Building a sustainable future – what should posts do?

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In April this year, La Poste hosted a workshop aimed at Driving Sustainability through Leadership in the postal sector. Event organizer and business coach, Derek Osborn, reflects on the lessons learned from the workshop and what actions can be taken by posts to build a sustainable future

How can posts build a sustainable future? The short answer is to think and plan for the longer term (for five years and more, as well as for future generations). This is difficult to do when the prevailing pressures, especially financial, are to focus on short-term results and outcomes. However, some of the measures that can be taken can often become a win-win situation when looked at in the right way.

You can summarize sustainable strategies under the triple bottom line objectives of planet, people and profit.


• Do more good things – better use of energy and resources

Postal and logistics companies use a lot of energy (fuel and electricity) for running large fleets of vehicles, buildings and warehouses, as well as materials such as packaging, equipment, uniforms and so on. In these circumstances, there are many opportunities to use renewable forms of energy (for example, many posts are exploring alternative fuels for their vehicles), to recycle more and to explore the ‘circular economy’ and ‘2nd life’ principles so that materials can be used and then re-used.

Swiss Post for example works with the Swiss Red Cross to ensure that clothing and uniforms are recycled efficiently according to their condition. Energy use in buildings can be minimized as can fleet mileage. UPS for example is aiming to reduce its carbon intensity by 20% by 2020. This will largely be driven by the use of its On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation (ORION) route optimization software, as well as the introduction of hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles. This is the first example of win-win action – more efficient operations mean that you can reduce your costs and reduce your consumption of resources.

• Do fewer bad things

This includes the impact of business activity on climate change and other critical environmental aspects. For example, there is a lot of work being done to reduce emissions through International Post Corporation’s (IPC) Environmental Measurement and Monitoring System (EMMS) and other such initiatives. However, this can be extended further to include suppliers, sub-contractors and employees on their commute to work. Initiatives may even extend to ‘server farms’ and other negative aspects of the digital economy, and could also focus on reducing waste, especially waste that is hard or impossible to recycle, leaving a lasting legacy of problems for future generations. Arguably, paper use is now more sustainable than ever before as the forests are better managed and paper can be (and must be) recycled.

• Mitigation

This includes opportunities for the sector to help with emergency responses to disasters such as flooding, epidemics, poverty, water and food shortages, as well as planting forests and supporting more sustainable land use. There are many other examples of what can be done by the postal sector, given its vast footprint in the world.


• Postal employees

Providing sustainable jobs for postal employees involves providing them with training and support for their career development, thereby investing in their future. This also helps to provide a good succession plan, supplying people with the right skills and experience to be future leaders. Other aspects include introducing work schedules that allow people to have balanced lives, promoting wellbeing and support for healthy living and working, and investing in safe and ergonomic equipment to avoid accidents and future ill health. The bottom line is that people are the most important part of our organizations (which would not work or exist without them) so they need to be valued appropriately and invested in.

• Customers

To build long-term relationships with our customers we need to develop a greater understanding of their needs and involve them as partners, wherever possible, including when innovating and developing new services. Again, the business does not exist without customers so, just as with employees, it is worth investing in them for long-term loyalty and engagement. The wider issue here is that global sustainability requires every organization, every business, every sector and every nation to work together, collaboratively – then things can really change.

• Society and citizens

This is an area of corporate social responsibility where postal companies are quite active, using their footprint to have a positive impact on society. This can include providing access to social payments, remittances, and multiple government services through post offices located within a convenient distance. Other services build on the postal service’s ability to provide door-to-door services. Examples of this include providing old people with meals (Posti in Finland), watching over their welfare (Jersey Post), and looking out for missing people (Royal Mail).


• Better business models

This section follows and underpins the others. There has to be long-term thinking and business planning to ensure profitable activity long into the future, and not just in the next quarter, to enable postal businesses to be environmentally and socially responsible. Equally, some of the measures above, including greater efficiency, better customer engagement and better use of resources with less waste, all contribute to ensuring a better long term financial outcome.

• Collaboration and partnerships

This action requires a different kind of thinking where all stakeholders in the business need to be understood and worked with in a proactive way, to ensure as many win-win relationships as possible. Mapping and engaging stakeholders thus becomes an important business planning activity as they can all be important at one time or another. This is part of the complexity of operating in the globalized digital market with omni-media influences and opportunities.

• Investing in the future

This is about being proactively responsible for the longer term and not just reactive to current challenges. As with much of the sustainability agenda, this requires a different kind of thinking and planning, but above all, visionary and strategic leadership. This is why we have been organizing benchmarking workshops under the title of Driving Sustainability through Leadership, to share examples, to learn from each other, and to encourage the whole sector to lead the world by example.

Look out for the next global postal event on Driving Sustainability through Leadership, scheduled to take place in Switzerland in 2017. To register your interest in participating in this event contact


Derek Osborn is a business coach, a management trainer, and an international facilitator who focuses on strategy, human resource development, innovation, leadership and change management. He spent 22 years working as a senior manager for Royal Mail and has since spent more than 16 years working internationally across the postal industry. He has collaborated with businesses and organizations, including governments and national postal operators, to improve operations and efficiency, develop greater customer focus and innovative strategies, and implement transformation.

July 14, 2016

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