5-Day Delivery: Cost Cutting or Congressional Gambit?

As a citizen and a close follower of postal goings on, I realize the United States Postal Service and Postmaster General Patrick Donohoe ultimately are not to blame for the 5-Day Delivery announcement which transpired on February 6. Postal customers, labor unions, direct marketers and Americans in general have reasons to be angry—or at least very concerned—as to what is really going on here

As a citizen and a close follower of postal goings on, I realize the United States Postal Service and Postmaster General Patrick Donohoe ultimately are not to blame for the five-day delivery announcement which transpired on February 6. Postal customers, labor unions, direct marketers and Americans in general have reasons to be angry—or at least very concerned—as to what is really going on here.

We all know that it is Congress and the White House—as a whole, not any lawmaker in particular—that largely caused the Postal Service’s recent default and current fiscal mess. Their inability or unwillingness to stop the mandating of 75-year pre-funding of USPS retiree benefits, and the subsequent raiding of those funds for the federal government’s own spending sprees elsewhere, deserves much of the blame.

Cost-cutting and diminishing services to U.S. citizens have been forced on the Postal Service, because a “fiscal cliff” already has arrived at L’Enfant Plaza.

Yes, there are other macroeconomic issues in play at the Postal Service—the digital migration of First-Class Mail, electronic payments and the Great Recession’s most recent effects and after-effects, for example. All the same, forcing such draconian budget mandates on the Postal Service is a serious miscalculation that was (unfortunately) included in the 2006 postal reform law. No other federal agency is held to the same pre-funding benchmark, and even fewer responsibly financed and accountable private pension schemes (there are still a few around) ever look to seven decades to the future.

This needed fixing five years ago, when the economy started to teeter and such rosy views of postal finances quickly began to sour. Here we are in 2013, and we’re still waiting for Congress to act.

The White House hasn’t been helpful either.

Now we’re faced with five-day delivery come August—and we’re left wondering if it can be stopped, reversed, prevented or mitigated, even if Congress and the White House were able and wished to intervene.

Will the reported $2 billion in said-savings really transpire—and make a difference? Has anyone considered the economic trade-offs? We all know many weekend advertisers that relish a spot in the mailbox on Saturdays—and this generates a lot of commerce. Can it all be simply pushed to a Friday?

The reality is that the Postal Service, as much as it seeks to manage itself as a business, remains a quasi-public institution, a part of our Constitution, and subject to both cycles of Congressional meddling and Congressional relief, the latter now being in short supply.

It’s quite amazing that the Postal Service is as efficient and as affordable as any postal service in the world, public or private—delivering communications to our homes six days a week. Still, it must deal with political representation that well may be intended, but which only seems to punt from crisis to crisis—or worse, after each crisis has rendered its most devastating effects.

Here we are in a downward cycle … again. This time our daily mail—and direct mail advertising along with it—is being expedited, by Congress, to the dilemma faced by dying daily newspapers in stagnant metropolitan markets—going, going, gone, at least on Saturdays.

Except this is our Postal Service, belonging to the citizens of the United States on paper. Is this squeeze on hardcopy communication inevitable—and our only choice? Or will some in Congress and the Obama Administration wake up to the fact that the Postal Service is a secret weapon for many brands (and political candidates), as well as a service to its citizens, and, therefore, do all their Constitutional best to ensure a viable future here?

By the way, I LOVE this recent piece in Esquire—required reading for our lawmakers: http://www.esquire.com/print-this/post-office-business-trouble-0213?page=all.

A USPS Development that Is Truly Progressive: Carbon Calculations for Your Mail

While the nation’s postal-related headlines are dominated by USPS plans to optimize (consolidate) its mail processing network and to slash costs during the next three years as it fights for financial sustainability, a less known development is a new USPS service on behalf of postal customers that is truly insightful—and free of charge—and about to launch early next year, subject to some final testing.

While the nation’s postal-related headlines are dominated by USPS plans to optimize (consolidate) its mail processing network and to slash costs during the next three years as it fights for financial sustainability, a less known development is a new USPS service on behalf of postal customers that is truly insightful—and free of charge—and about to launch early next year, subject to some final testing.

Beginning 2012, mailers will be able to secure from the USPS a “carbon impact calculation” for their mail across various USPS products and classes, with the potential to purchase carbon offsets, too. Essentially, the calculation is the amount of carbon released in the atmosphere as a result of an organization’s mail being in the domain of the USPS delivery infrastructure. The program was piloted earlier this year with business customers enrolled with the Postal Service’s Electronic Verification System (eVS) for Domestic Competitive categories and is set to be extended to PostalOne! participants and all postal products shortly.

Why is this noteworthy?

Many of the world’s leading brands and global enterprises—among them U.S. companies and household names—participate in a global transparency effort called the Carbon Disclosure Project. Many more seek to establish their carbon footprint as they participate in global carbon-trading schemes, designed to lessen greenhouse gases thought to be associated with global warming.

While the United States has yet to adopt formal national goals for carbon reduction for its part in the global economy, many brands that are either (1) global players or (2) environmentally sensitive or (3) both are already doing so in their own operations. These enterprises are acknowledging that managing carbon is a business-smart way to reduce waste and pollution and to optimize efficiency, while no doubt burnishing their own brand credentials. Sustainability isn’t a feel-good pursuit, it’s about the bottom line and intelligent materials management.

[Note: California—the U.S.’s largest state economy—has adopted carbon reduction goals as a matter of policy and practice.]

The USPS needs to be lauded here. Already, the USPS has conducted a lifecycle inventory regarding the delivery of the nation’s mail, and has adopted aggressive waste reduction and recycling goals in its own operations—all in a bid to increase efficiency and revenue. It knows, more or less, the carbon footprint of each class of mail and is ready to share such information with its customers in a true “value-add” function that is specific to each customer’s own use of the mail. Carbon calculations can be retrieved by month, by quarter and by year, or on an ad hoc reporting basis as requested by a customer.

To take advantage of the carbon calculation offer, mailers might look for an official announcement from the USPS at some point early next year, once final testing is completed on eVS and PostalOne!

By knowing the carbon footprint of their mailings, brands and companies that participate in carbon markets can derive more accurate readings of the direct mail portion of their marketing and operations activity.

Maybe then they can start tackling an even harder subject for direct marketers—how to reduce the carbon impact of their data centers and digital marketing.

Helpful Links
USPS 2010 Sustainability Report (see page 37)

Environmental Leader: Most Climate-Responsible Companies Revealed for 2011

Huffington Post: California’s Drastic Carbon Reduction Goals are Achievable, Study Says

Direct Marketing Association: USPS Releases Report on Life Cycle Inventory of the Mail

USPS Sustainability Efforts

USPS Carbon Accounting Pilot

Carbon Disclosure Project