In conversation with UPS’ Peter Harris

In this week's 'In conversation' edie talks to UPS' director of sustainability for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Peter Harris, on why there isn't enough long-term thinking when it comes to sustainability and how electric vehicles could be the technology to revolutionise the economy.

What area will you be focusing on next in terms of sustainability?

One of the cornerstones of UPS’s environmental strategy is to support the development and use of lower-emission alternative fuels. We want to reset our goal for miles driven in alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles by the end of 2017 to one billion miles, globally. This is more than double the previous goal. Vehicles represent approximately 35% of UPS’s carbon footprint, so it’s important that we strive to reduce this.

What are the major changes you see happening in your industry? What’s the big focus over the next 12 months for the environment?

Over the next 12 months, we’ll be looking to continue to expand the number of biomethane vehicles in our global fleet. This is an exciting time for biomethane fuel technology, and we’re proud to be one of the organisations leading the way in the commercial use of one of the world’s most environmentally friendly vehicle fuels yet.

Despite the environmental benefits, current subsidies favour the use of biomethane for electricity generation, creating a shortage for the haulage industry. We are working hard to convince the UK government that subsidies be levelled to ensure that there is an equal playing field for both the haulage and electricity industries.

What are the challenges for someone in your position?

Staying current and deciding what exactly needs to be prioritised.

What motivates you?

I want UPS to be successful for the long term – this is what being sustainable means after all – to sustain. I also have two teenage children, and I want the world to be a better place for them.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Meeting so many interesting and enlightened people and working on different aspects of sustainable business.

What green innovation do you think can revolutionise the economy?

I think the range extended electric vehicle will be pivotal over the next decade – both for cars and commercial vehicles.

What tips or advice would you give to newly appointed sustainability professionals?

I would advise that professionals stand back from the business and decide which areas are most important, and then focus on these relentlessly.

What’s the worst aspect of your job?

Sometimes you want to bring about a whole host of significant changes in an instant. But I know that, ultimately, working for sustainability in the long term requires careful planning and the building of robust systems to ensure success.

What do you think the next 12 months has in store for the green economy?

Unfortunately, the current state of the European economy is leading to some rather short-term thinking. Nevertheless, I think we will see slow but steady progress towards a more deeply rooted understanding of the importance of sustainability for future business growth.

What period of time would you visit if you had access to a time machine?

The year 2100, because then I could see what sustainability practices had or hadn’t worked out, so I could make the best use of my time now!

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

It has to be bringing up two smart children, a boy and a girl who both want to be engineers. Sustainability is all about making sure the world is fit for the next generation.

If you could go back in time, who would you like to meet?

As a classic car fan, it would have to be Sir Alec Issigonis a Greek British designer who created the Mini.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Question everything.

Worst advice?

It will all work out in the end. When it comes to sustainability, it really won’t unless we all work to make sure it happens. We cannot afford to be complacent about the sustainability challenges we’re up against.

What’s your top tip for employee engagement?

Making sustainability relevant and tangible to employees, so they have a day to day understanding of the issues, and how they affect them. We set up the Sustainability Ambassadors programme at UPS and more than 1,400 UPS employees stepped forward to become advocates for the environment at work, at home, and in their communities.

What state do you see the planet in in 30 years?

We will have made progress in many areas but not in all – there will still be a lot to do!

What do you say to the climate change sceptics?

Science is not about opinion, science is science and can’t be argued against.

What’s been your biggest win (environmentally)?

London 2012 was a considerable environmental win. Sponsoring the Games allowed us to demonstrate our commitment to sustainability, supporting the London organisers in making 2012 “the greenest Games ever.” We expanded our alternative fuel technology fleet to include ten biomethane-diesel vehicles, two electric and three hybrid electric vehicles. We also began implementing our proprietary telematics system in and around London to help optimise routes and reduce energy consumption. In the most congested areas of London, we made deliveries on foot and using bicycles and trolleys. Like the athletes that set new records during the London 2012 Games, UPS achieved a result never before attained by an official supporter.

If there was one word you could remove from the English language what would it be?

The word ‘green’ is a good candidate for the worst – it is so widely misused as to become almost meaningless. We need to become a lot more scientific and precise in the way we talk about sustainability issues.

Books or kindle?

Both! Kindles are very convenient, but books are the real deal.

For the entire ‘In conversation’ series visit here

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