The US Postal Service is in financial dire straits. It lost $3.8 billion in its most recent fiscal year, ending September 30th, and its available coffers are dangerously low. And then there’s the agency’s business model, which many argue is antiquated and unsustainable. But, according to its recently-released (and debut) sustainability report, the post office is making some strides in terms of its environmental sustainability—strides that may take the edge off some its financial woes.
The USPS set the stage for its sustainability work through an audit of the greenhouse gas emissions that it and its contractors release.
The sustainability report focuses on two main areas: energy reduction and recycling. In terms of energy reduction, overall energy consumption was down in 2008 due both to policy changes inside the agency—such as refiguring truck routes to save on fuel—and reduction in the number of mail it delivered. (In 2007, it delivered 212 billion pieces of mail. That dropped in 203 billion in 2008.)
USPS facilities consumed 30.7 trillion BTUs in its 34,000 facilities during 2008. That sounds astronomical but it’s actually a 15 percent reduction from 2003 levels. The report attributes much of that success to simple energy-saving upgrades to its buildings. By 2015, it wants to reduce energy use and energy intensity (a measure of energy per square foot) by 30 percent, from a 2003 baseline. In order to reach that goal it will need to complete rolling energy management software platforms in its buildings, augment buildings with renewable power where appropriate, and upgrade computers and sorting machines with more efficient models.
The USPS has one of the largest fleets of alternative fuel vehicles in the world, and while it likes to boast its use of electric vehicles going as far back as 1899, its first significant foray into alternative-fuel vehicles was in the late 1990s when it converted more than 4,000 of its delivery trucks to compressed natural gas. It now has flex-fuel, hybrid, electric and fuel cell vehicles in the mix, and by 2015 it wants to increase use of non-petroleum fuels by 10 percent (using 2005 levels as a baseline).
On the recycling front, the report notes that 60 percent of its facilities offer some type of recycling program, such as collection boxes in the lobby. That level seems pitifully low, given the east with which it could be increased, but the underlying problem here may be a lack of local paper recycling services in those non-recycling communities. On the e-waste front, recent improvements are more impressive: between 2005 and 2008, the USPS increased e-waste recycling by 79 percent. (This number was likely boosted by state laws requiring e-waste collection.)
Indeed, the report has a number of bright points and reports on its early progress—most of these, however, have been vetted outside the agency. In his introduction to the report, Sam Pulcrano, the USPS vice president of sustainability, says the report was not put up for a third-party review before publication (but the agency is considering doing so for future reports). He does note, however, that some of the greenhouse gas reporting mentioned in the report were, in fact, verified by third parties.
Missing from the report is an analysis that shows the costs and savings related to the agency’s sustainability programs. Here’s hoping it dives into this topic in the 2009 report.