in the short term, then in the long run. It may also allow for the restoration of some notices that have been discontinued, as well as open up the potential for additional service reminders, etc.

Of course, having a solution for businesses could help the revenue stream as well.

An individual to individual solution might be of interest to some, but it would likely be a much smaller market as the mandates on these intereactions are not up to the scrutiny that one sees between the government or a business sending your personal tax information, etc.

Thank you for your comment, bonj. You have given this a lot of thought. You bring up a good point that data centers require energy but so does physicial delivery. However, I wonder if we sometimes give electronic communication a free pass on its environmental costs. These sort of judgments should be based on a careful, unbiased look at the entire lifecycle.

Any green initiatives that the Postal Service can implement have got to be a good thing.

I understand that "junk mail" pays the USPS' bills, but when I look at the amount of junk mailers and catalogs sent to my house, and I consider how much of that is being sent across the country, it sickens me. I think the post office needs to focus on reducing the amount of unwanted mail, much of which ends up in landfills from people that do not recycle. It's very nice that you are implementing these other programs to reduce waste, but I think it is hypocritical of the USPS to ignore the problem of junk mail merely because they profit from it. It's a huge waste of natural resources as well as an annoyance to USPS customers.

You will be saving the lives of Many trees. Which will
do more to purify the Air. Which will be needed more in Future
Years THAN JUNK MAIL, Don't You Believe ?

Human is a part of nature, and we are going along with this nature any green initiatives step is better for our nature, from the hand of global warming. I think Postal service has taken a most impressive step.

interesting, i am bookmarking that.

Postal service has taken a very good step, I hope others will follow suite as going green is really to our advantage.

thanks for the information... regards... :)

I'm glad to hear you're making use of the solar panels for charging your cars. I think there is an opportunity to supplement or replace the electricity used in the facilities with solar panels.
Even the use of passive solar for heating in the winter would help. There is a library in LaBarge, WY that uses passive solar heating and has incredibly low utility bills.

Very interesting information on Postal Service’s.

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