USPS ‘Green Teams’ Net $58 Million – If Only Government Postal Policymakers Were So Innovative

Amid the doom and gloom of overall postal finances—where members of Congress and the White House probably have more to do with the current woes of the U.S. Postal Service than all the email in the world—came a timely press announcement from the USPS’s sustainability officer. Posted Feb. 24, I include the full text of the press release here, followed by some commentary: Green Teams Help Postal Service Save Millions

The Postal Service recycled 215,000 tons of material, which saved $14 million in landfill fees and yielded $24 million in new revenue. Employee lean green teams were key to helping the Postal Service achieve the savings and revenue, part of which included more than a $20 million decrease in supplies spending from the previous year.
—USPS Press Release (February 24, 2012)

Amid the doom and gloom of overall postal finances—where members of Congress and the White House probably have more to do with the current woes of the U.S. Postal Service than all the email in the world—came a timely press announcement from the USPS’s sustainability officer.

Posted Feb. 24, I include the full text of the press release here, followed by some commentary:


Green Teams Help Postal Service Save Millions

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The U.S. Postal Service saved more than $34 million and generated $24 million in 2011 by reducing energy, water, consumables, petroleum fuel use and solid waste to landfills, conservation efforts encouraged by the Go Green Forever stamps. The Postal Service recycled 215,000 tons of material, which saved $14 million in landfill fees and yielded $24 million in new revenue. Employee lean green teams were key to helping the Postal Service achieve the savings and revenue, part of which included more than a $20 million decrease in supplies spending from the previous year.

“Across the country, postal employees are participating in more than 400 lean green teams. Motivated by our sustainability call to action, ‘leaner, greener, faster, smarter,’ they are producing significant results in energy reduction and resource conservation,” said Thomas G. Day, Chief Sustainability Officer.

Lean green teams are another way the Postal Service fosters a culture of conservation, and builds on the agency’s long history of environmental and socially responsible leadership. The teams help identify and implement low- and no-cost sustainable practices to help the Postal Service meet the following goals by 2015:

— Reduce facility energy use by 30 percent,

— Reduce water use by 10 percent,

— Reduce petroleum fuel use by 20 percent, and

— Reduce solid waste by 50 percent.

According to Day, the Postal Service plans to deploy lean green teams nationwide in 2012 to help achieve these goals.

“With more than 32,000 facilities, a presence in every community, and the largest civilian fleet in the nation, we know how important our efforts are to make a positive impact on the environment,” Day added. “Our lean green teams are an important part of our conservation culture, and the effort to reduce our carbon footprint.”

The Postal Service buys sustainable materials and works to reduce the amount of supplies it purchases. The agency first developed a “buy green” policy more than 13 years ago, and has a goal to reduce spending on consumables 30 percent by 2020. Additionally, the Postal Service is working to increase the percentage of environmentally preferable products it buys by 50 percent by 2015. Environmentally preferable products are bio-based, contain recycled material, are eco-labeled and are energy and water efficient.

In its shipping supplies, the Postal Service uses post-consumer recycled content materials, which are diverted from the waste stream, benefiting the environment and helping customers go green.

The Postal Service has won numerous environmental honors, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) WasteWise Partner of the Year award in 2010 and 2011, the EPA’s National Partnership for Environmental Priorities award in 2011 and the Climate Registry Gold award in 2011.

USPS is the first federal agency to publicly report its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and receive third-party verification of the results. For more information about the Postal Service’s sustainability initiatives and the Go Green Forever stamps, visit usps.com/green and the usps green newsroom.

USPS participates in the International Post Corporation’s Environmental Measurement and Monitoring System, the global postal industry’s program to reduce its carbon footprint 20 percent by 2020 based on an FY 2008 baseline.

The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.

A self-supporting government enterprise, the U.S. Postal Service is the only delivery service that reaches every address in the nation, 151 million residences, businesses and Post Office Boxes. The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses, and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations. With 32,000 retail locations and the most frequently visited website in the federal government, usps.com, the Postal Service has annual revenue of more than $65 billion and delivers nearly 40 percent of the world’s mail. If it were a private sector company, the U.S. Postal Service would rank 35th in the 2011 Fortune 500. In 2011, the U.S. Postal Service was ranked number one in overall service performance, out of the top 20 wealthiest nations in the world, Oxford Strategic Consulting. Black Enterprise and Hispanic Business magazines ranked the Postal Service as a leader in workforce diversity. The Postal Service has been named the Most Trusted Government Agency for six years and the sixth Most Trusted Business in the nation by the Ponemon Institute.

SOURCE U.S. Postal Service

Thank you very much Thomas Day and thank you to each member of the 400 lean green teams at USPS.

Further, the $58 million in bottom-line gains were an improvement over the $27 million in such benefits reported by USPS a year ago. That’s more than double the financial improvement.

As a blueprint for other businesses, many with “green teams” of their own, this USPS announcement offers item-by-item suggested areas of operation companies might focus on to accrue bottom-line gains: facility energy use, water use, fuel use and solid waste generation and diversion.

Perhaps too many business leaders and marketing practitioners still equate sustainability initiatives with “do-good, feel-good” activities that are nonetheless costly or associated with premiums. They best start thinking otherwise. The more quickly brands can leverage green teams for operational gain, and incorporate sustainability as the next great wave of business cost-savings and innovation, the better off their bottom lines will be.

USPS is proving to all of us that there is a “lean” in “green,” and that waste and inefficiencies are cost centers that must be managed. The environmental gains that are driven by such successful management are numerous, and very well may engender good will among employees and customers. Nothing wrong—and everything right—with that, particularly when the financial bottom line benefits are so demonstrable.

