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POLICY:
You’ve Got Mail

The United States Postal Service is committed to processing and delivering your mail—along with a sustainable message.

11/2009

By Alanna Malone

With recent media attention for New York City’s largest green roof, along with negative publicity about financial trouble, the Postal Service finds itself in a familiar-to-the-times situation. Officials have to justify a $4.5 million living roof while they are in the midst of cutting work hours, halting new construction, and enacting a nationwide hiring freeze.

You’ve Got Mail
Image © Alex Nabaum

The U.S. Postal Service recently unveiled a 2.5-acre green roof on top of its midtown mail processing facility in New York. It is the city’s largest green roof.

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But Sam Pulcrano, vice president of sustainability for the USPS, understands the financial benefits of going green. “Yes, we are, like every other business, facing significant challenges,” Pulcrano says. “Our economic difficulties are magnified by our size, but we continue to evaluate our options with an emphasis on cutting costs and operating efficiently, and a focus on the return on investment.”

The Postal Service has a goal to decrease energy use 30 percent by 2015, in addition to reducing the use of petroleum-based products 20 percent. As the third-largest real-estate owner in the United States, this is quite a challenge, especially because the institution does not receive any tax breaks or credits for their sustainable efforts. “We are an independent federal agency with no appropriated funds from Congress,” Pulcrano explained. “We maintain ourselves through the selling of postage and other postal products.”

The focus for the last two years has been comprehensive energy audits in their 500 largest facilities, which represent 50 to 60 percent of the total energy consumption of over 34,000 buildings. The Morgan Mail Processing Plant in midtown Manhattan, one of the primary mail facilities in the country, is currently undergoing a seven-stage retrofit to increase efficiency. URS Corporation, the design firm for the renovations, felt financial pressure from the start—the team had to cut 35 percent of the cost from the original plan for a green roof. “It was challenging because we wanted to make a statement without losing that initial design intent,” says Shalini Mohan, AIA, design manager. After recently completing the 2.5-acre green roof, the largest in New York City, the team is upgrading the lighting, windows, and air units, hopefully for LEED-EB certification when all is said and done—a feat that would be even more impressive due to the building’s landmark status.

Also located in New York, William F. Collins, AIA Architects, designed the newly completed Southampton Post Office, which opened July 13, anticipating LEED-Gold certification. Sustainable features include native drought-resistant plants, recycled materials, high-performance roofing, low-flow plumbing, lighting sensors, double-paned windows, and high-efficiency systems.

Since 2003, the USPS has successfully reduced overall building-related energy consumption 17 percent. Project scale ranges from single-unit HVAC replacements at small post offices, through system upgrades at multi-million-square-foot mail processing and distribution centers. The agency is exploring or installing several renewable energy sources in facilities, including solar energy and geothermal HVAC. “We have been and remain a sustainable leader,” Pulcrano said. “We have always seen the importance and value in energy reduction goals.” The USPS also has a large-scale recycling program and continues to experiment in alternative-fuel options with the largest civilian fleet in the nation.

Darlene S. Casey, a USPS public relations representative, adds, “We’re pretty proud that, for an organization of our size, we are the only federal agency that has a vice president of sustainability.”

 

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This article appeared in the November 2009 print issue of GreenSource Magazine.

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