With its First-Ever CSO, UPS Kicks Sustainability Up to the C-Suite

Scott Wicker started at United Parcel Service, Inc. on his first day of college in 1977. The job was part of a deal with his dad: If Wicker could help support his own expenses, his dad would cover housing costs and tuition at Wayne State. Responding to a flyer posted in a school administration building, Wicker applied to UPS and was unloading big rigs in no time.

Thirty-four years and a couple of engineering degrees later, Wicker's still at UPS. In that time, he's gone from the loading dock to supervising the $50-billion company's sustainability strategy and practices.

Scott WickerOn Wednesday, Wicker got kicked upstairs, becoming the shipping giant's first chief sustainability officer. Wicker was promoted from his former role as vice president of sustainability and plant engineering.

The new title culminates a decades-long process at UPS to elevate sustainability to the company's highest levels of management. "It was strategic decision, made between our CEO and COO," says Wicker. "[Sustainability] is high on their list of priorities, so things get done. "

As CSO, Wicker serves on a steering committee that routinely gathers the company's top brass -- its CFO, CIO, COO, plus heads of marketing and communications, human resources, and communications, among others -- to oversee green strategy and help coordinate efforts of midlevel sustainability working groups across the enterprise.

The approach is part of an effort over the past few years "to really put teeth into our sustainability programs," Wicker said in telephone interview earlier this week. "As sustainability has moved along and we wanted to accelerate that, we needed more structure, and the organization has recognized that fact."

Top priorities for Wicker include devolving sustainability practices more deeply throughout UPS' sprawling global operations. To spread the word, UPS will continue to rely on internal training and communications.

Wicker also sees the profit potential in green service offerings as a way to recruit serious commitment from UPS' sales teams. "We've learned we have a competitive advantage in this area, and staff are always interested in ways to sell our business better from a sustainability perspective," says Wicker. "One of the first places we went was to the sales and marketing team to see the benefits of these programs."

One example of a green feature that is winning over customers, says Wicker, is UPS' push to develop detailed carbon footprint reporting for practically any shipment a UPS customer makes. "Every year, the requirement from our customers gets tougher, so our data has to get better and better," says Wicker.

For instance, the General Services Administration, the federal government's buying arm, is requiring carbon information for its suppliers. For companies working to meet that requirement by measuring and improving their supply chain, "They discover UPS is big piece of their business model."