Some skeptics might still say, with billions in deficits, USPS cost-savings announcements tied to sustainability are akin to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. I believe, however, that USPS management does have a business-like approach to fixing its finances in a digital age, has put forth a credible path to do so, and Congress and The White House need to be facilitating these decisions instead of standing in the way.

Unfortunately, Congress and The White House happen to be two U.S. institutions that are very challenged by balancing budgets.

The Congressional cry of “not in my backyard” over post office closures is part of that symptom, particularly when the USPS has proposed many retail outlet alternatives that are more convenient to citizens, and far less costly to postal ratepayers. The recent Congressional moratorium until May 15 toward consolidation of mail processing facilities is another cog in the cost-savings wheel. Meanwhile, the White House just can’t seem to let go of forcing through a 2010 “exigency” postal rate increase (in its current, proposed federal budget) that, in effect, undermines the entire rationale and integrity of indexed rate caps built into the 2006 postal reform law.

Perhaps there needs to be “lean green teams” at work inside the policymaking offices of Congress and the White House, too. Certainly, sustainability concepts—environmental, social and financial—could work to extraordinary effect inside government, just as it’s doing in forward-thinking businesses everywhere, and trying to do with great success inside the U.S. Postal Service.

Helpful Links:
USPS Press Release covering Green Teams in 2011

USPS Press Release covering Green Teams in 2010

Margie Chiu’s 15 Minutes Ahead: Observations from SXSW – Checking Into Geosocial

SXSW 2010 has come and gone, but to the dismay of press, attendees and those who yearn to claim “I was there when … ,” there was no sign of the next breakout app at this year’s event. Instead, the consensus was that geosocial – the convergence of location-based data and social networking – was the unexpected star of the event. 

What’s the big deal with SXSW?
South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) has become the must-attend annual event for the digerati. Some of the brightest digital starlets in recent years, including Twitter and foursquare, were first “discovered” at SXSW. Those in attendance at Twitter’s launch in 2007 and foursquare’s in 2009 still delight in having the bragging rights to “I knew them when … ”

So what created the buzz this year?
SXSW 2010 has come and gone, but to the dismay of press, attendees and those who yearn to claim “I was there when … ,” there was no sign of the next breakout app at this year’s event.

Instead, the consensus was that geosocial — the convergence of location-based data and social networking — was the unexpected star of the event. Take, for example, the thoughts of one venture capitalist interviewed by The Wall Street Journal: “One thing that was interesting was it ended up being a little of a social experiment with everybody there. All 17,000 or 18,000 people were connected on Twitter, Foursquare and Gowalla. It served almost as a big test for what would the world be like when people start adopting all these social tools.”

There was definitely no shortage of tweets and foursquare check-ins. In fact, foursquare set up 16 new badges and other exclusives for the event. Gowalla, foursquare’s rival location-based social network, also put its best foot forward. (Side note: Gowalla was also launched last year at SXSW, but like Jan Brady to Marsha, Gowalla has largely been in the shadows of foursquare. But Jan got her day; Gowalla beat out foursquare this year as SXSW’s best site in the mobile category.

So what actually happened?

I decided to dig a little deeper into this delightful microcosm of SXSW where “everybody” was connected.

First of all, most SXSW venues only had foursquare check-in rates in the double digits. On average, SXSW tagged locations registered a lackluster 35 check-ins. The Austin Convention Center had the highest number of check-ins at 4,634, but that also included 2009 numbers. So let’s say 75 percent of those were in 2010. With a base of 18,000 attendees, that’s a participation rate of just 19 percent. Gowalla didn’t fare much better (sorry, Jan), with 2,634 check-ins at the Convention Center — about 15 percent of total attendees.

And Twitter? Well, using Wunderman’s Listening Platform to sift through the retweets and mentions from nonattendees, we estimated that just over 5,000 unique individuals were actively tweeting from the event. Not bad at about one in four attendees, but definitely falls quite shy of “everybody.”

What’s the takeaway?

Even among the early adopters, usage of geosocial clearly hasn’t yet caught up to the hype.

But the real story that’s still writing itself is how eerily similar all of these services have become. Let’s see: You can post tweets simultaneously to Facebook and Twitter. Gowalla lets you tag your check-ins with comments and photos, not unlike Twitpic. Twitter is now rolling out geo-tracking, bearing an uncanny resemblance to foursquare and Gowalla. And there are rumors that Facebook is getting into the game by integrating with Gowalla and foursquare.

Who’s going to win?

My money is on Facebook as this year’s gorilla in geosocial. Its user base dwarfs that of every other social networking service. In fact, it’s recently eclipsed Google as the most visited site on the web. It already serves as the default cc: for many who are broadcasting Twitter updates, check-ins and mobile photo uploads via other services. A partnership with Gowalla and foursquare will place Facebook squarely in the sweet spot of geo-based social networking — without the fuss of building its own technology.

If you haven’t done so already, take a closer look at geosocial marketing. Once Facebook gets into the mix, it’ll explode. Guaranteed. Anywhere your company has a physical presence — retail locations, local events, industry conferences, etc. — is a great place to test the waters.

Recently my company tested foursquare and Twitter for a consumer product client’s local events. It’s been consistently seeing participation rates of around 10 percent or higher. Certainly not “everybody,” but definitely a respectable showing for a mass-market play.

Time to get on it. Perhaps you can be the one to say, “We knew about geosocial when … ”