USPS Talks Sustainability and Its Performance Returns for 2011

The United States Postal Service (USPS) recently released its fourth annual report on sustainability practices and performance. The document serves as a blueprint for any company or brand in the marketing field on how to report progress and hurdles toward improved triple-bottom line performance (financial, social and environmental, being the three bottom lines), and to illustrate the business case for doing so.

Our mantra is ‘leaner, greener, smarter, faster.’ To achieve these goals, we’re adjusting the size of our workforce and delivery network, eliminating waste, reducing energy consumption and encouraging our employees and customers to conserve. When the Postal Service is more efficient, everyone benefits.
—USPS Postmaster General & CEO Pat Donahoe, USPS 2011 Sustainability Report

The United States Postal Service (USPS) recently released its fourth annual report on sustainability practices and performance. The document serves as a blueprint for any company or brand in the marketing field on how to report progress and hurdles toward improved triple-bottom line performance (financial, social and environmental, being the three bottom lines), and to illustrate the business case for doing so.

Transparency is the hallmark of sustainability reporting, just as it is for financial-only reporting. According to the report’s summary, the USPS adhered to version 3.0 of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)—”the most widely respected international reporting standard for public sustainability performance disclosure”—for the report’s structure and detail.

For marketers, the report highlights some valuable information and insights on USPS operations, and what opportunities and challenges lay ahead for direct mail. Consider these findings, quoted in first person from the report:

  • RECYCLING—Our recycling efforts had a banner year with $24 million in revenue. We recycled more than 215,000 tons of material in 2011. By using our distribution network in new ways, improving contract services and working with recycling vendors to maximize revenue through economies of scale, we are starting to see results. Strong recyclable commodity pricing during 2011 played a part in our record revenue earnings, but the real story is a long-term strategy of continuous improvement. Also, by using our existing transportation network, we avoid fees from recycling vendors who would make costly stops at each local office. In FY 2011, more than 12,000 facilities participated in the backhaul recycling program, recycling more than 215,000 tons of mixed paper, cardboard, plastic and scrap metal—and earning $24.4 million in recycling revenue. We also encourage customers to recycle by asking them to discard unwanted mail in Post Office lobby recycling bins, instead of our trash cans. Our “Read, Respond and Recycle” mail lobby campaign was launched in 2009. More than 10,000 locations now offer customers lobby mail recycling. This effort continues to reduce waste being sent to landfills.
  • FACILITY ENERGY USE—Our progress toward reducing facility energy use 30 percent by 2015 continues to exceed our annual targets despite a slight increase in facility energy use this year. Since 2003, the Postal Service has reduced total facility energy use by more than 25 percent, nearly the amount of energy used by 90,000 average U.S. households in a year. USPS also reduced energy intensity, which is energy use per square foot of building space, by 22.4 percent in the same time period.
  • CARBON ACCOUNTING SUPPORT FOR MAILERS—We have been preparing a greenhouse gas emission inventory every year since 2007, and we now offer USPS BlueEarth, our new carbon accounting service so our business customers can determine their own carbon footprint for the mailing and shipping services the Postal Service provides. Postal Service business customers are increasingly requesting information about the greenhouse gas emissions associated with USPS services. The calculator [introduced earlier in 2012] uses proprietary USPS methodology to calculate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and takes into consideration the type of shipping or mailing product, size and weight, how it’s processed and transported and the distance the package or envelope travels. Energy awareness creates a culture of conservation at USPS.
  • RECOGNITION AMONG GOVERNMENT AGENCIES FOR GHG REDUCTIONS—We were awarded Gold status by The Climate Registry for leadership in reducing GHG emissions by more than 5 percent. Our overall target is to reduce GHG emissions 20 percent by FY 2020 using FY 2008 as a baseline. The Postal Service is among the first of the Registry’s more than 400 members and the first government agency to achieve the recognition. To report our GHG emissions, we are compliant with established protocols set forth by The Climate Registry, the International Post Corporation and under Federal Executive Order 13514 (of President Barack Obama, 2009).
  • LEADERSHIP TRAINING AT USPS INCLUDES SUSTAINABILITY’S BUSINESS CASE—The Postal Service’s leadership programs are designed to develop high-performing leaders to meet the changing needs of USPS into the future. They include a demanding curriculum offered over a six-month period, with classroom instruction and mentoring by existing and future executives on key topics in business finance, project management, leadership principles and presentation skills. The programs culminate with a business case presentation. The 2011 classes were challenged with creating a “sustainability business growth model” to improve USPS waste reduction and recycling and to develop strategies to engage employees in Green Team initiatives. The participants used their new understanding of sustainability to present a business case of their findings before an executive review panel chaired by Chief Sustainability Officer Tom Day.

Additionally the report documents transportation energy costs, as well as water use and conservation (arguably the next focused area for sustainability reporting after greenhouse gases).

Another element to postal sustainability, from a product development perspective, is the USPS’s focus on mail-back programs, working with product manufacturers and others on the creation and execution of services to return used goods (computers, printer cartridges, batteries, etc.) so they can be safely dissembled, disposed or recycled: “Postage‑paid mail envelopes are available in 1,600 Post Office lobbies. These envelopes can be used to ship small used electronics, such as cell phones, ink jet cartridges and digital cameras, to a centralized recycling center, where they’re broken down into usable parts. During 2011, customers recycled 185,000 items—about 22,000 pounds of material. Since the program began in 2008, more than a million electronic devices and printer cartridges have been kept out of landfills.”

There are skeptics—and some responders to this blog—who maintain that the Postal Service can’t afford to be chasing “go green” efforts when its financial life is on the line. Respectfully, I counter that it can’t afford not to! I commend USPS labor and management in their understanding—and leadership—in recognizing waste as a cost, and efficiency as a gain. Every postal customer should thank USPS and its green teams for this continued effort toward sustainability, in all its forms.

Here is the link to the full report:

Author: Chet Dalzell

Marketing Sustainably: A blog posting questions, opportunities, concerns and observations on sustainability in marketing. Chet Dalzell has 25 years of public relations management and expertise in service to leading brands in consumer, donor, patient and business-to-business markets, and in the field of integrated marketing. He serves on the ANA International ECHO Awards Board of Governors, as an adviser to the Direct Marketing Club of New York, and is senior director, communications and industry relations, with the Digital Advertising Alliance. Chet loves UConn Basketball (men's and women's) and Nebraska Football (that's just men, at this point), too! 

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