• on Mar 16th, 2015 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 1 comment

    This is the second blog in our two-part series on sustainability. Last week’s blog, Green Scene, focused on recycling efforts.

    When do growth and reduction go hand-in-hand? When the world’s posts are trying to grow their business but reduce their carbon footprint.

    The 25 national postal operators that make up the International Post Corporation (IPC) have made great strides toward achieving their carbon dioxide emission reduction goals, but they hit a bump in 2013 and 2014. A coalition of the world’s industrialized posts, the IPC is aiming to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by 2020. Half of the IPC members have already reached the target. But last year marked the first increase in emissions from the use of heating and transport fuel for the group as a whole since the IPC environmental measurement program began in 2009.

    One reason for the backsliding is actually a good problem. The global growth in e-commerce, which has boosted the posts’ number of parcel deliveries, is making emission reduction targets more challenging. Especially harsh winters in some countries and a big increase in size in one of the operator’s delivery networks have also contributed to the posts’ higher fuel consumption.

    IPC officials are stressing the importance of switching to renewable energy, either self-generated or purchased, wherever possible.

    The U.S. Postal Service is one of the 25 posts taking part in the IPC Environmental Measurement and Monitoring Program. It’s also one of the posts that saw its transportation fuel use increase. In its 2014 Sustainability Report, the Postal Service notes that “an aging [postal vehicle] fleet and the need to service more delivery points are pushing our fuel demand upward.” Still, the Postal Service must continue its efforts to manage its fuel resources as efficiently as possible, for both its own fleet and its contracting vehicles. (Our 2014 audit report offered recommendations on encouraging fuel efficient practices in highway contract routes.) This should get easier in the next couple of years as the Postal Service replaces its long-life vehicle fleet. This summer the Postal Service will select vendors to build new vehicle prototypes and it will award a contract of up to $6.3 billion over several years beginning in 2017.

    With continued parcel growth expected, how can the world’s posts meet the demands of customers while reducing their carbon footprints? What technologies might benefit the Postal Service specifically? 

  • 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 | 25 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? 

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