Your mail on an electric delivery cart: Postal Service goes greener

The US Postal Service and other government agencies are trying to make their transportation fleets more eco-friendly.

By , Correspondent

Up to 10 times a day, somebody will stop mail carrier Taran Edge on her route and ask to take her photograph.

While she is flattered by the attention, she knows that it is her vehicle they are really interested in. Ms. Edge's unconventional three-wheeled electric delivery cart has become something of a tourist attraction on the streets of Key West, Fla., but more important, it plays a key role in the endeavors of the US Postal Service to secure a more sustainable future.

In October 2009, President Obama issued an executive order that directs the federal government – the biggest energy consumer in the United States – to make substantial reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020. In July, he expanded that mandate to include "indirect sources," such as employee commuting.

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These directives mean that fuel consumption by the government's 2 million employees is under greater scrutiny, and the savings made, however small, by projects such as Edge's T-3 electric delivery cart are more crucial than ever.

The carts "don't leave a carbon footprint, and it's much more efficient than walking or using a conventional vehicle," says Jane Evans, Key West's postmaster. The T-3s cost 25 cents a day to run, while the delivery vans that run on gasoline cost anywhere from $10 to $35 a day, she notes.

Edge attests to the efficiency of the T-3s for her route. "I get back about an hour-and-a-half earlier than I normally did, and [then] I'm able to run parcels, run an express delivery, or run another route," she says.

Key West's two T-3s are still under evaluation, as are 11 others in the postal fleet in Arizona, California, and Virginia. Nationally, the Postal Service is aiming to reduce use of petroleum fuels 20 percent by 2015. Already, in 2009, it increased its use of alternative fuels by 26 percent, resulting in a $314 million savings to the annual fuel bill, says Sam Pulcrano, vice president of sustainability.

Other federal entities are also going greener with their fuel use. The Environmental Protection Agency is planning to convert its fleet to hybrid vehicles over 10 years.

In October, several federal agencies were recognized for measures related to fuel use in the first GreenGov Presidential Awards. The Green Innovation Award went to the Sandia National Laboratories campus in Albuquerque, N.M. There, the Department of Energy has invested in a 350-strong fleet of solar-powered carts to become the main form of transportation on the campus.

Idaho National Laboratory, another Department of Energy enterprise, received the Lean, Clean, and Green Award. Located in Idaho Falls, it has decreased petroleum consumption by 21 percent and increased use of alternative fuels by streamlining its fleet of 115 buses and planning to convert three-fourths of its light-duty fleet to hybrids.

"We drive a lot. The question is, how do we become smarter and make better choices about the vehicles?" says Anna Jones-Crabtree, sustainable operations coordinator for the US Forest Service's Rocky Mountain region. The recipient of Mr. Obama's inaugural Sustainability Hero Award, she heads projects that have reduced miles driven by 720,000 since 2006 and increased use of biodiesel and ethanol-based fuels by more than 100,000 gallons annually.

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