Episode 148: Online Shipping Marketplaces for Greener Holidays with uShip

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GreenTalk host Sean Daily talks with Mickey Millsap of uShip. uShip.com is an online shipping marketplace where members list anything they need shipped, from household goods to vehicles to freight, and receive bids from thousands of feedback-rated service providers.

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Sean Daily:  Hi and welcome to Green Talk, a podcast series from greenlivingideas.com. Green Talk helps listeners in their efforts to lead more eco friendly lifestyles through interviews with top vendors, authors and experts from around the world. We discuss the critical issues facing the global environment today, as well as the technologies, products and practices that you can employ to go greener in every area of your life.

Hi everyone, this is Sean Daily, welcome to another episode of Green Talk Radio. Shipping stuff. It’s a necessary evil of modern life and business. It is also one of the most environmentally unfriendly aspects of any business including businesses that pride themselves on being ecologically conscious. The bottom line is that when you ship something, that shipment necessitates a carbon footprint. We’ve seen a lot of attention given to this issue in the news lately, most notably with UPS’s recent announcement of its recent purchase of hydralic hybrid vehicles or HHVs to what it calls its new green fleet the company has created to offset its carbon footprint. There’s also been a great deal of  coverage in the conventional media, as well as new media, including green business blogs such as greenbiz.com, triplepundit.com and ecopremiers.com discussing various companies and technologies that seek to deal with this issue.

My guest on today’s program to discuss this topic is Mickey Millsap. He’s the co-founder of youship.com, an online marketplace for shipping services where he serves as the company’s Director of Community, Trust and Safety. Hey Mickey, how is it going?

Mickey Millsap: Hey Sean, how are you? Thanks for having me on today.

Sean Daily: My pleasure. So, this is an interesting topic. Very hot topic in the greenspace. Tell us first of all about youship.com. I know you are an online shipping marketplace. Don’t know much more than that. Tell us about your business model and how this works.

Mickey Millsap: Sure, exactly, I’d love to. Youship, as you said, is an online shipping marketplace. The way a lot of people think about us easily is to think about us like an ebay for shipping. So really it’s not for any [xx] of a package size. There are companies out there FedEx, UPS and I guess we can say used to be DHL who know how to send packages very efficiently, very quickly and at a low cost. Where it gets difficult for consumers, small businesses and others is when you need to ship anything big. This could be a pallet of freight, a car, a boat, furniture, a household move, anything that might be difficult for a consumer or a small business to ship. The price gets really high and the search costs are high to find somebody who can actually accommodate that shipment.

So when we began youship back, actually launched back in 1994, we wanted to find a way to match up these people, businesses who need to ship difficult things that are hard and expensive to ship with service providers. These service providers can range from anything from a large freight broker, a freight forwarder, independent owner operators, guys out on the road with their own truck that are running their own business, moving companies, white glove movers, folks that focus on the automobile industry. A lot of them, it’s a very fragmented industry outside of the really large freight players and it’s really difficult for those types of folks to market their businesses. So what youship really does, very similar to how ebay was able to empower the small seller to add scale, we can do that to the smaller transportation service providers. So if you are an independent guy out on the road, you don’t really have a marketing scale outside of maybe footmap, add on Craig’s list in your local community but now if you are traveling across the country, youship gives you that marketing scale nationally. Really we are an engine that allows these two groups to find each other and do business together.

Sean Daily: OK. So again, that makes sense from a financial standpoint

Mickey Millsap: Yeah

Sean Daily:  that you are really optimizing the experience as a customer to reduce price with having this competitive marketplace.

Mickey Millsap: Right

Sean Daily: Tell us about the green side of this. Why do you really consider this to be a greener solution for people?

Mickey Millsap: Well, it’s a really interesting thing. When we started doing our research into this model back five, six years ago, what we found is, like I was talking about, there are tons of these independent operators, small companies that are out on the road and one of the major problems that has always faced the transportation industry is the capacity issue. You’ve seen people for decades trying to solve the capacity. We’ve got trucks that are 50% full or 60% full out on the roads. So there really haven’t been great software solutions or other solutions that have allowed people to consolidate shipments, keep the trucks that are on the road completely full. 

