How FedEx is offering free carbon-neutral envelope shipping

Increasingly, businesses have more choices when it comes to offsetting the carbon footprint of their activities. For the most part, such arrangements involve fees, if not major investments, depending on the breadth of the offset programs.

Take for example Chevy's commitment to invest as much as $40 million in offset projects with a goal of avoiding as much as 8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

FedEx's latest effort in the offset and sustainability arena offers a free benefit to customers who use its most popular product for shipping documents: Carbon-neutral shipping for FedEx Express envelopes, the newest initiative of the company's EarthSmart sustainability program.

"It's the right thing to do," said FedEx spokeswoman Carla Boyd.

Under the recently announced program, FedEx will annually determine the carbon emissions associated with shipping the envelopes and buy equivalent offsets from BP Target Neutral, the nonprofit carbon management program set up by the BP oil and gas company in 2006. BP Target Neutral's low carbon development and conservation projects include wind turbines in Turkey, a reforestation project in Tanzania and a landfill gas collection system in Thailand.

"We don't see Target Neutral as just a single offset," said Kevin Phelan, head of BP Target Neutral.

FedEx Express isn't disclosing the costs for the offset program. The $42 billion company ships some 200 million envelopes, which are made of recyclable material in addition to being recyclable, a year. The firm plans to calculate the carbon emissions from the envelopes shipped during the first year of the project about this time next spring.

Carbon neutral shipping for parcels isn't new. FedEx's arch rival UPS began offering carbon neutral shipping in 2009 and expanded the program globally in 2010.

While FedEx likes to emphasize that its offset program is free to customers, UPS points out that the cost to its customers is nominal and that offsets are available for any UPS service.

"It doesn't have to be just letters," said UPS spokeswoman Susan Rosenberg.

The voluntary program has flat fees of 5 cents for ground shipping, 20 cents for next-day service and 75 cents for international packages. In kicking off the program, UPS offered to match offset purchases up to $1 million through 2010.

Other options for carbon neutral shipping include GreenShipping.com, based in Hood River, Ore., which enables FedEx, UPS and U.S. Postal Service customers to track their packages and buy offsets. Like UPS and FedEx, the Postal Service also is pushing for more sustainable operations.

All three delivery services have robust programs to make facilities, fleets, packaging and transport easier on the environment.

Photo of FedEx envelope courtesy of Business Wire.