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Green machine

April 15, 2015

Since 2008, 24 of the world’s largest posts – which together handle 80% of the world’s mail volume – have signed up to the Environmental Measurement and Monitoring System (EMMS), a plan overseen by the IPC to cut CO2 across the sector by 20% by 2020.

“As far as we are aware, we are the first service industry to set up a program like this with ambitious common targets,” says Pieter Reitsma, sustainability manager at the IPC. “We have the advantage that through the nature of our industry our participants have always had to work together, for as long as there has been cross-border mail.”

The IPC has been closely monitoring the performance of the participating posts, which include national operators from as far apart as Australia, southern Africa and northern Europe. The results so far have been very promising. Posts are well ahead of schedule, having already reduced emissions by 19.2% from the 2008 baseline.

“Between 2008 and 2013, we saved 399 million liters of diesel, which equates to €316m (US$352m),” says Reitsma. “That is simply extra profit because it is not a cost. We have saved 4.6TWh of electricity as well, which amounts to €340m (US$379m). So in total we saved over €650m (US$725m), which is great for the environment and our wallets.”

But that’s not the whole story. The latest IPC sustainability report shows that in the past couple of years, emissions cuts have not only stagnated but, if you exclude employee commuting from the results, overall emissions are actually going up – from 14,889,000 metric tons to 15,243,000 metric tons between 2012 and 2013 (the last year for which figures were reported).

While the report acknowledges that after a good start, posts are “struggling” to cut CO2 further, Reitsma remains optimistic. “We like to see the glass as half full, rather than half empty,” he says, referring to the great strides already made.
“Further reductions will require important and long-term investments, but there is a full commitment by the participating posts’ CEOs to further collaborate toward reaching our goals and even go beyond,” he adds.

The report blamed the reversal in part on “an exceptionally harsh winter” and on one post in particular that experienced a sudden rise in the number of delivery points.

But this alone can’t fully account for it, and posts point to the fact that most of the obvious measures for cutting CO2 – such as building modifications or switching to alternative fuel sources – have already been implemented.

“Now that all the low-hanging fruit has been plucked, further emissions cuts have been harder to find,” says Luis Paulo, director of sustainability and environment at Portugal’s national postal company, CTT Correios.

CTT Correios’ emissions figures reflect this. Through improvements to its fleet and to the heating and cooling systems of its three main buildings, the company managed a 51% cut in CO2 from 2008 to 2013. Yet in 2014 the drop was just 0.4%, according to Paulo.


Right: The eBike from CTT Correios has made deliveries 2.5 times faster


Transport solutions
Since the most obvious options have been exhausted, posts are finding more creative ways to curb CO2. CTT Correios, for example, has implemented nearly 200 eBikes developed jointly with bike maker Orbita, while in Finland national postal carrier Posti (formerly Itella) has provided its drivers with special monitoring devices that use motion sensors and GPS to gather information on driving habits, which can be used to suggest improvements that will lead to fuel efficiencies.

That the schemes launched by CTT Correios and Posti both focus on transport is no coincidence. According to the sustainability report, this is the area where finding cuts has been the most challenging.

The report divides emissions into three types. Scope 1 emissions are those generated directly by the post – notably, CO2 emitted by vehicle fleets. Scope 2 refers to emissions that result indirectly from the post buying electricity, heat or steam. Scope 3 emissions are those created by third-party suppliers.

The report states that Scope 2 emissions have been dropping at over twice the rate of Scope 1 emissions, an average yearly fall of 217,000 metric tons compared with 104,000 metric tons for Scope 1. In explaining this disparity, the report points to the fact that switching to a renewable electricity provider for a building is far easier than switching a fleet of vehicles to run on renewable fuels.

Posti provides a clear example of this. While it was able to create some energy efficiencies in its buildings in 2013, these improvements were overwhelmed by its acquisition in November 2014 of a major Finnish transport company with a large fleet of long-haul vehicles that pushed emissions up by 20% for the year.

In an effort to tackle Scope 1 emissions, posts are expanding their proportion of environmentally friendly vehicles. Between 2010 and 2013, the total number of alternative-fuel capable vehicles rose from 56,000 to 79,000, equivalent to a rise from 10% to 16% of the overall fleet. Between 2012 and 2013, this trend was helped by the addition of 12,000 electric vehicles (EVs). This take-up means that EVs now account for 36% of all alternative-fuel capable vehicles used by posts.


Left: Deutsche Post DHL has 11,500 alternative fuel capable vehicles


The switch to electric looks set to continue with projects such as Deutsche Post DHL’s ‘CO2-free delivery Bonn’, an ambitious attempt to convert the post’s entire delivery network in Bonn to EVs by 2016. The project is being undertaken in partnership with the German Environment Ministry.

“The support by the ministry in this case helps us to lower the costs of the overall investment and also sends the right signal,” says Katharina Tomoff, vice president of shared value at Deutsche Post DHL.

Cutting emissions from transport doesn’t only involve making improvements to the ground fleet – air travel is a major contributor to emissions. To cut its air transport emissions, Deutsche Post DHL is introducing a range of measures. “For our own planes, we have an ambitious refleeting process in place to increase CO2 efficiency,” she adds. “In addition we are working on more efficient routing as well as on increasing the load factor for our planes.”

With many posts outsourcing air freight to third-party suppliers, air travel represents a big proportion (43%) of Scope 3 emissions. While posts have less control over emissions generated by third-party suppliers, they can exert influence by favoring suppliers that have good green credentials.

According to Tomoff, Deutsche Post DHL uses a “carrier scorecard” for outsourced air cargo that includes “green selection criteria for our service partners”. She continues, “Third-party suppliers need to establish their own data collection tools and have access to new technologies and financial resources to implement environmentally friendly solutions.”

CTT Correios, meanwhile, insists that all its third-party suppliers conform to specific standards. “In 2014 we required all companies submitting tenders to have full environmental certification,” Paulo says. “We also complete an analysis of a company’s environmental management processes before we take them on.”

E-commerce impact

One trend that is having an adverse impact on emissions across the board is the rapid growth of e-commerce. This growth has led to a rise in the proportion of parcels, whose extra bulk and weight gives them a far bigger carbon footprint than letters.

To get a better sense of just how big an impact the e-commerce boom is having on emissions, the IPC has begun asking posts to report CO2 resulting from mail and parcels separately in the future.

Kari Tuomola, asset manager at Posti, admits that curbing emissions against such a backdrop is “truly challenging” and believes the answers lie in efficiency. To this end, the IPC has been encouraging posts to report the number of dedicated versus shared flights for air freight. According to the report, there were only 2,000 dedicated flights compared with over two million shared flights, which the IPC insists shows a commitment on the part of posts to using aircraft space more efficiently.

While it might be hard to mitigate the effect of extra parcels, the IPC’s Pieter Reitsma believes that it is important to keep in mind the bigger picture, which is that a rise in emissions by posts might in real terms still represent an overall drop in CO2.

“Fewer emissions will be coming from people going shopping, and more will come from couriers delivering parcels to homes. We are confident, however, that the latter is a more carbon-efficient means of transport,” he adds.

April 15, 2015


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