'Big Brown' Selling Greenhouse Offsets; Can Carmakers Be Far Behind?

By Bill Visnic September 7, 2010

UPS airplane.JPGPackage-delivery giant UPS now is offering a "carbon-neutral" shipping option to customers who use its UPS Store locations to ship a package.

That leaves open to speculation whether the auto industry might also borrow the idea to "help" environmentally concerned customers assuage their guilt over buying one of the hulking SUVs or full-size pickup trucks that have become rather unfashionable with the green crowd. August sales of trucks and SUVs show the segments have been selling comparatively well in an otherwise struggling market.

'Big Brown' Goes Green

For charges of anything from a nickel to 75 cents, customers using one of the 4,400 UPS Store locations in the U.S. (as well as locations in Puerto Rico and Canada) can choose "carbon-neutral" shipping. Using a carbon-emissions calculation based on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, UPS calculates the cost of purchasing carbon offsets to balance the presumed environmental impact of shipping the package to its destination.

The program started In 2009 and now the company known as "Big Brown" has been expanded to the UPS Store locations, which cater more to individuals who ship infrequently or otherwise find it more convenient to visit the company's brick-and-mortar locations. Ground-shipped packages are cheapest, followed by air packages, with internationally shipped packages carrying the maximum fee of 75 cents.

In another well-considered play, UPS is matching the carbon-offset fees up to $1 million this year.

Idea for Automakers?

A similar strategy could be a useful ploy for automakers, which typically derive their thickest profits from the largest vehicles, such as SUVs and large pickups - options that are not particularly popular with the environmental movement but whose sales are proving to be surprisingly resilient in the current turbulent economy.

Data from Edmunds.com is showing, for example, that sales of full-size pickups and a number of large SUVs have been growing in recent months, despite monetary pressures on businesses and households and increasing concern about fuel economy driven by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

  Truck sales - August 2010 - 557.PNGCould the automakers work a variation of UPS' finger-on-the-pulse carbon-offset program? It is easy to envision a full-size pickup - or the more commercially-oriented medium-duty variants of the light-truck model ranges - offering a similar opportunity to buyers who either want or need such vehicles but would like to think they've done something to balance their choice.

The carbon-offset "option" could be listed just as any other new-vehicle option - or even craftily packaged with certain other equipment to highlight to buyers the option to "do the right thing" by the planet while still purchasing a large or otherwise high-consumption vehicle.


Photo by UPS

Graphic by Edmunds.com data staff

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