By using a marketplace like ours, a service provider can actually enter a route that they are going through. What it is going to do is actually show them shipments along that route so at any given time if they have open capacity, they can find something to keep that truck full for their entire route. And so the idea as a company, I am not safe to say we are the greenest company in the world. The idea is if you can keep our trucks running more efficiency, running at full capacity, we are going to have less trucks on the road and that’s the essential part of our model. But on the flip side, it has always been something, we talk about, it is a hot topic in the transportation space. You don’t read about it as much. How can these guys operate, the more green providers? Obviously transportation companies, it’s a huge issue putting the carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. These guys are polluting quite a bit.
We wanted to go beyond that and we partnered with a company called TerraPass which your audience may be familiar with. It’s a carbon offset company so we can allow providers to go carbon neutral. We can allow our consumers to look for service providers that operate carbon neutral. So it gives them more choice to do something with a company that they feel more comfortable doing business with

Sean Daily: I see. OK. So tell us more about the TerraPass because I’ve heard about this. I haven’t really researched it myself. Tell us a little bit more about that.

Mickey Millsap: Sure so TerraPass is a fantastic company. We started working with them. We actually launched our partnership back in January 2007.  They work with some other great companies, Expedia, several others that allow somebody to essentially offset their carbon footprint. In everyday life, obviously, we are going to pollute in everything we do. We have to drive our cars. Certainly, we can minimize that by driving hydra vehicles, whatever it might be but we are going to pollute and when we ship something, we pollute. Those trucks are going to be spuing[sp] something into the atmosphere.

What TerraPass does is say OK, what we can do is measure the amount of pollution that you are creating in a shipping event or in the case of somebody like Expedia, if you are flying from Los Angeles to New York,  they can estimate the amount of carbon that you put into the atmosphere personally. What they do is they can estimate that and whatever you pay to offset that, is then reinvested into clean energy projects. These can be wind farms, whatever it might be, but they are projects that they invest in, then replace dirty burning projects. So a wind plant that would replace a coal burning plant to do the exact same job. So the idea is we got to pollute, we have to, unfortunately it’s a reality of our time but try to do something to offset that footprint that you have. TerraPass, they go out and they make these investments on behalf of our users and the other users that purchase their products.

Sean Daily: I see. OK. Great. And so is that the limit in terms of involving both the buyers and the sellers in the transactions, in terms of being green, or do you also have other programs that, for example, maybe identify certain shippers that are greener in terms of their fleet or what have you? Do you have any way

Mickey Millsap: Right

Sean Daily:  of calling that out?

Mickey Millsap: Let me tell you how we are running the program right now to date. This has been over the first two years as we have been testing the program to see how it works. Right now we have what we call the TerraPass Certified Green Provider Program. So service providers that use our site and our service providers are going to be equivalent of an ebay power seller. Now they are repeat users who have loads of feedback and come back and use us consistently.

So a service provider can choose to join the Certified Green Provider Program. They get a seal on their profile that alerts other customers that they are part of this program. So what it does is every shipment that they take, we calculate based on the weight of that shipment and the distance traveled, exactly how much carbon they are going to put in the atmosphere and then we figure what that amount is going to be to offset it and so at the end of the month, we can pull up all the shipments they have done and say you owe x amount and then it gets put to TerraPass so that they can reinvest in these projects.

So at the beginning of this program it has really been focused on greening the providers so to speak but what we are really excited about and we are working on with TerraPass now is to take this to the next step and allow the consumer to make the choice or the small business or whomever it is that is requiring shipping services.  So now when they go to accept a bid from a service provider for their shipping services, we will be able to calculate just like they would do on Expedia for a flight anything like that, exactly how much it will cost them to offset their individual shipment. So they can pay that right at the point of accepting the match. So now, not only do they have the choice of finding a provider that is a green provider and has chosen to be in this program but let’s say they get four bids from providers who have chosen not to be in the program. They can then say I would like to take the steps to go ahead and make my shipment carbon neutral themselves. So this is something we are really excited about and hoping to roll out probably in the next month or so.

Sean Daily: Getting away from the green aspects of this.

Mickey Millsap: Sure

Sean Daily: I am curious about more on the general site side. This would be a question that would be similar for somebody who has used ebay or something like that where do you have issues with inconsistent experiences with buyers and certain shippers or service providers because that’s one of the things that characterizes ebay and similar services is, having inconsistent experiences or plain getting screwed in some cases, as I have happened. Do you have issues with that or how do you handle that?

Mickey Millsap:  Oh, absolutely. The transportation industry is one that probably doesn’t have the most sterling reputation for quality customer service throughout the years. What we’ve done and I think it is very similar to ebay’s is institute a feedback system. So that when you do a shipment with someone after it is completed, you have the opportunity to go in very similar to ebay and leave a positive, negative or neutral feedback, let them know how the experience went with that provider so future customers can come on and get an idea of the reputation of that service provider.

