USPS reaches energy reduction goal ahead of schedule

Monday - 6/17/2013, 5:24pm EDT

Thomas Day, USPS chief sustainability officer, on "In Depth" with Francis Rose

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By Cogan Schneier
Special to Federal News Radio

The U.S. Postal Service is ahead of schedule in achieving its goal of reducing the amount of energy its facilities use each year. In its most recent report, USPS says it reduced total facility energy use by 34 percent.

The USPS achieved this goal using a mix of updated data-reporting mechanisms, strong employee effort and significant utilities rebates. USPS Chief Sustainability Officer Thomas Day said in an interview with In Depth with Francis Rose that much of the reduction is the result of declining mail volume, which let the service decrease the number of its distribution centers.

"In a period of declining volume — and we've seen significant declines in some of our volume — you have to make sure that your distribution network, the facilities that actually process mail, are as efficient as possible, and so we've consolidated that a bit and will do some more," Day said.

USPS green effort goes high-tech

The report stated USPS uses energy data collection and measurement tools to understand energy consumption trends and find opportunities to reduce energy usage in many of its facilities. Minimizing the service's carbon footprint also minimizes costs, Day said.

One mail distribution center in Denver used energy efficient lighting, thermostat resets and system upgrades to reduce energy costs by $425,000, according to the report.

Despite the declining mail volume, USPS actually has increased its delivery points, meaning the Postal Service must become more efficient with its delivery routes in order to continue to reduce its carbon footprint, Day said.

"Even in a slow economy, there's more delivery points being added, so the Postal Service has to go out and deliver to more places and travel greater distances," Day said.

The Postal Service now uses state-of-the-art technology to plan out routes, minimizing left-hand turns and ensuring that route structures are as efficient as possible, he added.

Fueling vehicles still a challenge

USPS still is finding it difficult to reduce the amount of fuel its delivery trucks use, however.

The Postal Service said it is off-target in its transportation fuel goal, reporting a 4.6 percent increase since 2005 in how much gas it uses.

The report stated that because the goal of the USPS is to provide a delivery service that connects the nation, the service must use vehicles that are both "prompt and economical," but such vehicles are not always the most efficient.

In addition, USPS does not pass on a fuel surcharge to its customers like many other delivery services.

"There is a level of volatility that we deal with, with fuel prices. In getting through that, we don't pass it on to our customers, and that's really a source of competitive advantage," Day said. "We think we serve our customers very well by doing it that way, but it puts more pressure on us — and we absorb that — to make sure we're doing everything we can do to be as efficient as possible."

Day said USPS has tried to use more alternative fuels. Though USPS has one of largest alternative fuel fleets in the country, natural gas or electricity refilling stations often are not readily available in many of the communities.

'Green teams' take lead

Despite difficulties in vehicle fuel use, the USPS has made progress in all other areas of its sustainability plan, according to the report. The service uses employee teams, called "green teams," to tackle what Day referred to as the "human factor" in achieving sustainability. Employees ensure USPS makes small improvements consistently, such as turning off the lights and changing the thermostat.

Day said USPS also works with other agencies to compare and contrast sustainability methods.

"There's any number of examples where the Postal Service works with our colleagues throughout the federal sector to understand what they do better than us and try to copy it or at least borrow it occasionally, and vice versa — we try to do the same for them," he said.

Currently, USPS is collaborating with other agencies on an electronic waste- recycling program that provides a system for disposing of items such as cell phones through the mail. The program hopefully will not only help agencies recycle goods free of charge, but also provide them with the data they need to report to the Council on Environmental Quality, Day said.

Cogan Schneier is an intern for Federal News Radio

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