When Business Turns Green

When Business Turns Green

By incorporating sustainable practices, UPS helps the environment while saving money.
Photo Credit: Flickr
UPS takes small steps toward minimizing its environmental impact. Photo Credit: Flickr.
For years now, Brown has been turning green. The truth is, most people haven't even noticed. That's OK. When it comes to environmental initiatives at companies as big as UPS, it's the small things — the seemingly inconsequential steps — that can really add up.

Chances are you'll see a brown UPS package car today somewhere on a road near you. But you probably won't see one making very many left turns. If the FAA approves, UPS planes coming in for a landing will eventually glide down in a continuous descent — rather than stepping down in altitude like other planes do. The methane created from human and animal waste helps provide power to several UPS facilities in California.

UPS package-car loaders no longer have to memorize thousands of addresses to know where to put the packages. An automated software program figures out which packages should go where in the truck to ensure maximum delivery efficiency. Simple software loaded onto 11,000 UPS computers helps put the machines to sleep when they're not being used.

Reducing the Impact

Although these low-key initiatives don't garner much attention, they have one thing in common — they help reduce UPS's impact on the environment. Good thing, because with 91,000 vehicles, the world's ninth-largest airline fleet and 2,913 operating facilities in more than 200 countries and territories, UPS is one of the world's largest corporate users of fossil fuels.

Frankly, given the nature of our business, this isn't going to change anytime soon. But we're doing everything we can to conserve fuel and reduce our company's environmental footprint.

A Step-by-Step Approach
Our 1,500-vehicle fleet consists of engines ranging from compressed natural gas to propane, electric, hybrid electric and a couple of advanced hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.


The opening examples illustrate our step-by-step approach. For decades, we have designed UPS delivery routes to minimize left turns. Why? Turning across traffic is not only more dangerous, it requires longer idling time, wastes fuel and creates more congestion.

Up in the air, our tests have confirmed that adopting a continuous descent approach to landings helps UPS airplanes burn less fuel, make less noise — and expel fewer emissions. Meanwhile, purchasing power from biomass sources — which convert human, animal and agricultural waste into energy — is a step toward using more renewable energy.

Streamlining our package-flow operations has not only automated package-car loading, but also optimized delivery routes and saved millions of gallons of gas. And something as basic as installing sleep software on UPS computers has saved the energy equivalent of taking 213 cars off the road each year.

Pure Altruism?

These are all good things to do. But why do we make the effort? I would like to say that our environmental initiatives flow from pure altruism, but that wouldn't be entirely true. Sure, nearly 400,000 UPSers around the world inhabit the same planet everyone else does, and we are just as eager to preserve our home.

But UPS is also a very practical company, and we can do the math. UPS spends about 4.8% of our annual revenues on fuel alone. In the course of figuring out how to reduce that bill, we have discovered a happy coincidence: many of the same initiatives that make our company run more efficiently are also ones that reduce our impact on the environment.

A Business Focus

In fact, when it comes to the environment, we are business-focused. In evaluating programs that will yield benefits for the environment, we run the proposed initiative through a business filter. We essentially ask the following three questions: Is it effective? Is it economical? Is it measurable?

In evaluating programs that will yield benefits for the environment, we run the proposed initiative through a business filter. We ask: Is it effective? Is it economical? Is it measurable?
If the proposal fails on even one of these measures, it will not go forward. For starters, the proposed program must be effective, which means it will help reduce energy use, lower emissions or cut waste while also improving the efficiency or performance of our business operations. Economics also plays an important role.

We will invest more up front in an initiative as long as it saves money and conserves energy in the long run. And because UPS is a company that measures everything that moves (and some things that don't), we know we can't succeed unless we have a way to measure our environmental progress.

The Rolling Laboratory

A perfect example of this practical approach to the environment is what we call our "rolling laboratory" — UPS's extensive fleet of alternative-fuel vehicles. The New York Times recently described our fleet as the "Noah's Ark" of alternative-fuel fleets, because we have at least two of just about every alternative technology available.

While it's true that our 1,500-vehicle alternative fleet consists of a variety of engines ranging from compressed natural gas to propane, electric, hybrid electric and even a couple of advanced hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, UPS isn't looking to repopulate the earth with every kind of green vehicle.

Hands-On Testing

Our rolling laboratory approach simply strives to learn how new fuel and emissions-saving technologies actually perform in the real world — and determine whether they should be adopted for widespread use in our fleet around the world.

UPS began testing hybrid electrics in early 1998. They are currently deploying the first of 50 new hybrid-electric delivery vehicles.
That was the course we took with hybrid-electric vehicles. UPS began testing hybrid electrics in early 1998, before most consumers had ever heard of the them. After deploying a couple of test hybrid-electric vehicles on delivery routes, we confirmed that the cars could stand up to the rigors of daily deliveries.

We also learned that they could reduce emissions and return fuel savings of up to 35 percent. Today, hybrid-electrics are ready for prime time. We are currently deploying the first of 50 new hybrid-electric delivery vehicles.

New Technologies

Although they're twice as expensive as conventional delivery vehicles, their collective fuel savings over their 20-year lives (880,000 gallons) should outweigh the higher costs. This hybrid initiative easily passes the test. It's effective, it's economical — and it's measurable.

But what about other, newer alternative-fuel technologies? Will they pass the test? Since 2004, two hydrogen-fuel cell vehicles have racked up 34,000 miles making UPS deliveries. But until a global infrastructure for hydrogen filling stations is built, fuel cells probably won't prove economical on a wider scale.

Hyradulic Hybrids
We have discovered a happy coincidence: many of the same initiatives that make our company run more efficiently are also ones that reduce our impact on the environment.


We're getting ready to add a more immediately promising technology — called hydraulic hybrid — to our fleet. This is a brand new technology that we licensed from the EPA, and it's estimated to return fuel savings of up to 70 percent.

Hydraulic hybrid combines diesel engines with hydraulic fuel accumulators that look like elongated canisters on the bottom of the truck. UPS worked with other third parties to obtain the unique vehicle bodies and drive train. If the prototype performs as we expect, hydraulic hybrid could be adopted not just on UPS delivery routes — but also outside the company in mass-transit and trucking fleets.

As technologies evolve, we are not shy about phasing out older technologies, particularly when vehicles approach end-of-life.

Continual Improvements

More than 800 compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles have served us well since 1989 in places like Canada, Brazil, France and Germany. But newer diesel engines get better fuel efficiency and cost less to run, so they will eventually replace our CNG fleet.

Our rolling laboratory recently passed a key milestone. Since 2000, UPS alternative-fuel vehicles have logged 108 million route miles — enough to circle the Earth more than 4,300 times. And with all the fossil fuel and emissions saved in the process, people are literally breathing just a little easier.






Contributed by Michael L. Eskew, chairman and chief executive officer for UPS. Reprinted with permission fromThe Globalist.

To read another Global Envision article about environmentally friendly business practices, see Corporate Responsibility and Globalization.



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