We have also recently instituted a more detailed feedback where you can get how well were they communicating, how well were they on there, saying they were going to do what they were going to do on time. So we have a couple of little variables there to give you more information.  Really that’s the goal.  Transportation has always been an industry with a little bit in the dark.  If you didn’t use FedEx or one of the really big freight haulers and you found an independent guy or somebody out of the phone book outside of them providing you one or two customer reviews, which obviously they had control over which ones they showed you, you really didn’t know what you were buying. So with youship our goal is to try and provide as much information to the customer to make a more informed decision whether it is a new profile, profile pictures, feedback ratings, feedback comments. Our goal is to give them as much information as possible so they can make a more informed decision.

Sean Daily: We are talking today on Greening the Shipping Process. We are talking with Mickey Millsap of youship.com.  We’ve also talked about TerraPass.com as part of the episode so far. I encourage you, while you are listening to this upcoming break, to take a look at those particular websites. We will be back on Green Talk radio. Thanks everyone.

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Sean Daily: OK. We are back on Green Talk Radio, talking today on Greening the Shipping Process and we are talking with youship.com’s Mickey Millsap. He is a co-founder of the company. Mickey, we were talking before the break about the company itself, how you work. You are sort of like an ebay with doing reverse auctions as it were for people to seek providers and help them, help the providers fill their vehicles to be more efficient in the shipping process, thereby, in the process really reducing the carbon footprint and that makes a lot of sense for me.

I wanted to switch gears and talk a little bit about some other things including, my first question was about youship.com. Do you consider it a good spot for environmental consumers and shippers to find transportation companies versus other methods that are available or working with UPS on a new hybrid fleet or things like that?

Mickey Millsap: Well, one of the interesting things is with some of the bigger companies like UPS and there are certainly others that have gone out of their way to green their fleet and overhaul it to become more efficient. If you are working with any of the smaller transportation companies, we will call it the non name brands, the mom and pop moving companies, the independent owner operators, you are going to struggle to find a lot of information on what they are doing as far as being environmentally-friendly companies. So through programs like the Certified Green Provider Program and through their profile details and other information they submit, is really one of the only ways you are going to get the information on some of these smaller companies as to what they are doing and to  be able to have the consumer come on and consciously select someone is making an effort to do that. And again, I should point out not every provider who uses our site is signed up for a program like that but if you are a consumer you do have the opportunity to ask those questions and we try to provide information through some of our marketing pages and other information on the site that helps make a more informed decision. That’s something that is important to a consumer.

Sean Daily: So Mickey, outside of youship and your experience there, what is your general sense for how the transportation industry as a whole currently views this concept of green shipping and what are you seeing other companies doing if anything?

Mickey Millsap:  Sure and I think you head up a big one with UPS and some of the stuff that they are doing. Even in my experience in writing my blog here for the last few years. I’ve been amazed at what some really large companies are doing. I think it’s going to take some of the big guys leading the way before it all filters down. Back in March of 07, I remember FedEx announced they were overhauling their entire fleet to achieve more environmentally-friendly transportation. Kind of conspicuously, they added a rate increase at the same time which I thought was really funny given the fact that in reality, they should see some long-term savings out of something like that but it was interesting to see FedEx making that statement.

Walmart back in 2006, announced they were going to overhaul all 7,000 trucks in their fleet. When you think about Walmart, there is no company bigger with more trucks than those guys and they are doing it. Their goal was to double their fuel efficiency by 2015 up to 13 miles a gallon. Now, again, as I said earlier, not to anoint these guys as saints yet, there are obviously big cost savings. There is a green movement in this country where people want to be associated with brands and products that do that. But what’s needed, we are seeing these large companies are starting to see the realities that it’s not just going green, there are some real benefits to your company of doing it both in your brand and operating expenses and I know fuel prices especially diesel have come down in the last months.  But we’ve seen what can happen when we see a shock in that system.  It’s really tough on all these companies but particularly in the transportation space. To see some of these bigger guys start doing it, it is really exciting, I think.

Sean Daily: So in your estimation, it’s not just green wash what’s happening. There is real change happening in the industry?

Mickey Millsap: Yeah, I think there is and green wash is certainly something to think about but I really do think these companies are starting to look at this from an operational standpoint.  The long-term benefits of doing this are there for them. So it’s going to hit the bottom line for these guys.

