UPS delivered its corporate sustainability report this morning, putting forth an ambitious new goal to cut an additional 20% of carbon emissions from its airborne fleet by 2020, netting an overall carbon reduction of 42% since 1990. But the fact the ever eco-conscious parcel courier is greening its fleet doesn’t impress as much as the common sense, innovative approach the company is taking to achieve its goals.
The company has been taking incremental steps for years, like phasing in more efficient Boeing 747-400s in place of 747-200s, saving 20 percent on fuel consumption per payload ton. But now the company is working smarter with existing technologies to sharpen efficiency from the time a plane leaves the gate until it touches down. When planes push off from UPS Worldport in Louisville, Ky., they’ll be launched by one of 92 new fuel-efficient tugs the company has deployed with help from the EPA. Better ground tracking technology then reduces taxi times and keeps planes from spending more time than is necessary idling on the tarmac.
Once airborne, better-optimized flight plans will take into account destination, prevailing winds and other factors, minimizing fuel burn. Through better flight optimization technology, the company found that by slowing 30 cross-country flights each week by just a few minutes each it can save several million dollars in fuel costs and emissions while still delivering on deadline.
When planes reach their destinations, a variety of biodiesel-powered ground support equipment will help the aircraft dock and unload swiftly and efficiently. While parked at UPS Worldport, planes are powered with electricity rather than fuel-burning auxiliary generators common at many airports. Loading and unloading equipment will run on electricity as well, further cutting the diesel bill for UPS.
Of course, this isn’t the first time UPS has reduced emissions (and overhead) by using better software modeling to make existing technology work smarter. A few years ago the company made headlines by using package-flow software to pre-plot delivery sequences for UPS vehicles and reducing left turns. The resulting routes shaved 28.5 million driving miles from the 95,000 vehicle fleet while minimizing time spent idling in left-turn lanes, saving 3 million gallons of fuel and 69 million pounds of carbon emissions.
UPS’s new aircraft goals should do for its aerial fleet what its ground crews have already been doing, reducing emissions from 1.42 CO2 pounds per available ton mile to 1.24 CO2 pounds per available ton mile. That’s a complicated way of saying that when it comes to efficiency, UPS is setting the bar. Here’s hoping they are also setting a trend.