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UPS exec: I want to embed sustainability

Scott Wicker, a 34-year UPS employee, hopes to bring engineering discipline to the logistics giant's ongoing corporate social responsibility efforts.

Did you know that UPS didn't have a chief sustainability officer position up until last week when it named Scott Wicker to the post? You could have fooled me, with all the attention that the delivery and logistics company has given to carbon reduction, transportation efficiency and energy savings programs over the past two or three years -- especially in the all-important area of fleet management.

Formerly the vice president of corporate plant engineering, Wicker -- a 34-year UPS veteran -- has been involved with many of the company's previous global sustainability efforts, notably with managing data reporting and analytics around UPS' sustainability initiatives.

You can expect that sort of metric-driven mindset drive Wicker's priorities moving forward, along with a heightened focus on how UPS can use its products and services to help other companies -- including those much smaller than itself -- run their business operations more sustainably. There are a half-dozen engineers working with Wicker on his core team, but one thing he'll emphasize is the "embedding process" of getting all UPS employees to include sustainability in their day-to-day decisions. Wicker was gracious enough to speak with SmartPlanet late last week to share some of the short-term and long-term items on his to-do list. Here are some highlights from that call.

UPS has been working on sustainability initiatives for years. Why now?

"We decided it was time to give this job more structure internally and externally. ... Structure things more clearly. In its simplest form, this is about bringing a governance structure."

Wicker's big initial priority: Fleet management

"Technologies and methods and conservation in the use of our transportation vehicles [including aircraft and package vehicles] is definitely the top priority and this will probably never go away."

UPS' biggest sustainability aide: Telematics technology

"This technology does a lot of things for us, aside from just giving us facts about engine parts. We use the technology to give us information such as when the vehicle is idling, whether seat belts are on, the doors are open. We take the data from this technology and marry it with other routing data. ... Telematics gives us all the tools that we need to sit down with the driver and make changes. This is really a big thing. ...

How good we are as a business in large part depends on how well our delivery logistics service and network operates. Whenever you make efficiency gains, it improves our sustainability position. We have been locked on that forever. The happy derivative to better efficiency is carbon reductions."

What about other energy efficiency efforts?

"Even though this falls into the 10 percent bucket [in that it is a smaller consideration for the UPS carbon footprint], we have been working really hard here. In the past two or three years we have upgraded all the lighting in more than 200 top facilities. ... We are looking at solar energy for our facilities. We believe we can purchase solar systems for our buildings at something below the $4 per kilowatt price now; if we can get that technology for less than that $4 mark, the payback becomes very quick."

What about water, which is a bigger priority for everyone these days?

"In the past, we used to wash every package car every day and take pride in saying that. Now, we wash them as needed. Now, we take pride in knowing that we only wash the ones that need it. In some areas of the world, we'll even use dry wash methods."

What's next?

"In the past year, we came out with our carbon-neutral products [which let consumers and businesses purchase carbon offsets for the things they ship]. This has become a very significant product for our customers that are hoping to become more sustainable. If you think about it, if you ship products through UPS, you need to come to UPS to figure out your footprint for this piece of it. We can tell you what a portion of your emissions are coming from. What this does is open our eyes that they is much more to be done here. The efficiency of the UPS network can be leveraged much better on behalf of our customers' sustainability efforts."

What advice would you give to a sustainability executive overwhelmed about where to start?

I would tell them based on our own experience, the first thing you really need to do is understand your data. And the impact shown by that data. When we started to be able to measure things was when our efforts changed. ... Do not misunderstand the need for good, accurate data."

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com