For more than a decade now, Canada Post has promised to cut its greenhouse gas emissions significantly.
“It is our privilege to serve the country, but we need to do much more to reduce our environmental impact,” Canada Post president and CEO Doug Ettinger said in the agency’s most recent sustainability report.
However, the Crown corporation, on which millions of Canadians rely on to deliver their mail and parcels, has consistently failed to reach its targets.
Canada Post set a goal in 2009 to cut its carbon dioxide emissions 20 per cent by 2020. Instead, the agency doubled its emissions.
Records show that Canada Post’s total CO2 emissions in 2009 were 200 kilotons, but in 2019, the sustainability report shows the agency burned more than 500 kilotons of CO2.
The agency is facing higher demand for fast and increased deliveries, the report said. So Canada Post is increasingly relying on planes to deliver parcels quickly, but that method burns more fuel than trucks or the electric vehicles Canada Post is gradually putting on the roads.
In fact, Canada Post’s main cause of pollution — international outbound air — has spiked 42 per cent from 2018 to 2019. International outbound air refers to planes leaving Canada to make deliveries.
Transportation and sustainability experts say Canada Post must do more but it is in a tough spot.
Even if companies can find more efficient ways to transport goods, they’re usually fighting against the volume of goods being delivered, University of Toronto freight transportation professor Matthew Roorda said.
It’s especially hard to keep emissions down during long distance transportation.
“The only real alternative is marine vessel shipping, which is much lower-emitting than air travel,” Roorda said.
Reducing emissions requires a global effort
Greenhouse gas emissions are not only a problem for Canada Post but a worldwide problem that needs to be addressed by everyone, according to University of Toronto sustainability professor John Robinson.
“We’ve never had some kind of global problem before, the consequences of which are so severe that we needed rapid, disruptive change,” Robinson said.
Companies need to consider both vehicle efficiency and the type of fuel when reducing emissions, he said.
Robinson said a longer term goal would be “decarbonizing transport,” which means moving goods without fossil fuels.
“What would be a really powerful change is a change in fuels, not just the efficiency of the vehicles or if airplanes use less jet fuel, but actually using a non-carbon fuel,” Robinson said.
He said that right now, companies such as Canada Post need to focus on what’s doable until such technology becomes available. Instead, Robinson said, companies should choose more fuel-efficient modes of transport.
Jacob Lamb, who is working towards his doctorate in civil engineering and is a researcher at the University of Calgary, said when shipments exceed the weight or size capacity for aircraft, freighters are used instead for delivery, and a trade-off could be made.
He said he has heard talk of ships slowing down to lower emissions, which presents an opportunity for Canada Post to cut its emissions down further.
“If you’re going 25 knots as opposed to 30 knots, you’ll be slowed down by a sixth, but your emissions have been more than that reduced,” Lamb said.
Action taken on the international level benefits the sustainability of all nations, however change can often begin at home.
Community solution to curb emissions
Lamb said that building urban consolidation centers to collect mail in one location can help reduce the need to ship to specific locations, offering postal services a way to cut their delivery costs.
“The private companies feel less at risk because it’s not that they’re giving over their package to somebody else, but they will lose out on that brand recognition. Private companies have been installing [package lockers] because one of the biggest costs are in repeated and failed deliveries,” Lamb said.
Lamb said Canada Post has tried to curb emissions by introducing community mailboxes rather than delivering posts to each home.
“If you fail a delivery, the truck has to go back, and then you have to drive your car to the post office, you’ve doubled that trip[’s emissions]. You’ve got a postbox for each cul de sac area, and that’s really great. The post van just turns up and fills a bunch of them up,” Lamb said.
Companies need to understand which process will be most efficient, International Postal Corporation chief commercial officer Thomas Day said. The corporation represents 25 national postal services from countries throughout North America and Europe.
“One of the positive things I’ve seen with sustainability issues around climate change is there’s a level of cooperation among even competitors,” Day said.
Through his work with the International Postal Corporation, Day said he has seen how postal services have not yet figured this out.
Emission regulations must get more stringent
To get companies like Canada Post to meet targets, Robinson said he feels the federal government needs to do more to encourage and enforce these regulations.
“Provide incentives of various kinds, preferably performance-based incentives in the form of tax breaks, grants, or it can be in the form of regulatory easement of various kinds,” Robinson said.
Anita Anand, the federal minister who oversees Canada Post, did not respond to an interview request.
Robinson said with emissions rising, the regulations must get more stringent so companies will have to respond and make a difference.
This is not a publicity campaign of which companies are better, Day said, arguing that any claims by postal services about emission-reduction should be followed through.
“We say great things, we’ve got to stop saying great things, we actually have to do something,” Day said.
Speedy deliveries increase emissions
The global pandemic of COVID-19 has not allowed Canada Post to decrease deliveries. Day said because of the change in consumer buying behaviour over the last year, it is likely that outbound emissions have risen since 2019 but Canada Post has not released this data to the public.
Canadians need to realize the impact of their demand for fast deliveries, Roorda said, especially as deliveries become more popular during the pandemic.
“Impacts include additional greenhouse gas emissions because it’s very challenging for delivery companies to be making those fast delivery sustainable,” Roorda said.
Postal services are high contributors to greenhouse gas emissions due to the amount of transportation needed to move such high volumes of parcels and mails, Roorda said, adding that freight transportation for moving goods is growing at a fast rate.
“There is a need to create solutions that relate to improving [the] sustainability of transportation,” said Roorda.
Canada Post did not respond to multiple interview requests.