How the Postal Sector is Helping Save the Planet

worldwide postal servicesAt this writing it is World Environment Day and the US recently bailed on the Paris Accord. World leaders have denounced the decision to quit, while affirming their own commitments. Mayors and governors across the US have vowed to carry on at the local level.

Meanwhile, postal services around the world steadily continue their collective efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their sector, and do their part to protect the planet.

While postal services trail far behind the big polluting industries - aviation and maritime shipping, their impact is still huge. Postal services use nearly 2 million vehicles to cover the many billions of miles travelled for local and international delivery. They operate enormous facilities that gobble electricity and gas. According to the Universal Postal Union

  • The postal network constitutes the largest physical distribution network in the world.
  • 5.26 million people are employed by the world’s postal services.
  • There are some 690,700 postal establishments in the world.

The Universal Postal Union, in existence since 1874, coordinates policies between the 192 members. It encourages cooperation, facilitates international mail exchange, and provides technological expertise.

The UPU launched a tool, OSCAR – the Online Solution for Carbon Analysis and Reporting, to help posts measure their environmental impact and find mitigation opportunities. It is part of UPU's program to fight climate change. In addition "It can bring substantial efficiency gains, help Posts decrease the use of natural resources and make the business case for cost-effective investments in green initiatives."

Great strides have been made to attenuate the environmental repercussions of postal buildings and facilities. Deutsche Post DHL gained an energy savings of 80 - 90% when they installed LED lighting at eight sorting centers across Germany in 2015. DPDHL also focuses on smart meters and energy efficient heating systems. The DPDHL Group has over 12,000 sites worldwide – including office buildings, mail and parcel centers and logistics warehouses, as well as Packstations and drop-off points.

PostNL has 19 large sorting centers throughout the Netherlands. The facilities have flat roofs ideal for the installation of solar panels. Once all 22,000 solar panels are installed, PostNL will be one of the largest producers of solar energy in the Netherlands.

Another organization relevant to this discussion is International Post Corporation - a cooperative association of 24 member postal operators in Asia Pacific, Europe and North America. IPC supports and advances the postal sector in numerous ways, one of which is promoting environmental best practices.

"We are working to systematically address the environmental impacts and are collaborating to combat the global climate change across the sector through our Environmental Measurement and Monitoring System (EMMS) programme. We believe that through the sharing of knowledge, the encouragement of positive action, improving carbon management proficiency, the entire postal industry will be able to lower its environmental impacts structurally, thus addressing stakeholder concerns about the sector’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions."

The EMMS program began by capturing data on member organizations' greenhouse gas emissions in the year 2008. Then they set 2 ambitious objectives for the 20 original participating posts to achieve collectively. Using the 2008 data as a baseline, they set a goal for 2020 to: 

  • achieve a score of at least 90% in carbon management proficiency 
  • reduce combined carbon emissions from own operations by 20%

The group successfully reached the 20% emissions reduction target in 2014, six years ahead of schedule. They then set a new target in 2014, to achieve a 20% reduction in carbon emissions per letter mail and per parcel by 2025, from a 2013 baseline.

The EMMS program has several unique aspects that make it particularly effective. Because it is a sector wide initiative it allows for collective action to meet collective goals. With all participants working toward the same objective, no individual organization is at a disadvantage for their efforts. This is a common obstacle in other industries where one company cannot afford to make an investment and become less competitive if the others do not face the same constraints.

Portugal's postal service takes full advantage of the IPC's Drivers Challenge initiative. This program encourages smart, safe, eco-friendly driving, and leading teams from individual posts compete in a race held every 18 months. Portugal's best performing teams achieved fuel consumption reductions of up 16%, and an annual reduction in accident rates by as much as 5%.

Other posts are strongly focused on alternative technology for their fleets. Or non-technology in the case of bicycles, of which there are nearly 90,000. Electric cars and mopeds are replacing unsustainable vehicles in many countries, particularly Norway. Norway Post purchased nearly 300 electric vehicles in 2015. The fleet has 580 electric mopeds, 420 electric cars and 180 electric trolleys.

The Belgian postal operator bpost has been a leader in the IPC's EMMS rankings since 2013. In 2011 bpost decided to focus on sustainable growth, and set ambitious environmental targets. They decided to use the EMMS program to measure progress. In 2011, when they launched their Sustainability Program, bpost ranked 14th of 20 participants. By 2012 they were in second place, and have been ranked first ever since.

Bpost goes an extra step in environmental action - they are saving the bees. They invested in beehives and had them installed on the roof of their headquarters in Brussels.