Reports of the imminent bankruptcy of the U.S. Postal Service are here once again – the latest news being a loss of $3.1 billion in the third quarter of this fiscal year – but if rain, snow and gloom of night can’t stop the carriers from their appointed rounds, then what’s a little financial uncertainty? Not only is the mail still being delivered, but according to the latest sustainability report from USPS, it is being delivered with about 30 percent less energy than in 2003. Since 2007 alone, USPS reports that it has saved $400 million in avoided energy costs.
As noted elsewhere in TriplePundit, the profitability of USPS has been centered on the hand delivery of junk mail, a business model that seems doomed to eventual extinction. On the flip side, considering that USPS has been on shaky ground at least as far back as 2001, that’s all the more reason to look at USPS’s large-scale adoption of sustainability measures as a success story that has helped to keep the agency afloat, at least for now.
Creative Use of Real Estate
The first thing to note is that USPS is taking advantage of its real estate. A little less than two years it installed one of the largest green roofs in the U.S., which covers almost 2.5 acres at its Morgan facility in Manhattan. USPS estimates that the roof played a major role in cutting energy use at the facility by 40 percent, saving $1 million in its first year alone.
Walking the Sustainability Walk
Aside from investing in infrastructure, USPS has also put to work some basic conservation measures that apply to individual households as well as organizations and companies. This year USPS issued a set of “go green” stamps that dispense basic energy saving tips like installing energy efficient light bulbs, and it is following its own advice. USPS cites some of this guidance, specifically adjusting thermostats and turning off lights that are not in use, as major contributors to its reduced energy costs.
Knowledge is Power
Energy audits form another key part of USPS’s strategy. Over the past few years, the audits have identified potential cost savings of $150 million annually. The data yielded by the audits enable USPS to prioritize its conservation actions and identify areas of further savings, in addition to helping it manage ongoing energy use more efficiently.
TriplePundit has previously noted that employee engagement is a key element that not only contributes to the efficiency of employee-centered conservation measures, but can also contribute to a business’s ability to survive emergencies and natural disasters. Considering the historic reputation of the USPS for letting nothing get in the way of mail delivery, employee engagement would seem to come with the territory, but it still can’t be taken for granted. USPS’s 2010 sustainability report cites the work of 400 “green teams,” which enabled the agency to identify and implement conservation measures that cost little or nothing up front.
While perhaps not contributing directly to USPS’s energy savings, customer engagement has also emerged as a key element. The agency’s lobby recycling bins diverted about 22,000 tons of discarded mail to recycling programs in 2010, which otherwise might have been landfilled. The lobby bin initiative also enabled customers to recycle more than a million ink cartridges and small electronic goods.
Next Steps for the USPS
To save itself, the Postal Service is considering a range of options including cutting out Saturday deliveries and closing some rural post offices. Aside from cutting costs, these strategies could also help reduce carbon emissions and improve resource conservation, but given the political and customer service issues involved, it is more likely that the Postal Service will look elsewhere for future energy savings.
Image credit: Mail trucks by swanks alot on flickr.com.