Would You Walk 30 Yards to Save 201,000 Gallons of Gas?
Would you be willing to walk 30 yards to help save 201,000 gallons of gasoline per day? Would you do this six days a week for one year, helping avoid the need to refine, transport, and burn 222 millions gallons of gas? (About the equivalent of 6.5 Gulf oil spills worth of crude (1 barrel of crude equals about 19.5 gallons of gas), using conservative estimates for the amount spilled.)
If you answered “yes”, you’d be helping protect the planet while at the same time, helping the United States Postal Service meet or exceed its energy reduction goals. You might even lower the price of a stamp and get a little exercise to boot.
The United States Postal Service states that, “Our objective is to reduce our energy consumption 30% by 2015.“1 Why not reduce it by 50% by 2011?
I propose the USPS require mailboxes to be on only one side of the road, where feasible—which is mostly everywhere. I read that the USPS is rolling out a lot of technological solutions like electric vehicles, hybrids, flex fuel vehicles… which is great. It seems however, like they are ignoring an easy no-tech solution.
The diagrams below illustrate it.
Moving mailboxes to one side of the road and clustering them near property lines seems like an easy way to reduce the amount of driving needed to deliver mail while also reducing stop-and-go driving by 75%.
Could this solution really reduce the need to burn 222 million gallons of gas each year, a 50% reduction compared to last year? Possibly. I don’t think the idea is far-fetched. Skeptics however, will point out that in some places, mailboxes are already on one side of the road. Agreed. Skeptics will point out that there are postal carriers that walk (or bike) some or all of their routes. Agreed. However, the figures I’m quoting are based on the 1.25 billion miles driven by USPS employees (using 444 million gallons of gas) as published on the USPS’s website, using figures for 2009.2 (Some context: If you drove at 60 mph continuously, it would take you 2,377 years to drive 1.25 billion miles.) Skeptics will point out that not all of those miles are for final delivery at mailboxes. They also include many miles driven by trucks to hubs and post offices. Agreed. But the skeptics must keep in mind that by clustering mailboxes, not only is there a huge reduction in driven miles, there is a huge reduction in the number of times each vehicle must start and stop (a 4:1 ratio). Currently, this constant starting and stopping, using few, if any, vehicles with regenerative braking, wastes vast amounts of gasoline. It also adds expensive wear and tear to vehicles. The savings that would accrue from fewer starts and stops would offset some of the skeptics’ valid points above.
Skeptics will point out that the numbers are fuzzy, that the language is inexact and includes a lot of terms like “huge” and “vast”. Again, agreed. So 50% is really just a guess, I have to admit. It doesn’t mean however, that “vast” and “huge” amounts of energy couldn’t be saved using this simple, no-tech solution right out of the box. Even without exact numbers, this idea should be implemented. It could happen quickly, and at very little expense. It has no downside. Skeptics might point out that it could cost some USPS employees their jobs. I disagree. Using the savings that this solution would immediately produce, laid off employees could be retrained, at no cost, to enter green, sustainable industries, producing real value for society while improving their job security at the same time.
Would it be nice to have real numbers on the savings that such a solution would impart? Absolutely. This is why I propose that any math, science, physics, economics, geography, digital cartography, environmental science… teacher that reads this, consider making an authentic, project based learning activity out of it. There’s a lot here, both in terms of content and information literacy. Each teacher/school could publish the results for their particular geographic area, reducing the scope of the project, making it more manageable and accurate. Students from a town, for example, could get detailed information from their post office about routes, miles driven on mailbox deliveries, miles of road with same-sided mailboxes, etc. Results from each school/region could be centralized and aggregated, producing useful data for a variety of audiences. (For more on PBL go here. For more on information literacy go here. For more on questioning strategies, go here.)
Big Question: How much energy could be saved if the USPS adopted such a scheme?
Requires at least the following information:
How many fewer miles would be driven?
How much gas would be saved by having fewer stops and starts?
(Extend) How much energy would be saved in having to buy fewer vehicles and replacement parts?
Subsidiary Questions (Just some)
How much CO2 would this energy savings keep out the atmosphere? How could that amount be expressed in more understandable ways?
What would be some ecological benefits of such energy savings?
What would be some of the economic benefits?
What would be some of the benefits to society (e.g. less respiratory illness)?
Some benefits of such a solution:Reduced greenhouse gases Reduced acid rain Reduced ocean acidification Reduced traffic accidents caused by people passing stopped mail vehicles Reduced traffic congestion (saves even more gas, people’s time, less stress…) Lowered demand for oil reduces chances of oil spills Reduced need to manufacture postal vehicles (good for environment) Save money on postage Save money on not having to mitigate costs involved in the destruction of nature’s services
Create green jobs Help people exercise
I‘m sure this idea can be improved upon. Please share your suggestions/concerns/doubts. Thanks.
With our fleet traveling more than 1.2 billion miles a year, the Postal Service consistently looks for ways to reduce the environmental footprint that results from visiting every home and business in America six days a week. Sam Pulcrano, vice president, Sustainability, USPS. source
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