Diane Bucka, Founder of Responsible Business Registry, is a sustainability advocate and communications consultant with more than 15 years of writing, editing and small business marketing experience.
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Reports abound about a potential United States Postal Service (USPS) bankruptcy, and there are many who advocate for this outcome as a necessary pivot point that would result in a more efficient and sustainable postal service. However, “doom and gloom” nay-sayers fail to acknowledge the many strides the USPS has made in its sustainability, the vital services it provides to help other businesses improve their performance in this arena, and the example it sets as it revamps to adjust to new dynamics of modern enterprise.
Think what you may about junk mail – surely controlled more by marketing companies attempting to defy dismal response rates than by the post office – the USPS is an exemplary and far-reaching model for American business. How many entities – public or private – can claim to be a self-sustaining enterprise reaching every address in the nation $ .44 at a time? If it were a private sector company, the U.S. Postal Service would rank 29th in the 2010 Fortune 500. Importantly, its sustainability efforts demonstrate a commitment exemplifying what could be done by hundreds of other companies: the USPS has reduced energy costs by more than $400 million since 2007 and decreased overall energy consumption by nearly 30 percent since 2003. Its sustainability and corporate social responsibility initiatives are clearly delineated on dedicated tabs on the USPS website.
According to Richard Maher in Corporate Communications, “The Postal Service’s mission is to be a sustainability leader….Because we are in every community, we have a unique opportunity to leave a green footprint on the national landscape.”
Since 1995, USPS has been honored with over 70 awards for energy reduction, recycling and waste prevention programs, incorporation of recycled content in packaging, and use of alternative fuels within vehicles and facilities across the nation. Another achievement in its long history of commitment to environmental stewardship is USPS’s status as the only shipping company to earn Cradle to Cradle Certification for the environmentally friendly design and manufacturing of the more than 700 million packages, envelopes and other supplies they produce annually.
In April of this year, the USPS issued the “Go Green forever” stamp sheet with 16 simple environmental messages – from saving energy or water to reducing waste. And these Go Green stamps are themselves truly “green;” they areCradle-to-Cradle-certified using water-based inks and adhesives that meet established standards for human health and environmental recyclability. When businesses use these materials to ship merchandise or important documents to customers, they are sending a message supporting the environment and sustainability.
There are numerous metrics demonstrating USPS’s strides in sustainability and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions. It is the first federal agency to publicly report greenhouse gas emissions and get third party verification. In the last year, the agency reported an 8 percent reduction in GHG emissions from a fiscal year (FY) 2008 baseline. The reduction of 1,067,834 metric tons of CO2 is an amount equal to the annual emissions of approximately 204,000 passenger vehicles. According to the USPS website, their fleet currently maintains more than 44,000 alternative fuel-capable vehicles, and they have extended use of green mail delivery, including nearly 10,000 “fleet of feet” walking routes, nearly 70 bicycle routes and close to 80,000 “park and loop” routes, where carriers deliver mail on foot after driving to neighborhoods.
Many would argue that the woes experienced by the postal service are indicative of a flawed system. However, the problem may rest not in operating inefficiencies, but in unfunded mandates; Congress requires the USPS to prefund 80 percent of future postal retiree health benefits, a costly burden not imposed on of any other federal agency or private company.
Admittedly, the USPS also needs to adapt its model to meld better with today’s emphasis on digital message delivery. Looking ahead, the projected drop in “snail mail” may result in more than $200 billion in revenue loss by 2020, as mail volume is projected to fall precipitously by the end of the decade. Consumer disgust with junk mail, along with regulatory impacts such as the “Do Not Mail” campaign, have combined to minimize such waste – not an altogether bad outcome, to be sure.
Some propose restricting mail service to weekdays; this idea seems to have merit as it would reduce both costs and emissions while maintaining most vital services and jobs. According to Environmental Leader, cutting Saturday service could reduce USPS’s emissions up to 5 percent, saving from 315,000 to 503,000 metric tons of GHG’s.
While far from perfect, the USPS is an institution serving a vital role and operating responsibly. If every business followed their lead performing due diligence and implementing environmentally-conscious practices, we would all be further down the road.