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Harnessing Big Data for Big Change

We need more sustainable solutions to face our world's game-changing issues.

Rhonda Clark | UPS

If someone told me when I first joined UPS as an engineer that I would one day be discussing the role of data in sustainability, I would have been taken aback.

Now, after decades of working in sustainability across various functions at UPS, I see how an engineer’s obsession with data is helpful in addressing today’s biggest sustainability challenges.

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Engineers are consumed by the need for greater efficiency, which often creates environmental benefits.

This was a topic of discussion at the recent Economist Sustainability Summit in London, where I joined IBM, Autodesk and Thomson Reuters to discuss how our companies are using data create a more sustainable world.

Our world is facing a growing number of game-changing issues. Population growth, climate change, water scarcity, pollution, poverty and hunger – just to name a few. And these problems require solutions that are designed, managed and measured with data in mind.

That’s where the engineers come in. We’re consumed by the need for greater efficiency, which often creates environmental benefits as well.

[Also on Longitudes: Making a Global Commitment to Sustainability]

Delivering sustainability

On an average day at UPS, we manage more than 18 million packages in 2,700 operating facilities worldwide. Each UPS driver makes about 120 stops, and there are more ways to drive these daily routes than there are seconds in the history of the Earth.

Our telematics system collects more than 200 data points on UPS’s familiar fleet of brown package delivery vehicles, giving us information on vehicle speed, number of stops, miles per gallon, engine maintenance and driver safety. Multiply that by tens of thousands of vehicles – And that’s a lot of data.

At UPS, data informs every decision we make – from how we load our trucks to how we plan our routes for the day. We’re applying all that we’ve learned from this data to address logistical challenges, as well as reduce emissions, shave miles and use less fuel – all of which create wins for our business and the environment.

But as the world changes, so does our need to innovate and adapt to new realities.

Take London for example. This metropolis is one of the largest cities in the world, and it’s growing every day. This growth means more vehicles on the roads, more congestion and more pollution.

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But as the world changes, so does our need to innovate and adapt to new realities.

And this challenge isn’t unique to London. In fact, by 2050, two-thirds of all people in the world will live in a city.  This means that other cities in Europe and around the world will need to look for ways to mitigate the effects of mass urbanization.

Logistics companies must also work to develop alternative transport solutions that are economically feasible and sustainable in these areas.

For our part, UPS is working in many European cities to explore alternative and clean vehicles, ranging from electric delivery trucks to electrically-assisted tricycles that are cleaner and reduce congestion. We use data and insights from these experiments to inform the best path forward.

One of the ways we are doing this is by implementing ORION – our route optimization software. This innovative technology uses fleet telematics and advanced algorithms to take route optimization to a new level.

The software combines customers’ shipping requirements with customized map data to give drivers precise routing instructions that reduce miles and our carbon footprint.

Once fully deployed in the US in 2017, this system will help us avoid 100 million miles and 10 million gallons of fuel in the US each year– that translates into 100,000 tons of emissions. Now that’s efficiency data any engineer would be proud of.

[Also on Longitudes: PODCAST: Jeremy Rifkin on Green Disruption]

Not the destination, but the journey

We have made progress toward our sustainability goals over the past decade, but we know there is so much more to do.

As we work to develop more sustainable solutions, I challenge us all to embrace our inner engineer – ask the tough questions, track the right data and, ultimately, create efficiencies that also benefit the planet – for today and tomorrow. goldbrown2

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Rhonda Clark is Vice President of Global Plant Engineering

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

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