Sustainability at UPS: The Road Ahead

Setting goals is the easy part. We’re getting to work on an ambitious sustainability agenda.

For more than a century, UPS has been helping people and businesses move goods by focusing on the road ahead — both literally and figuratively.

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Even as our business grows and delivery volume increases, our overall emissions must decrease.

Our success reflects relentless attention to emerging trends, innovative ideas and transformative technologies that enable global commerce, growth and sustainable solutions.

Our 15th annual Sustainability Report, published Tuesday, reflects this approach and our accomplishments in 2016. We’ve also announced an enhanced set of enterprise-wide sustainability goals, including a bold target to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions 12 percent across our global ground operations by 2025.

This means that even as our business grows and delivery volume increases, our overall emissions must decrease.

Shifting course

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We are a company of engineers, focused on data-driven decisions and precise measurement – so setting goals is nothing new for us. In 2010, we set our first goal to reduce carbon intensity (emissions relative to shipping volume) 10 percent by 2016, which we surpassed three years early. We shifted the goal, aiming to reduce carbon intensity 20 percent by 2020 and, as of 2016, have reached a 16.6 percent reduction.

I’m proud of this progress, but relative progress is no longer enough.

Environmental organizations, sustainability frameworks such as the CDP and Dow Jones Sustainability Index, socially responsible investment funds and local governments are urging companies to decouple their environmental impacts from business growth.

Many of our major customers are also heading in this direction, expecting suppliers to bring solutions that reduce emissions throughout their value chain.

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For a company with trucks and planes, renewable energy is critical to limiting emissions.

We are heightening our commitments and setting ambitious goals at a time when our footprint is expected to increase due to the rapid growth in e-commerce volume, along with infrastructure investments to expand our network capacity.

But as we build the smart logistics network of the future, we must ensure these investments are made responsibly and sustainably, so our customers and our communities grow along with us.

Charting the roadmap

Establishing a goal is the easy part. In fact, some goals have a lot of sizzle but lack substance or a clear path forward. An important part of our goal-setting process at UPS includes collaboration with stakeholders across the company to create a roadmap for how we’ll get there.

For a company with trucks and planes, renewable energy is critical to limiting emissions. Our goal is backed by three supporting targets to spur the use of renewable fuels and technologies throughout our operations:

  • We’re aiming for 25 percent of total electricity to come from renewable sources by 2025, a significant increase from the less than 1 percent in 2016. We’ve already started, investing $18 million in on-site solar at eight U.S. facilities, which will expand our solar capacity nearly five-fold.

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  • We’re expanding our rolling laboratory, our fleet of more than 8,300 vehicles used to develop and test low-carbon fuels and technologies. By 2020, a quarter of annual vehicle purchases will be alternative fuel or advanced technology vehicles, up from 16 percent in 2016.
  • By 2025, we’re sourcing 40 percent of all ground fuel from sources other than conventional gasoline and diesel, nearly double the ratio used in 2016.

It’s time to get to work

Now that we’ve set our goal, it’s time to get to work. Because of our size and scale, we know UPS’s sustainability commitments can shape markets, advance technologies and become a catalyst for renewable energy investments – but we can’t do it alone.

We’ll rely on the ingenuity of our employees, suppliers and other stakeholders to help us rapidly scale viable options for lower-carbon fuels needed to reach these goals.

I believe we’re heading in the right direction, even with the curves in the road ahead.

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Patrick Browne is UPS Director of Global Sustainability. He is responsible for managing sustainability initiatives and strategies, working with cross-functional teams from various UPS business units around the world.

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