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UPS Ramps Up Carbon Neutral Shipment Offsets

By Roger Aitken

Global logistics giant UPS has invested over $1 billion on alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles over the past decade. In the company’s latest announcement, it is marking World Environment Day (WED) by matching carbon offsets of all parcels shipped via its carbon neutral program during June and using proceeds to continue buying “good quality” offsets.

UPS’ carbon neutral project was originally slated to commemorate Earth Day’s 50th anniversary on April 22 of this year, but by then the novel coronavirus pandemic struck.

We didn’t want to give up on doing something good for the planet, so [we] moved and postponed this effort to World Environment Day rather than toss a positive endeavor aside," said Patrick Browne, director of global sustainability at UPS.

“The intent was still to raise more awareness about our carbon neutral shipping offering," Browne added. "And, we’re hoping to encourage additional customers to take advantage of it.” It's “too early,” though, to know if UPS will execute further initiatives similar to this in the second half of 2020, the executive said.

Through its UPS carbon neutral option, which as a service has been offered since 2010 and verified by inspection and testing company Société Générale de Surveillance, the estimated carbon impact of each shipment is counterbalanced by purchasing certified carbon offsets. 

In order to participate, shippers pay a small fee, which Browne stressed has been set “as low as possible," to offset the carbon footprint of shipping parcels. UPS will then match these offsets throughout June, with all proceeds raised purchasing “good quality offsets," Browne indicated.

The result is a doubling of the shipper’s impact, thereby allowing the shipper to potentially net out “carbon negative” over the course of June.

In the U.S., the per-package flat rate price for the optional service is five cents for UPS’ ground services and 20 cents for faster services. Prices in the United Kingdom start at 13 cents (£0.10) for domestic shipments.

In terms of purchasing quality carbon offsets, “UPS has supported projects worldwide that include forestation, landfill gas destruction, and wastewater treatment," Browne pointed out.

The company’s current offset projects include the Wolf Creek Landfill in Georgia, where methane landfill emissions are captured to generate electricity, he explained. UPS says the annual emissions reductions at this facility add up to approximately 130,000 megatons, equal to the equivalent of taking more than 29,000 cars off the road annually or generating enough electricity to power over 1,600 homes. Another project at Chol Charoen in Thailand sees emissions captured and released from wastewater to produce electricity in the country.

UPS’ carbon neutral offering is touted as just one way the company is helping shippers reduce their impact on the environment. Customers can also choose more sustainable last-mile delivery options and solutions designed for more efficient returns. Further, they can participate in UPS’ Eco Responsible Packaging Program or UPS can conduct a carbon impact analysis on their shipping.

On the returns front, UPS is working with Optoro, using the company’s returns optimization platform that helps shippers in the U.S. maximize recovery value and reduce items going to landfills.

Highlighting UPS’ wider sustainability initiatives and credentials, last year the company reached an agreement with Clean Energy Fuels Corp. to purchase 170 million gallon equivalents of renewable natural gas (RNG), produced naturally from bio sources (e.g. landfills, dairy farms), over a seven-year period through 2026. It was at the time the largest commitment for RNG use by any company in the U.S., with a range of 22.5 million to 25 million gallon equivalents per year.

UPS has an “overarching sustainability” goal to reduce its own emissions by 12 percent across their global ground operations by 2025. “This means even as our business grows and package volume increase our emissions must decrease," Browne said. "We have targets to reach this 12 percent emissions reduction goal.” By 2025, for example, 25 percent of the company’s total electricity will come from renewables.

Image credit: UPS Pressroom

Roger Aitken headshot

A freelance financial journalist based in London and a former Financial Times staff writer covering stock exchanges, transaction services and trading technology, Roger Aitken has written for a number of B2B and B2C titles such as City A.M., Investors Chronicle, FTfm and Financial News as well as newspapers like The Guardian, The Independent and with Forbes as a contributor.

Read more stories by Roger Aitken