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Sustainability measures could help the US Post Office fulfill its appointed rounds

Posting in Energy

Sustainability measures could offer one answer to the U.S. Post Office's fiscal dilemma.

Been following the scads of comments generated by my colleague Joe McKendrick's post about the U.S. Postal Services's consideration of a measure to cut Saturday delivery. I had already been planning my own blog about the post office's first sustainability report, so I figured I would add more fuel to the fire by posting it sooner rather than later.

First my comment on Joe's debate: I LIKE getting mail on Saturday, so this miffs me. There is nothing like a short hand-written note or card to make my day, ESPECIALLY on the weekend when I actually have time to appreciate it. Cut delivery to businesses on the weekend (if you don't already), but spare my Saturday magazine deliveries. Which, by the way, would be hugely affected by killing Saturday. As if the media really needs another hit. Hello Fedex and UPS? Think you can do it more efficiently. Maybe the post office should offer a prorated fee for weekend delivery, like they already do for priority and express mail?

In fact, it occurs to me that instead of cutting delivery service, as has been proposed, the agency should be studying how to marry its sustainability objectives with its cost-cutting needs. With 34,000 facilities around the country, it certainly has the opportunity to make an impact. But it seems like no one has made the connection that by thinking like a sustainable business, the agency has a chance to find new revenue sources AND cut costs. Is there a disconnect?

According to its sustainability report (which tracks progress from 2005 to 2008), the post office is striving to cut energy use and "intensity" in its facilities up to 30 percent by 2015. It hopes to reduce vehicle petroleum use by the same time frame, while increasing alternative fuel use by 10 percent. Its greenhouse gas emissions reductions target is 20 percent. It has made progress over the past five years, cutting energy intensity by 17 percent since 2003, although its use of fossil fuels has actually increased.

Recycling initiatives have actually pulled in $12 million in new revenue. Although that is a drop in the bucket compared with the $2.8 billion that it lost in FY 2008.

OK, so maybe the post office can't find its way through sustainability measures alone. But instead of cutting service, why isn't the postmaster general looking at more ways in which could capitalize on green initiatives or paperless mail delivery alternatives. Why couldn't it enable certain types of mail to be printed at the point of delivery, allowing me to opt in or out of bulk mail more easily (for example)?

Here, again, is the link to the 2008 USPS Sustainability Report.

P.S. You will notice that the post office DID NOT mail this report to me via hand. It's hosted on the Web, as it should be.

Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure