Remarks Of Postmaster General John E. Potter
Thank you, Jerry (Zremski), for that kind introduction. And I thank all of you for joining us this afternoon.
Ladies and gentlemen, earlier this morning we announced that the Postal Service is the first mailing or shipping company to achieve Cradle-to-Cradle certification for our packaging.
What’s Cradle-to-Cradle? It’s a concept that goes far beyond the simple issue of recyclability. It’s only awarded to products that reflect an innovative vision of ecologically intelligent design that eliminates the concept of waste.
The certification comes from MBDC (McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry). We have with us today Steve Bolton from MBDC.
What does this mean for the U.S. Postal Service? It means that half a billion Priority Mail and Express Mail packages and envelopes will meet higher environmental standards.
What does it mean for our customers? You can send “green” packages across the country or around the world — and it won’t cost you anymore. Our packaging is still free — it is now more environmentally friendly.
The fact is the Postal Service Priority and Express Mail packaging had already exceeded EPA standards for recycled materials but Cradle-to-Cradle goes beyond that. It is based on a few simple but profound ideas:
Products can be manufactured from components that are much friendlier to the environment. It makes a lot more sense to eliminate toxins at the beginning of the manufacturing process than to worry about what to do with them when your customer has finished with your product.
In addition, Cradle-to-Cradle seeks to improve the manufacturing process itself, by adhering to standards related to energy and water use in the production process.
Once the Postal Service made the commitment to become “even greener” there were meetings with 10 vendors and their 200 suppliers. That led to a review of the 250 primary components — and 1,400 subcomponents — that make up our packaging materials. Obviously, I, like many of you, am not a chemist, so I personally was surprised by the complexity of the components that go into making a simple box.
What was really encouraging throughout the process was the cooperation and sense of shared mission that we developed with our suppliers.
Sometimes, when you try something new, you assume it’s going to be an uphill battle. But our suppliers share our commitment to improve our environment and they wanted to be a part of this.
So, with their help, we were able to achieve this new, higher certification.
And this may just be the beginning. In a New York Times interview last week, Bill McDonough, co-founder of MBDC, raised some interesting ideas about the role mail can play in recycling.
He imagined a catalog printed on polymers that can be dropped into a mailbox when you’re finished with it. Then the Postal Service would deliver it to a plant that can dissolve it and reuse it.
He went on to encourage us to think of everything made as having a next life. Another example he used was the idea of letting customers mail back clothing, rather than tossing it out, so it could be turned into new products.
There’s a bigger idea behind these two examples. It’s about mail being central to the recycling process, helping to eliminate the concept of waste.
After all, mail is the one channel that physically connects every home and business in America with every other. Following that argument all the way, Bill McDonough says it could mean that nothing has to be thrown out. Speaking for the Postal Service, we’d be happy to be the middle man.
That’s something to think about . . . and just another way of saying, “The future? It’s in the mail” — in ways we never imagined.
The fact is, everything the U.S. Postal Service has accomplished environmentally started with just a thought — and each of those thoughts led to quite a bit of progress.
That’s because our commitment is serious. It has to be. Because of our size — 700,000 people, over 200,000 vehicles, 213 billion pieces of mail a year — our activities have an enormous impact — socially, economically, and environmentally.
And, we’ve chosen to use that impact to make a difference — a positive difference — wherever we can.
The Postal Service operates the nation’s largest alternative fuel fleet. That includes more than 37,000 vehicles powered by electricity, compressed natural gas, propane, hydrogen fuel cells, ethanol E-85, and biodiesel.
We were awarded the White House Closing the Circle Award in 2006 and 2007 for our support of alternative fuel vehicles.
And over the last year, we’ve increased the average “miles per gallon” for each of the vehicles in our fleet by more than six percent.
That’s important when one of your primary jobs is delivering to more than 146 million addresses each day. And that figure grows by almost 2 million new addresses each year.
With almost 37,000 postal facilities to light, heat, and power, our monthly utility bill is bigger than most. That’s why we’ll be investing $150 million annually on energy saving improvements.
And, as we renovate or replace older facilities and add new ones, as we upgrade building systems, we design them to be energy efficient and environmentally benign.
We support renewable energy. We have the largest solar photovoltaic system of any civilian federal agency. When it comes to energy, one of our key strategies is to take a long look at the big picture so we can find ways to manage our future.
That’s why we created a new energy initiatives organization last fall. It’s leading an enterprise-wide effort to develop and implement a comprehensive plan to optimize energy usage — from mail processing equipment, to vehicles, to facilities.
The opportunities are boundless. Frankly, this is something we can’t afford not to do.
But energy is only one part of our overall sustainability effort. Each year, we buy more than $200 million worth of products with recycled content. We also recycle a million tons of wastepaper, cardboard, plastics, cans, and other materials.
Some people might call it garbage, but for us, it’s gold. Last year, we generated $9 million in revenue through recycling.
Through our partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Waste Wise program, we’re continuing to reduce the amount of municipal and industrial solid waste we produce. 2006 marks the seventh straight year we’ve been recognized with EPA’s Waste Wise Partner of the Year Award.
Our shared delivery network may be the most efficient in the industry. Each of our almost 220,000 delivery vehicles is used to deliver all of our product lines.
We’ve also opened up our “last mile” residential delivery network to the other major delivery providers — that’s right, I mean FedEx, UPS, and DHL. They are our competitors but they are also our partners. We do more than a billion dollars worth of business a year with each other. And by working together, we’ve helped to eliminate the extra fuel and emissions that would have resulted without our productive business relationships.
Looking at the entire mail value chain, you see that the Postal Service is just a small part of an economic engine that generates hundreds of billions of dollars in sales, salaries, and supplies that benefit communities — large and small — from coast to coast.
And our industry partners are also working hard to make sure the mail — their mail — continues to offer great value, environmentally and economically.
Let’s consider advertising. Every dollar spent on direct marketing this year will return an average of almost 12 dollars in sales. That’s a higher return on investment than non-direct mass communication channels.
Last year alone, advertising mail contributed more than 660 billion dollars in increased sales to the economy. And it’s growing. That’s why I say, “The future? It’s in the mail!”
Most Americans value what they receive in the mail. They read it. They consider it. And they act on it.
They like its convenience. They like the offers they receive. They like the money it saves them.
They like the fact that it helps them to help others. Not only fundraising for worthwhile charities but mail has helped recover 144 missing children through the “Have you seen me?” materials mailed to millions of Americans each week.
While most folks may not think about it, I know they’d like this, too. Shopping by mail reduces gasoline use. With gas prices zooming into the stratosphere, this has never been more important to every household’s budget.
By replacing a single trip to the mall with shopping by catalog or direct mail, American families can reduce the amount they drive by more than 1.6 billion miles.
That saves almost a quarter billion dollars on gasoline costs. But, more important in the long run, it reduces carbon dioxide emissions by about one and a half billion pounds.
I’m not asking people to forsake the mall. That’s an important part of the local economy, too. And my kids would never forgive me if I said, “No, I’m not driving you to the mall.”
But if we cut out just a few visits each year, it can really make a difference. And our mail truck is coming by your house anyway.
So when your letter carrier delivers that sweater, that book, or that DVD — we’re not burning any more gasoline than if we were only delivering your bills, bank statements, greeting cards, or magazines.
And what about all those catalogs? We’ve all heard that the internet would lead to the death of the Postal Service but I am here to tell you the opposite is true. Catalogs increase time consumers spend on a retail website. They increase the likelihood to buy, how much is purchased and how much is spent. And they lead to more package delivery!
And, contrary to popular myth, direct mail only makes up a very small part of municipal solid waste — only 2.2 percent.
Everywhere I go, I tell people I’m bullish on the mail. And I’ve already told you some of the reasons I feel that way.
But I’m a realist, as well. Not everyone feels the way I do about the mail. I may or may not agree with their reasons, but I have to respect them.
We know that 85 percent of U.S. households usually take the time to read their advertising mail — and about 70 percent actually act on it. But that leaves a good handful of people who don’t use it and may not want it.
That’s why the direct mail industry provides ways for consumers to get their names off mailing lists including pre-screened credit card offers.
But we have to be doing more. Even a family that likes to get offers in the mail can get turned off if it looks like a mailer is not paying attention.
Like the couple who live in a high-rise condo who get offers for lawn services and gutter cleaning. That’s money — pardon my pun — down the drainpipe.
Or the catalog you first received on Tuesday, and got another copy of on Wednesday.
Or the family who just can’t seem to get a mailer to understand that grandpa’s moved on to his final reward. The only buying he’ll be doing is for harp and halo polish.
Someone I know tried to deal with that by writing “deceased” on the incoming mail and returning it. When that didn’t work, he finally crossed out the old address and sent back an address correction: Heavenly Rest Memorial Park, Row 171, Plot 65.
That got their attention. But why did it have to be so difficult?
The Postal Service website usps.com links with the Direct Marketing Association’s website, which helps folks get their names off unwelcomed mailing lists and remove the names of the deceased from other lists.
