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Boeing's environmental commitment starts at the top

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By Michelle Dunlop, Herald Writer
  • Mary Armstrong

    Mary Armstrong

  • Jim Albaugh

    Jim Albaugh

When you think of the Boeing Co.’s environmental efforts, the company’s fuel-efficient 787 Dreamliner likely springs to mind.
Despite the 787’s environmental advances, Boeing lacked a companywide strategy for its own environmental performance until 2007.
That’s when Jim McNerney, Boeing’s chief executive, appointed Mary Armstrong as vice president of the corporate environment, health and safety team.
“We needed to embed environmental thinking, capability and action into how we run the Boeing Co.,” Armstrong said during a recent interview.
To do that, Boeing studied other corporations, like General Electric, in an effort to set its own environmental targets. From the company’s findings, Boeing decided its goals had to be “carbon neutral or lower,” Armstrong said, meaning it’s not creating new carbon emissions or it’s reducing its carbon footprint.
In 2008, Boeing announced an aggressive objective to improve several areas by 25 percent by 2012.
That goal includes reducing hazardous waste generation and carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent. It also means cutting its energy bill by 25 percent while recycling 25 percent more solid waste. The company has since added water consumption to the 25 percent improvement list.
Armstrong points out that the company plans to grow even as those goals are being implemented. She believes Boeing is on track to hit its targets, even though improvement has been modest over the first few years in some areas: Boeing cut its energy use by just 2.4 percent from 2007 to 2009. In that same time, it reduced the amount of hazardous waste generated by 9.5 percent.
Besides helping the environment, Boeing’s efforts improve the company’s bottom line.
“We don’t do anything that isn’t tied to a good business model,” Armstrong said.
For instance, recycling efforts in 2006 resulted in $60 million in savings. And a program designed to reduce packaging materials coming from suppliers at Boeing’s Everett site alone added $4 million to the bottom line last year.
“We called the suppliers. We said we want to reduce our environmental footprint,” Armstrong said.
In many cases, she said, the suppliers have saved time and money by implementing the changes, too.
In terms of reducing waste at Boeing sites and increasing recycling efforts, Boeing has looked to its own employees to come up with ideas. Across the company, Boeing has several employee green teams, typically made up of workers from the same area, like the 777 jet line, who come up with plans to improve their workplace.
“The employees have taken on what’s relevant in their areas,” Armstrong said.
Boeing’s Salt Lake City site has become a “zero waste to landfill” location — an accomplishment that was employee-generated, Armstrong said.
“Our employees are incredibly engaged,” Armstrong said.
Boeing also is making an effort to be more transparent about its plans for cleaning up old sites where Boeing, or one of the companies it has bought, didn’t practice today’s environmentally friendly standards. Boeing has roughly 60 sites across the country where it’s involved in cleanup projects, often involving agreements with the state and federal government. In May, the company agreed to habitat restoration and water cleanup projects on the Duwamish Waterway.
At other cleanup sites, “we need to get the community involved,” Armstrong said.
Boeing’s environmental goals for its factory and office sites around the country won’t take away from the company’s focus on creating new, fuel-efficient products, like the 787. Boeing’s commercial airplanes division spends about 75 percent of its research and development budget on products that improve the environment, said Jim Albaugh, president of the division during an interview in May.
Albaugh believes that environmental concerns will continue to be a major focus for both Boeing and the country for the next several decades.
“If you’re interested in being green, this is a good industry to be in,” Albaugh said.
Besides developing better products and improving the company’s environmental footprint, Boeing has been reaching out to others in the industry to develop solutions for improving the industry’s carbon dioxide emissions. Aviation is responsible for about 2 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, but that total is expected to grow to 3 percent by 2050.
Overall, the industry has committed to capping carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 and cutting emissions in half, compared to 2005 levels, by 2050. But new aircraft won’t get the industry to its goals.
Boeing has been working with Airbus and others on the development and use of sustainable biofuels for the aviation industry. Biofuels could reduce aviation’s carbon emissions by as much as 80 percent, but producing enough biofuel to sustain the industry is years away.
“We’ve been working on fuel efficiency forever,” Armstrong said. “The more fuel-efficient, the lower the emissions.”

Story tags » Environmental IssuesBoeing



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