• on Mar 9th, 2015 in Strategy & Public Policy | 0 comments

    It’s safe to say that sustainability has gone mainstream. It’s not just that “going green” is the responsible thing to do; it’s also good business.

    Take a look at Walmart’s website, or do a quick search on “corporate sustainability” and you’ll find another dozen or more well-known brands touting environmental sustainability is essential to doing business responsibly and successfully.

    The U.S. Postal Service, too, is trying to do its part, particularly with recycling. Since 2008, the Postal Service has recycled an average of about 220,000 tons of wastepaper, cardboard, cans, plastics, and other reusable materials. In fiscal year (FY) 2013, the Postal Service diverted about 40 percent of its solid waste to recycling, and the target is to divert 50 percent by the end of this fiscal year. The Postal Service also created the USPS BlueEarth federal recycling program to make it easy for federal agencies to recycle inkjet cartridges and unwanted electronic devices. Federal agencies simply send eligible items through the mail at no charge to a certified recycler that cleans data from the devices. A similar service is offered to Postal Service customers through the Return For Good program, which allows you to recycle eligible small electronics through participating third-party vendors and even get cash back for certain items.

    For business mailers, the Postal Service recently launched Secure Destruction, an optional service that lets First-Class Mail customers direct postal employees to shred and trash their undeliverable First Class letters rather than return them.

    Still, sustainability practices are constantly evolving and there’s always more to do. Indeed, our audit work identified some immediate opportunities for the Postal Service to increase recycling revenue by improving collection methods and recycling plastics.

    We welcome your input. What more could the Postal Service do around sustainability programs? What programs should it consider for individual customers? For business customers? For suppliers?

    Next week, our blog will look at the progress the Postal Service and other posts have made toward achieving their goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions 20 percent by 2020. 

  • on Feb 23rd, 2015 in Strategy & Public Policy | 21 comments

    Don’t let the decline in mail volumes over the past few years fool you. People still place a high value on postal services. Postal customers especially value being able to interact with postal employees at a Post Office as compared to other retail alternatives. And while some people might be indifferent to Saturday delivery of letters, they still value Saturday delivery for packages.

    These discoveries are among the key findings in our first-in-the-U.S quantitative survey on the value people place on the services the U.S. Postal Service provides as part of its universal service obligation (USO). In our earlier report on the USO, which looked at the collection of requirements that ensure all users of postal services receive a minimum level of service, we pointed out the need for a quantitative study – one that asks people if a higher level of service is valued enough to warrant the additional cost. We recently conducted such a study, What Postal Services Do People Value the Most?, with market research firm Gallup and postal economist Michael Bradley.

    The new study asked respondents to consider four aspects of the USO:

    • Mode of delivery;
    • Access to postal services;
    • Frequency of delivery; and
    • Price.

    We learned household customers place a high value on getting mail delivered to their door or to a curbside box rather than to cluster boxes or parcel lockers. Even for parcels, household consumers don’t like cluster box or parcel locker delivery, our survey found. At the highest parcel price in the survey, more than half of consumers would prefer paying the higher price to have delivery to the door, suggesting convenience trumps other factors for customers.

    And it turns out that people really like to go to the Post Office. Both households and businesses have a strong preference for visiting post offices for retail services over alternative access points, including kiosks. However, respondents were satisfied with keeping post offices open for just a few hours, and placed minimal value on normal business hours.

    Yet for all services, respondents indicated a limit to the amount of postage they would pay as a trade-off for higher levels of service. It seems both household and business customers value lower prices and might be willing to accept lower levels of service to keep prices from rising sharply.

    We welcome your input on our survey results. What aspects of the USO are most important to you? What levels of service do you feel the Postal Service should continue to provide? 

  • on Dec 15th, 2014 in Strategy & Public Policy | 22 comments

    Is the U.S. Postal Service a business or a public service organization? Well, it’s actually both, and those overlapping – and sometimes conflicting – obligations have created major challenges for the agency over the years.

    Historically, the Post Office was deliberately used by the government to expand transportation services such as roads and passenger air service. In the modern era, the 1968 President’s commission on postal issues, known as the Kappel Commission, declared the Post Office to be a business; however, the Postal Service continues to provide infrastructure services that not all businesses would provide, such as maintaining needed rural post offices that operate at a loss.

    It was easier to manage the ongoing tension between the Postal Service’s dual mandates when postal revenues were strong enough to sustain the infrastructure and also cover all of the agency’s operating costs. But today, the Digital Age is cutting into the volume of the product that contributes more than half of the funds to support the network: First-Class Mail. And this strain has led to more tension between the Postal Service as a public service provider and as a business. Meanwhile, new technologies and global commerce are changing the nation’s infrastructure needs. The Postal Service would benefit from more clarity about what it should offer in this evolving environment.

    Our new white paper, The Postal Service’s Role as Infrastructure, gives three broad options the Postal Service and its stakeholders could consider when deciding how to adapt the Postal Service’s role for the future. These options are not mutually exclusive. But they should be evaluated together so all potential uses are recognized and accounted for as part of major changes to the size and scope of the Postal Service’s infrastructure.

    • Option 1: Adjust the postal network to the changing demand for mail and the growth in parcels. The Postal Service is making efforts to do this now.
    • Option 2: Repurpose the existing infrastructure to address innovative services and new revenue streams, such as micro-warehousing.
    • Option 3: Increase the value of the physical postal infrastructure by digitally enhancing it. For example, carriers could use mobile handheld devices to perform more services at the door or from the truck, such as selling stamps, accepting Cash-on-Delivery (COD) payments, recharging debit cards, or even processing passports.

    What do you think? What options should stakeholders and the Postal Service consider? Is the Postal Service’s role as a national infrastructure still relevant today and how has it changed? 

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