Postal sector is getting greener

European social partners in the postal sector have been looking at how to minimise the sector’s environmental footprint, and in April 2013 released details of their two-year study. It shows many firms are developing more energy-efficient fleets and buildings. Companies are searching too for alternative fuels and are thinking about reorganising mail routes in order to cut emissions. Efforts are also being made to ensure subcontractors share and respect this commitment.

Background

The Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) working group of the European Social Dialogue Committee in the postal sector began work on environmental issues in 2011. The group’s focus was not only on technical issues, but also on an examination of practices, employee engagement, communication and practical environmental policies in the sector. The work of the group included carrying out a questionnaire-based survey and a technical workshop and it has resulted in their report, Joint Conclusions on the Environment (400Kb PDF).

The postal industry moves goods and information all around the world, using thousands of vehicles, buildings and significant amounts of paper. The social partners say they are aware that their industry has a particular responsibility to minimise its environmental footprint. Their joint text sets out a number of initiatives aimed at achieving this, grouped into three areas:

  • enhancing carbon efficiency;
  • offering green products and solutions for customers;
  • strengthening the commitment from all stakeholders.

Carbon efficiency

The joint text notes that one of the biggest sources of emissions from the postal sector comes from its large fleet of vehicles. It says many postal operators are reducing emissions by developing a sustainable fleet with high energy efficiency and alternative fuel sources, in particular electric vehicles, motorbikes and mopeds. The sector is also looking to conserve fuel and reorganise mail routes in order to reduce emissions.

Buildings also account for a significant level of the sector’s emissions – these include sorting centres, hubs, warehouses and headquarters. A range of practices are targeting emissions reduction. These include ensuring that buildings satisfy energy efficiency conditions, and requiring new buildings to use technology such as solar and renewable energy sources.

Efforts are also being made to ensure that subcontractors share and respect the commitment to reducing emissions, and to give environmental issues a higher priority when it comes to purchasing decisions.

Green products and solutions

The social partners state that both operators and unions in the postal sector offer an increasing range of carbon-neutral and environmentally-friendly products and services to help customers to reduce their carbon footprint. Among these is CO2-neutral delivery. Other initiatives include carbon offsetting schemes drawn up by postal operators and trade unions, which balance out CO2 emissions with investments in environmental organisations or projects, such as wind farms or solar installations.

Strengthening commitment from stakeholders

The joint text states that postal operators and unions should encourage energy efficiency in the workplace and the overall ‘greening’ of the workplace. In particular, the use of the ISO 14001 standard as an environmental management system should be encouraged as a way of improving operational efficiency and minimising the environmental impact of the sector’s activities.

The text suggests that employees should be given green skills, knowledge and ideas to help them improve the sector’s environmental performance. It says a number of operators are currently providing environmental education as part of management training, e-learning and basic courses, as well as during on-the-job training. The committee stresses that training drivers to follow energy-efficient eco-driving practices is of particular importance.

Communication and dialogue are also highlighted as key contributors to increasing commitment to environmental practices. This will help key stakeholders to ‘develop sustainable solutions and foster technical innovation’.

Conclusions

The social partners conclude that their sector has a particular responsibility in terms of mitigating the environmental impact of its activities and raising public awareness of the environment. They maintain that the work carried out by the social dialogue committee in this sector shows the partners’ ‘active commitment’ to these issues.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Heike Ausprung, Chair of the CSR working group, said: ‘We can conclude there is a huge commitment and we created awareness and transparency on this topic to reduce the impact of our business.’

Commentary

The social dialogue in the postal sector is lively and active. This latest joint text shows the commitment of the social partners to environmental issues among postal companies and customers. The mission of the CSR working group is to provide a foundation for outlining how both sides are reacting to environmental issues, and to provide a way of sharing good practice. Montserrat Mir, a member of the CSR working group, stressed that work would continue on the environment in the postal sector even if the issue was no longer the committee’s main focus.

Andrea Broughton, Institute for Employment Studies

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