Climate Change at the USPS
The United States Postal Service (USPS) has 227,000 vehicles and over 500,000 employees who deliver 160 billion pieces of mail to over 156 million delivery points across the U.S. annually. The Postal Act of 1970 mandates that the USPS “provides prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas”.  Given the frequency and breadth of operations, USPS should identify threats to its core business and take steps to mitigate any impact. In a report to the Government Accountability Organization, the USPS identified hurricanes as the biggest immediate negative impact on its supply chain due to the large impact area. The USPS also identifies gradual changes from increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as a risk needing mitigation, including wildfires, prolonged periods of extreme temperatures, and severe rainstorms. Power losses, flooding, and damage to infrastructure make it challenging to accept, sort, transport, and deliver mail to areas impacted by an extreme weather system. In the long-term, the changes in weather patterns will make operations costlier, driving the need for synergies within business practices to continue reliable and timely service to its customers.
Steps Taken to Address Concerns
The USPS developed a Climate Change Adaptation Plan in 2014 (updated in 2016) in response to a directive for all federal agencies to prepare the U.S. for climate change impacts.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The reduction of GHG emissions is one of USPS’s main goals with a target to reduce GHG emissions by 25% by 2025 from 2008 baseline levels. A short-term goal is to develop more efficient routes for parcel deliveries to decrease the total miles driven by its fleet. A long-term goal is to replace vehicles as they wear out with alternative-fuel vehicles.
A long-term goal for its 32,000 facilities is to increase energy efficiency by conducting energy audits with a target energy reduction of 2.5% annually through 2025. In the short-term, the USPS is installing a solar generation system for its Los Angeles Processing and Distribution Center as a pilot-program.
Sustainability in the Supply Chain
The USPS updated its procurement guide to promote sustainability throughout its supply chain. Over the next three years, the USPS will increase its purchases of environmentally preferable products (EPPs) by 3% annually and increase the number of EPPs listed in its internal purchasing catalog by 10% by 2018. The agency plans to continue its practice of oversight of its supply chain by mandating reports from any company rewarded a contract over $500,000 outlining its biopreferred and biobased purchases. Additionally, the USPS issues dynamic routing for its highway contract route services to reduce the number of miles driven. Through BlueEarth®, the USPS gives its business customers insight to their GHG emissions statistics associated with their shipping activities, enabling them to analyze and implement changes to their supply chain practices.
How to Push Further
The USPS received the Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Leadership Award for supply chain in 2017. However, there are still additional ways the USPS can bolster its efforts to adapt to climate change.
Instead of simply monitoring sustainability practices of its suppliers, the USPS should include a sustainability standard in all its contracts (e.g. suppliers must reduce GHG emissions by 2% annually or must use 30% or recycled material in products). Currently, there is no forcing function for suppliers to increase their sustainability practices, which does not align the suppliers’ incentives with USPS.
The USPS should take a more active role in protecting its facilities and fleet from the impacts of severe weather to ensure their core business remains viable. For example, facilities should be structurally resistant to risks of the region and able to continue operations in the event of a power disruption with alternative energy generation or energy storage. The next generation of USPS vehicles are currently in prototyping. In addition to fuel efficiency and alternative fuel sources, it is imperative to also consider the ruggedness of the vehicles. After natural disasters, it is often not safe for normal vehicles to travel on the roads due to flooding or debris. Since the USPS serves the most rural areas in the U.S., there should be vehicles outfitted appropriately to continue to supply uninterrupted service to its customers.
Overcoming the hurdle of constraints in the government
The USPS does not rely on money from the Federal Government for its operations. Its revenue comes solely from its operations. However, it does have a federally mandated cap on its debt limit, which prevents the agency from taking on innovative projects. This leaves me with the following question:
What are some creative ways to initiate sustainable projects with a limited budget and restrictions on debt limits?
 USPS, “Size and Scope,” https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-facts/size-scope.htm, accessed November 2017.
 “Postal Policy,” Title 39, U.S. Code, Sec. 101 (a), 2008 ed., https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/granule/USCODE-2011-title39/USCODE-2011-title39-partI-chap1-sec101, accessed November 2017.
 United States Government Accountability Office, “Federal Supply Chains: Opportunities to Improve the Management of Climate-Related Risks,” Report to the Honorable Matthew Cartwright, House of Representatives, October 2015, http://www.gao.gov/assets/680/673300.pdf, accessed November 2017.
USPS, “USPS Climate Change Adaptation Plan,” p. 5, https://about.usps.com/what-we-are-doing/green/pdf/CCAP_FINAL_2014.pdf, accessed November 2017.
 Ibid., p. 5.
 USPS, “2016 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan,” p.18, https://about.usps.com/what-we-are-doing/green/pdf/USPS-2016-Strategic-Sustainability-Performance-Plan.pdf. Accessed November 2017.
 Ibid., p.5.
 Ibid., p.14
 Ibid., p.5
 Ibid., p.28.
 Ibid., p.29.
 Ibid., p.30.
 “2017 Climate Leadership Award Winners,” press release, March 2017, on EPA website, https://www.epa.gov/climateleadership/2017-climate-leadership-award-winners#USPS, accessed November 2017.