Government Shut Down or Not: The US Postal Service Tries to Deliver Sustainability

This post is part of a blogging series by marketing students at the Presidio Graduate School’s MBA program. You can follow along here.

By Paul Carp

Last week’s budget compromise between House and Senate leaders in Washington, DC averted a government shut down—at least for the time being. This means that passports will be issued, national parks will be open and the United States Postal Service (USPS) will continue delivering mail six days a week.

Actually, the USPS was never in jeopardy of shutting down its operations since it is authorized by the US Constitution to act as an independent establishment of the Executive Branch. Effectively, the USPS operates like a business and contrary to popular belief does not receive taxpayer funds to subsidize its operations.

An organization such as the USPS probably does not scream “leader in sustainability” to the general public.  It’s more likely that you’ll find some of the posts that I discovered after a quick scan on Facebook such as “Thanks US(less) Postal Service” and the page “US Postal Service Sucks.” The USPS is no more appreciated on Twitter with recent feeds stating “It’s high time the US Postal Service admits its tracking numbers are worthless” and “US Postal Service is shit.” So, the USPS may not be mastering the social media atmosphere. But, the USPS is starting to carry out its ambitious goals outlined in its 2009 Sustainability Report.

The report’s goals include increasing operational sustainability, supply chain improvements, green packaging and meeting human health, safety and community indicators. The report is no PR puff piece as it includes lofty goals of reducing energy use it its facilities by 30 percent by 2015 and cutting petroleum-based fuels by 20 percent by 2015. The USPS became the first government agency to publicly report its greenhouse gas emissions and set targets of 20 percent reductions over the next 11 years. In addition, it became the only mailer to receive Cradle-to-Cradle Silver certification for one of its shipping products after undergoing a two year process and analyzing 1,400 materials (here is a video link).

Anyone can set ambitious goals but can the USPS deliver (pun intended) on them? According to 2010 USPS Inspector General (the agency’s own independent auditing unit) report, the answer is not yet. As of January 2010, only seven of 88 facilities visited met basic energy standards  and only 25 of the 88 sites met basic recycling standards. The report calls for continued guidance from the VP of Sustainability to promote building management improvements among maintenance staff. To be fair, the report was released a year after the launch of their initiative and it takes time to implement change in a large agency.

The USPS put out a press release in January 2011 stating that the agency helped “reduce energy, water, solid waste to landfills and petroleum fuel use, saving the agency more than $5 million in 2010.” Chief Sustainability Officer Emil Dzuray believes the USPS is on track to achieve the ambitions goals laid out for 2015 and beyond.

With the uptake of web traffic, the USPS faces significant declines in mail volume of more than 20 percent since FY06. Worse yet, in the USPS 2010 10-k shows a net income loss of $8.5B. So, while the jury is still out as to the effectiveness of the 2009 Sustainability campaign, the USPS needs to solve bigger problems about the solvency of the organization. A great way to start would be to engage younger audiences who, instead of tweeting about how the USPS “sucks,” can be promoting sustainability goals to their local USPS branch which in turn will cut costs and increase future revenues.

Leave a Reply