Delivering the Future: How UPS Is Pursuing the Possibility of Sustainable E-Commerce

This guest blog post is authored by Jim Bruce, senior vice president, corporate public affairs at UPS.


David Abney, UPS chairman and chief executive officer

For years, UPS has been famous for its “no left turns” policy, which cuts emissions, reduces delivery time, conserves fuel use and generally improves our sustainability. But there’s so much more to sustainability than which way you turn. More important of course is your destination. At UPS, ours is anticipating the direction of e-commerce and staying ahead of it, because we believe that e-commerce will profoundly impact the development of our cities, lifestyles and business.

The question is whether e-commerce will improve or diminish global sustainability. We think it can go either way but are optimistic about the possibility of real improvement. Which way it goes depends on a number of factors: 1) Can we create a sustainable global delivery network? 2) Will people rely on that network enough to lessen reliance on personal vehicles and to increasingly live in decongested, pedestrian-friendly cities? And 3) Will cities begin to view e-commerce as essential to their sustainable future? Truly, a “yes” to these three questions would be transformative to our cities and global carbon-reduction efforts.

Everyone knows that UPS is a trucking company, but the reality is that we’re a network optimization company. UPS has a laser focus on creating the most efficient network possible, not only because it’s good for our business, but good for our planet, too. That means we use multi-modal shipping, including the most efficient modes like rail, which we’ve used for the past 50 years. It means we use trucks, filled to capacity whenever possible, and we resort to aircraft when necessary to meet our customers desired delivery date. The efficiency of our network is paramount, and we use tools like our ORION delivery route optimization software, an enormous bank of telematics data and our newly acquired Coyote subsidiary to expand those efficiencies even further. The business case for “big data” has never been more persuasive, helping to reduce miles traveled and to refine every aspect of our business.

natural-gas-pumping-w-upser In addition to employing the most efficient delivery modes, we seek to reduce the carbon footprint of those modes.  Our “rolling laboratory” of alternative fuel vehicles plays a huge part of these overall sustainability efforts. In fact, UPS set out to drive 1 billion miles in our alternative fuel fleet by the end of 2017, and this fleet of alternative fuel and alternative technology vehicles enabled UPS to surpass our goal a full year early! In fact, this fleet of 7,200 vehicles is now moving a million miles each business day.

We are also buying synthetic diesel fuel made from renewable sources and bio-sourced natural gas. The result is that nearly 14 percent of the fuel our trucks use is now from renewable sources, not petroleum or natural gas.

alternative-fuel-truck-pumping-close-upSuch steps are essential for a more sustainable delivery network, but the bigger question is, will e-commerce transform our cities? There is ample evidence that young urban dwellers here and abroad want more walkable, bike-able, “smart,” environmentally friendly neighborhoods. For cities, achieving that vision will attract talented millennial workers who want those living conditions, where they can easily get around without a personal car and live in vibrant urban neighborhoods and cities. E-commerce and its requisite delivery systems would seem essential to that lifestyle.

Yet, many cities today see e-commerce and business facilitating delivery vehicles as a double-parking, traffic-congesting nuisance and a rich revenue source for traffic ticket writers. But crucially, instead of more restrictions on companies like UPS, we need to collaborate on new partnerships to reduce urban congestion and pollution. Working hand-in-hand with cities to achieve their goals, while meeting our customers’ delivery demands in an e-commerce world, is what we’re all about. In fact, UPS is already developing such solutions, including a small fleet of electric tricycles to deliver and pick up packages in Hamburg, Germany, from a centrally located stationary trailer. We are seeking similar partnerships in other cities, including Dublin and London.

Ultimately, it’s our notion of serving communities that guides UPS’s sustainability efforts. Every day, we’re working in neighborhoods around the world and come face to face with issues like congestion, air quality and the safety of our roads and sidewalks.

Meanwhile, demand for delivery services is only going to increase. Helping metro regions to facilitate sustainable e-commerce vis-à-vis new delivery methods and exciting cross-functional partnerships is the next step. Working together, we can reduce urban congestion, expedite freight flows, promote walkable cities and cut costs, all the while positively impacting the environment. The future of sustainable e-commerce has never been brighter!

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