Imagining a green, sustainable US Postal Service


As you may know, there's a quiet, ongoing push in the U.S. to privatize the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) — and schools, and even air traffic control — but lawmakers like presidential candidate Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWhite House contest casts shadow over mega-merger Fed pressures Congress to spend Warren’s power on the rise MORE (I-Vt.) are against these moves.

Imagine, though, a public postal service that "delivers the sustainable infrastructure of the next economy" by delivering food from farmers straight to homes, finances green energy, checks in on seniors and provides coast-to-coast charging stations for electric cars. "Our post office can deliver" the "equitable, climate-friendly economy." The USPS and its vehicles would be powered by renewable energy. It could sign people up for community-owned wind and solar projects across the country, and make banking much more affordable for people in rural areas, in addition to the profitable service it currently provides delivering packages.

While all this certainly could apply to the USPS, these proposals are from the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, which faces similar pressures.

Here in the U.S., the USPS was an early adopter of electric vehicles, renewable energy and energy management systems, and piloted e-waste recycling drop-offs. In 1999, it opened the world's first "green" post office in Texas, based on energy efficiency and built from recycled materials. In 2009, as part of an energy retrofit, it created one of the largest green roofs in the country in New York City. We rarely hear about these innovative programs now because the USPS is in a battle for its life.

The biggest problem for the USPS — which would be profitable otherwise — is a law passed by Congress that requires it to stash away $104 billion for 75-years-worth of employee health benefits within a decade — something no corporation would be able to do. And unlike the private sector, the USPS receives no bailouts or subsidies from the government.

But as Martin Lukacs writes in The Guardian about Canada Post:

In many places, especially rurally, the post office already serves as a community hub; but now it could also help power a new economy. This is exactly the kind of transformative public services we need in an age of overlapping crises — fostering more caring communities and sustainable economic development, while helping bring down carbon emissions.

That this sounds faintly utopian is not a reflection of its lack of practicality. It is a reflection of how far to the right the political spectrum has shifted. In the last several decades we have been fed a steady diet of market fundamentalism: that public services are inefficient; the private sector knows best; and cuts, deregulation, and privatization will improve our lives.

In France and Australia, the post office delivers food directly from farmers; in Norway, postal service vehicles are electric; in Japan, it provides help for elders; and in the U.K., France, New Zealand, Brazil and Italy, it offers basic banking services.

Canadian postal workers' visionary plan is also what the U.S. needs today: respect for cherished public institutions, more community and renewable energy that cleans our air and water and keeps us healthy.

Fried, Ph.D., is CEO of, known for its daily green business news and national green jobs service since 1996. She selects the constituents for NASDAQ's Green Economy Index.