4 Steps Toward Sustainability

Improving your company’s sustainability goals requires delving into the unknown.

Picture a 9-month-old baby attempting to walk. She toddles a few steps, stumbles and falls. If she’s ready, curious and committed, she hoists herself up again. And again. This process takes time and effort.

In the same way, companies are finding their way in environmental sustainability. As consumers increasingly seek sustainable products and services, many businesses are making sustainable improvements to operations, reducing costs and inefficiencies while proving what’s good for the planet can be rewarding for business.

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Driving environmental results requires time, resources, stakeholder engagement and execution.

Lowering carbon emissions and implementing changes to drive measurable environmental results can be challenging. It requires a balance of time, resources, stakeholder involvement and execution. Most importantly, it requires collaboration across a number of groups.

From my experience, this process is less painful and more effective if you first identify what you know – and what you don’t know about sustainability and your goals.

Find a better way

UPS has focused on creating efficiencies – a foundational element in sustainability – since our company was founded. Even still, rapid advances in technology and changes in market conditions have created an entirely different scene from what we witnessed in past decades. There’s much we know, but there’s so much more to learn.

Ten years ago, we began using a research-based method to expand our alternative-fuel and advanced-technology fleet. We call it our Rolling Laboratory. We sought to lower our emissions and solve logistics challenges in a range of locations, environments and delivery conditions.

With service available in more than 220 countries and territories worldwide, UPS operates across a wide range of areas, from densely populated cities to deeply rural environments, often with many miles between delivery stops.

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By committing to alt fuels such as RNG, we helped create a market.

No single type of vehicle would serve all our needs. We also realized that our best strategy was to work directly with manufacturers, to continue testing new approaches to fuels and propulsion systems and to build our fleet from a range of approaches to meet our diverse needs.

We discovered, for example, that electric vehicles are best suited for urban environments where delivery stops are frequent and charging is easier.

We found that liquefied natural gas (LNG), compressed natural gas (CNG) and renewable natural gas (RNG) are the best available fuels for our vehicles that cover hundreds of miles at a time.

And we also learned that by making a commitment to new alternatives, such as RNG, we helped create a market that enables other commercial fleets to follow suit and make more sustainable choices.

Crawl, walk, run

This rolling-lab approach gets results. In 2012, UPS aimed to drive 1 billion clean miles with alternative fuel vehicles by the end of 2017. We hit our goal last August, more than a year early. Our alternative fuel and advanced technology fleet covers more than 1 million miles every business day in countries around the world.

The results have been remarkable: In 2015, our rolling laboratory helped avoid using 49 million gallons of conventional gas and diesel and decreased CO2 emissions by 150,000 metric tons.

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In 2015, our rolling laboratory helped avoid using 49 million gallons of conventional gas.

Of course, we’re not done yet. Our lab keeps on rolling as we evaluate new technologies, gather new data and push forward with new innovations built on collaborative efforts.

Four steps

Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch said only companies that embrace the “ability to learn and translate that learning into action” will achieve the “ultimate competitive advantage.” Creating an environment of learning, testing your assumptions and taking action can help your business find a sustainable way forward.

You can inspire fresh thinking with these four steps.

1. Encourage innovation

Challenge yourself to do better. With more than 100,000 drivers logging more than 3 billion miles per year, UPS is balancing the need to meet growing demand for global trade and the calling to reduce our impact on the environment. For example, we made a long-term investment in RNG, a reusable fuel that captures naturally occurring methane before it converts into greenhouse gas. As we learned through our rolling laboratory, RNG provides a way to reduce our reliance on diesel fuel and allows us to actively participate in reducing greenhouse gases.

2. Adapt and tailor solutions

There’s no one-size fix across most operations. Technology constraints, product use, infrastructure availability, government policies and environmental or social goals all play a role. At UPS, the alternative fuel that works in one delivery environment or country may not be best in the 219 other countries and territories where we operate. So we deploy old-fashioned pedal power and electric-assisted bicycles in dense urban areas such as London and Hamburg. We use electric and hybridelectric vehicles in the U.S. and Europe. And we continue to explore and test new energy sources and technologies as they become available.

3. Crunch the data

Accurate information can point organizations in more sustainable directions. Each day, our On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation (ORION) system reveals data that helps UPS reduce the number of miles driven. Our rolling laboratory uses this information to reduce fuel, emissions and the time needed to achieve customer service requirements. Data helps us manage and maintain our vehicles. It helps new delivery options, such as UPS My Choice® and UPS Access Point™ locations, collaborate with package recipients and reduce congestion and emissions by eliminating missed delivery attempts.

4. Stay committed

Economic and market forces are constantly changing, and the political environment needed to foster investment and infrastructure development can be unpredictable. It’s critical to take a disciplined and accurate look at your situation, set clear objectives and then commit to collaboration to drive meaningful results. Anticipate obstacles and challenges – keep an eye on changing conditions that require new approaches. UPS has been adapting and adjusting its approach for 109 years. Our success is based on our ability to continuously seek operational improvements and our willingness to explore new ideas.

Analyzing, hypothesizing and testing are key to reaching your sustainability goals. One step at a time, taken conscientiously and in partnership with stakeholders, will help you reach your goal of a more sustainable organization.

Mark Wallace is UPS Senior Vice President of Global Engineering and Sustainability.

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Reprinted with permission of Longitudes, the UPS blog devoted to the trends shaping the global economy.