The US Postal Service has been called a laggard for failing to capitalize on the changing ways in which we communicate—it failed to jump on electronic mail when it became obvious it would forever change mail service, for example. But when it comes to reducing its carbon footprint, the agency is rather proactive, at least among federal agencies.
Since last year, the USPS has launched a number of initiatives aimed at auditing and lowering its energy consumption, ranging from a pilot program to track energy use at its facilities, to incentive programs designed to encourage employees to conserve energy and planting a green roof at a mail processing facility.
And last week, the USPS released findings from its energy audit, disclosing an inventory of its greenhouse gas emissions.
The inventory is based on emissions from Postal Service facility and vehicle operations in 50 states and five U.S. territories. The Postal Service’s direct GHG emissions total 5.3 million tons (for perspective, the agency offered that this is 1 twentieth of 1 percent of the total GHG emissions in America). Emissions from facilities represent 36 percent of that total. USPS-owned vehicles (which include 43,000 alternative-capable delivery trucks) generate twelve percent of the total.
And that whopping 52 percent remainder? It’s linked to emissions from contract air, highway, rail and ship transportation. (The agency used 2007 data for the study, citing the great size of the agency and the time it takes to do a thorough analysis of emissions.)
The fact that so much of the greenhouse gas emissions that the USPS generates is actually made through its contractors reveals a conundrum that is common to many large organizations: they have direct control over just a portion of their entire carbon footprints. It will be interesting to see how the agency goes about working with its contracts to lower its overall impact. Will it look to what organizations such as Wal-Mart have done, through programs such as packaging scorecards and its emerging sustainability index?
Perhaps to meet its goals—which include reducing its energy use 30 percent by 2015; cutting petroleum fuel use 20 percent by 2015; and reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2020—it will make reducing emissions and boosting efficiencies a contractual requirement with its third transportation providers.
The agency calculated and made public its GHG emissions voluntarily. And it contracted a third party, Ryerson, Master and Associates, to conduct the study, and the results were also independently verified.