Really what was most encouraging, I was at a show in Louisville earlier this year, the Mid America Trucking Show. It is basically the largest trucking show for independent truckers across the country. It is a magnificent show, huge.  That was one of the biggest issues I saw being pushed. Here you have got these hardworking guys who probably haven’t thought about going green once in their lives but you’ve got booths set up everywhere saying, “Hey, you are going to go green because this is what’s going to save your business. You are going to get 5 more miles per gallon on your truck and that’s going to save you x amount of dollars. It’s going to keep you moving.” So it really is something that I think this industry has been so pressed on fuel prices that they’ve got to look at every way that they can to save money. The reality of it is if they can do it this way and it’s good for the environment, it’s a win win for everybody.

Sean Daily:   And I agree with you there. At some point with consumer demand being there for this and I think we are seeing that demonstrably and consistently, this does become a business survival skill rather than something that you can even feature as “Hey we are different.” At some point it becomes when everybody is doing it, the big guys and the small guys, it’s a keeping up with the Joneses as it were, which is good for the environment and I think it’s a win win for everyone.

Mickey Millsap: It is. I think back to my early days. I’m the Prius driving. I call myself the progressive of the company here but I can think back ten years ago that even just talking about some of these issues it would have been a little bit taboo. But now, like you said, it’s really about hitting the bottom line and about companies doing things the right way now. It’s been awhile to get here but we are finally here.

Sean Daily: Yeah, absolutely. Well, Mickey, one of the things that I like to allow guests to do is to provide tips to our listening audience. I was going to ask you about some of the tips that you might have to offer people that want to do more on a personal level when they are preparing, packaging their shipments.

Mickey Millsap: Yeah and it’s a really important thing. People when they pack and move it’s a painful experience. Nobody likes to move. Nobody likes to pack up boxes and do stuff. There really are a lot of little simple steps you can use to make the experience better and to green it. They are not brain surgery. It’s finding recycled materials. Finding recycled boxes. Taking the boxes you use from one move, saving them for three years for when you move again. It’s amazing how many people don’t even bother recycling boxes. They just throw them out. Finding recycled wrapping materials. All of this stuff is readily available out there.

But on the other side, it is two things. It’s consolidating shipments, making sure you are using providers that are not running at half capacity. You want to get on there and find service providers that are willing to consolidate, work with other customers. It may take a little bit longer as a timeframe. You may not get your stuff immediately. You may have to ship it out a little bit earlier but it is more environmentally sound to have those trucks full all the time. Then really just using common sense and trying to ask questions of your providers. You would be amazed if you go out there and just ask them what some of these guys are doing. If it’s something that is important to you, it is going to be the make or break to get your business, they will tell you that and they are going to let you know what programs are going whether it is carbon offsets or overhauling the aerodynamics of their trailers. There are a lot of different things they are doing. Really if the consumer wants to take the time and the effort to find this stuff out, it’s available to them and they can do it.

Sean Daily: I really appreciate those tips and appreciate your being on the program today. For those who are listening in today who are interested in this topic especially as we are getting closer to holiday time here, I want to direct your attention to the greenlivingideas.com website and we have other podcasts and articles dealing with shipping and on how to green our shipping both for individuals and businesses. You can find the interview with UPS and other vendors under the Holiday Section, as well as Work in the Office and also under Eco Home Living. My guest again today has been Mickey Millsap, he is the co-founder of the shipping company youship.com, an online marketplace for shipping services. Mickey, thanks again for being with us.

Mickey Millsap: Sean, thanks so much. I really appreciate it.

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Sean Daily: Thanks as always to everyone listening in today. Remember, for more free on demand podcasts, articles, videos and other information related to living a greener lifestyle, visit our website at www.greenlivingideas.com. We would also love to hear your comments, feedback and questions. Send us an email at [email protected]

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Sean Daily: Hey everybody this is Sean Daily, host of Green Talk Radio. If you haven’t already, I want to encourage you to subscribe to greenlivingideas.com’s “Green Ideas Monthly Newsletter.” Every issue of the newsletter is packed full of tips and information to help you live a greener more sustainable life including topics like renewable energy, alternative fuel vehicles and transportation, simple living, natural foods and health, eco fashion and seasonal and holiday tips. Signing up for the newsletter is quick and easy and only takes a few seconds. Just visit greenlivingideas.com/newsletter.