I don’t mean to make light of this, but we undermine the value of the mail if we don’t understand the needs and sensitivities of the people we’re trying to reach.
Mail is the most targeted communications channel there is — that’s one of the reasons it is so effective. But we can do better. We have to. Because it’s the right thing to do.
And because if we don’t deal with these issues ourselves, as an industry, somebody else may do it for us — by stopping the wanted mail along with the unwanted.
That’s what some “Do Not Mail” legislation threatens to do. And over the last few months, “Do Not Mail” legislation has popped up in over a dozen states.
Obviously, we oppose these legislative efforts. And the good news is more than half the states have tabled their bills. But we can’t ignore the issues that are spurring them. Mail that reaches a home where it’s not welcome isn’t a good use of anybody’s time — or resources.
A few months ago I challenged the industry to take a leadership role in making even greater strides. And I’m pleased to say they’ve responded.
They understand the need for better targeting and the need to use the cleanest and most up-to-date address lists possible.
They understand the need to eliminate duplication and reduce waste.
They understand the need to maintain in-house do-not-mail lists for new prospects and existing customers who may not be interested in everything a particular mailer has to offer.
They understand that those who are no longer with us no longer buy, and that we’re all more receptive to mail that’s addressed to us personally instead of just “current resident.”
Ultimately, I envision a day when customers will be able to customize what’s in their mailbox. This means that what they get will be welcome — more welcome than ever.
And it all starts with a new technology we’ve just begun to implement — the Intelligent Mail Barcode. The information in the barcode includes the street address, the sender, and the class of mail allowing us to track every piece of mail.
Using this information, we may be able to work with mailers and recipients to intercept mail that may be unwelcome to an individual customer — while it’s being sorted.
This technology is coming online today, making this vision possible in years to come.
Making the content of the mail more welcome and user friendly is a big job, but it’s an important job.
If we do the right things, we’ll continue to be able to say, “The future? It’s in the mail!”
I’ve said a lot about what the mail is, but I want to take a moment to talk about what the mail isn’t. There’s an important story here and it’s one that gets lost in the shuffle.
Despite what you may have heard, mail is not a significant source of identity theft. I repeat — not a significant source of identity theft.
Specifically, less than four percent of the source of identity theft is through the mail. Let me assure you, we are working hard to lower that percentage. But when I watch TV, or read about it, that’s not always what I pick up. Let me give you an example.
Last week I saw a commercial for a bank — one that’s also a big mail user — urging customers to pay their bills online. It said that if a customer suffered identity theft, the bank would help them restore their good credit rating.
The image portrayed was a mailbox, suggesting that a thief was going to steal their bills out of their mailbox and then steal their identity.
I have no problem with competition — it’s a good thing, it can keep everyone at the top of their game. All I ask for is a little honesty when you’re doing it. After all, when it comes to identity theft, the most important deterrent is an informed citizen.
So where does most identity theft originate? It’s actually quite a list that has been put together by the President’s Identity Theft Task Force. It includes:
Employee or insider theft;
Electronic intrusions or hacking;
“Phishing” for personal information through bogus e-mails;
Lost or stolen wallets, checkbooks, or credit cards;
Taking information from a credit card receipt or during a purchase;
Misuse by a family member or sharing personal or financial information;
Computer malware, spyware, or keystroke loggers;
And, of course, there’s old-fashioned “dumpster diving” — picking through someone’s trash. Definitely not the kind of recycling we want to see.
One of the reasons stolen mail plays such a small part in identity theft is the Postal Inspection Service. Our inspectors do a great job of pursuing thieves, apprehending them, and providing the evidence for a conviction.
But deterrence is even better. And because of the Postal Inspection Service and its reputation, most crooks know that they shouldn’t mess with the mail — and they don’t.
The Postal Service also has a pretty good reputation. You may not know this but we have been named THE most trusted federal agency — for the third consecutive year — by the respected Ponemon Institute. We also rank among the 10 most trusted U.S. organizations public or private.
We in the Postal Service are proud that we have earned America’s trust and will continue to work hard to maintain that trust and will do that without a single tax dollar. We are honored to have the privilege of delivering to every home every day. As members of the community, we share a responsibility to protect the environment and are working hard to do our part to assure future generations have a healthy place to live. Today is but another step in that journey.
That’s why I want to leave you with one important thought, “The future? It’s in the mail!”
An independent federal agency, the U.S. Postal Service is the only delivery service that visits 146 million homes and businesses, six days a week. It has 37,000 retail locations and relies on the sale of postage, products, and services to cover its operating expenses. The Postal Service has annual revenues of $73 billion and delivers nearly half the world’s mail.
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