Delivering Scalable Sustainability at the USPS | Net Impact

Delivering Scalable Sustainability at the USPS

Andrew Essreg, Sustainability Integration Specialist, U.S. Postal Service

Personal experience is often where a passion for sustainability takes root. This was certainly true for Andrew, whose early fascination with the outdoors pushed him to study environmental affairs and public policy in college. Because his undergrad coursework included both policy and science, he was able to kick off his sustainability career as an energy consultant designing nuts-and-bolts energy management programs and environmental strategies for a variety of private sector clients. Drawing on his attraction to the measurability of science and the implications of business practices, Andrew went on to earn both an MBA and a Master’s in Environmental Management (both with a sustainability and corporate responsibility focus that predated the now popular dual degree programs).

Becoming a translator

Andrew’s sustainability consulting career made the most of his interdisciplinary studies, allowing him to explore human nature – and the socio-economic implications of humans andnature. Helping clients make real-world business decisions based on a more holistic, accurate understanding of how business, the environment, and people all impact each other genuinely excites him, and has been a driving motivator throughout his career.

“I’m a person that likes to engage with and observe people,” he explains. “How do they conceptualize and describe an issue? How do they interact with each other, their business, supply chain partners, competitors, the media, regulators, and the community and environment in which they live and operate? I’ve also found that being a translator between technical or scientific and business audiences is key to building a shared understanding, which oftentimes is the core building block for any strategy or program to be effective and sustainable.”

Applying his skills in a new setting

After twelve years of advising clients on sustainability strategy, communication, and program development, Andrew made a big decision – to step away from consulting and join the Postal Service. Why? Because as much as he loved the creativity and problem-solving required to be an effective consultant, he yearned for an opportunity to implement the strategies and programs he devised. He wanted to work on a broader scale – from the inside out, as opposed to the outside-in of consulting. Working on sustainability issues for an organization as large as the USPS – with nearly 600,000 employees, 215,000 vehicles (including 44,500 alternative fuel capable), 33,000 facilities, and a complex supply chain of 25,000 suppliers – has exposed Andrew to equally large sustainability opportunities and challenges.

One thing Andrew has observed from experience is that “businesses need to have a context for the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of sustainability, but they also need a real commitment from their people at the day-to-day operational level. That's where the rubber meets the road – and also where I think it’s make-or-break for most organizations who must demonstrate a return on sustainability investments.”

He cites the Postal Service’s Lean Green Teams, comprised of cross-functional field employees, as an example: “Their efforts have helped USPS reduce our total facility energy use by 30% since 2003, as well as lower associated operating costs and greenhouse gas emissions. And there are similar opportunities in the way we purchase goods and services, and manage our supply chain.” Thanks to a background that includes both science and business, Andrew can help the USPS more effectively implement and scale these changes by leveraging the people and expertise needed to make them happen.

Andrew has said that one of his great career ironies is that he's absolutely certain he has no idea what the future will bring in sustainability. “The field is constantly evolving and so are we as individuals, which means that being adaptable, and staying close to the ebbs and flows, is the best way to find new opportunities.”

Andrew's advice

Even though Andrew’s scientific and business roots run deep, his advice is practical:

  • Start with what excites you. For Andrew, it’s about giving the hard numbers a human dimension and realistic application. His recognition that he loved communicating and collaborating was huge because it pointed him in a direction that was right for him. So if you’re looking for a particular career direction to move towards, try looking inward first.
  • Look beyond the people you already know.Attending events with people you don’t know but who share your interests is a great way to push your thinking and enlarge your network. It’s good to keep in touch with the usual sustainability and corporate responsibility suspects, but make sure you go out of your way to put yourself in new situations, even – and perhaps especially - where you’re unsure of yourself. Andrew, for example, doesn’t just stick to business consulting or sustainability circles – he spends time with community and civic organizations, marketing and branding groups, and attends a mix of conference tracks, from engineering to web design to media relations.
  • Don’t over-worry about traditional versus non-traditional experience. At this stage, it’s not about having the perfect internship or consulting gig. It’s about getting your foot in the door by looking to apply the skills that are unique – and meaningful – to you. Seeking out opportunities to do that and networking with diverse groups of people in a way that is authentic will get you further than the “right” bullet points on your resume.
  • Sustainable work requires sustainable work-life balance. Sustainability work is hard work, so make time to play too. If you and your co-workers are too stressed out, working in unhealthy or monotonous patterns, you won’t be very effective in either your work or your personal life. A lot of that is up to you, but there are ways to know if a job will allow you to strike a balance. When interviewing, ask about team camaraderie, how people view creative tension or conflict, and managing deadlines. What drives people outside the office, as well as in it? And don’t forget to ask around your network for a view of what the day-to-day is really like.