We sat down with Pieter Reitsma, IPC's Sustainability Manager, to ask him about the postal sector's shift in attitude towards sustainability, the achievements seen in IPC's sustainability programme over the past decade and the outlook for the coming years.

As IPC’s Manager, Sustainability, you must have seen an enormous shift in the postal industry’s attitude to sustainability – could you tell us more about what you have seen?

The Environmental Measurement & Monitoring System (EMMS) was developed in 2008 in response to stakeholder and CEO requests for the postal sector to minimise its carbon footprint. This followed concerns regarding the contribution of the sector to greenhouse gas emissions.

The main aims of EMMS were: to further develop and embed effective carbon management practices within postal organisations; and to ultimately reduce carbon emissions.

Shifts over the last 10 years:

(a) from individualistic approaches by members to a coherent sector broad approach and consensus on key sustainability themes, 
(b) from mostly compliance driven towards opportunity and market drive approaches,
(c) from sustainability departments/communication towards strategic/board level,
(d) from initiatives towards ambitious target setting…

Last year, sustainability was the main theme of the IPC Annual Conference, coinciding with the tenth anniversary of EMMS. What is your main takeaway from this event?

The IPC Annual Conference was an opportunity to celebrate the success of the EMMS programme and to reflect on our progress since 2008. It also marked the launch of our new sustainability initiative, the Sustainability Measurement & Management System (SMMS).

The main takeaway was that the commitment the posts have shown over the years is only strengthening – sustainability is increasingly an integral part of the way posts operate - and the participants are eager to carry the momentum into the new programme and make that a success too.

The consensus that the developments in relation to sustainability will continue to increase momentum: the next 10 years will show even more developments and more importance then the last 10 years already did.

In 2019, IPC held its first Green Postal Day. Why did we launch it this year? What more could posts do to achieve more for their sustainability goals?

Some info on Green Postal Day: on 20 September 2019, postal operators launched the first Green Postal Day. The event, held to coincide with International Zero Emissions Week and the EU Mobility Week, highlighted the benefits of working together as a sector over the past decade to reduce carbon emissions.

On Carbon: We must continue to innovate, work together and maintain momentum. In order to achieve significant carbon reductions our attention and efforts must turn to the greening of our postal fleets. We must make significant increases in alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) and limit our reliance on internal combustion engines (ICEs) in order to further reduce our impact. The transition to low carbon transport will play an important role in achieving the aims of the Paris Agreement of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

More broadly: Through the success of the EMMS programme we have seen the benefits of a collaborative approach to achieving sustainability goals. Through sharing best practice, our participants have been able to adapt and adopt techniques and initiatives in their organisations to further drive success.

2019 was the tenth anniversary of the EMMS programme. What have been the main achievements of the programme?

2019 Marked the achievement of both original targets we set in 2008:

  • From a 2008 baseline of 56%, the EMMS group improved at a rate of 3.5 percentage points per year to reach 91% in 2018.
  • In 2014, the EMMS group reached the programme’s first original target, to reduce annual emissions by 20% by 2020, compared to the 2008 baseline. Since 2008, participants have reduced collective scope 1 and 2 emissions from 8,758,000 tonnes to 6,426,000 tonnes in 2018, an impressive 27% reduction since the start of the programme. This equates to aggregated savings of more than 17.1 m tonnes of carbon emissions since 2008, equivalent to the CO2 emissions from over 2m homes’ energy use.
  • Since the beginning of the programme, the group has saved an accumulative 1.2m tonnes CO2 from own transport. This of course presents considerable financial benefits: using a conservative conversion factor for diesel, this reduction equates to 431m litres of fuel saved with an associated financial saving of approximately €433m (US$511m).
  • Over the ten years of the programme the accumulated electricity savings equate to 13.3 TWh which, using a conservative factor for the cost of electricity, is roughly equivalent to €1,153m (US$1,361m) over that period. 

But above all, we have built a truly collaborative partnership between the EMMS participants that fosters knowledge exchange and helps drive continuous improvement. Through this collaborative partnership we can maintain our status as a frontrunner as a sector.

Now that EMMS has concluded, what will be the next project for IPC’s sustainability programme?

Significant international developments such as the adoption of the Paris Agreement and the rising prominence of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have signalled the need for more urgent sustainability action from the global business community. Accordingly, in 2019 our programme will be expanded beyond carbon management to encompass broader sustainability goals.

The Sustainability Measurement & Management System (SMMS) aims to build on the success and experience of the EMMS to inform our approach going forward. Having conducted internal and external stakeholder engagement, the message from stakeholders was clear: in order to maintain this position, the Group must broaden and align its sustainability programme and objectives with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Following a two-year process involving research, consultation with internal and external stakeholders and multiple iterations, five SDGs were identified where the postal sector could have the most positive impact. Based on these we have adopted seven operational focus areas on which to base our SMMS programme:

  • Health and safety (Decent work and economic growth - SDG 8)
  • Learning and development (Decent work and economic growth - SDG 8)
  • Resource efficiency (Industry, innovation and infrastructure -SDG 9)
  • Climate change (Climate action - SDG 13)
  • Air quality (Sustainable cities and communities - SDG 11)
  • Circular economy (Sustainable cities and communities - SDG 11)
  • Sustainable procurement (Responsible consumption and production - SDG 12).

We are in the process of setting ambitious targets across a range of sustainability issues, designed to drive significant improvements and ultimately help the postal sector maintain its position as a sustainability leader.