Boeing Environmental Commitment: Q&A with Steve Shestag


Steve Shestag
Director of the Environment
The Boeing Company


The CleanTech Alliance Breakfast Series continues on September 14 featuring Steve Shestag, Director of the Environment at The Boeing Company. Shestag is responsible for leading companywide strategy and policy that shapes the environmental performance of Boeing’s global operations, products and services, as well as environmental compliance and remediation commitments.

We recently sent a series of questions to Shestag to offer a preview prior to the September 14 breakfast event. His responses provide a high-level glimpse into Boeing environmental commitment and activities. Take a look, and be sure to register to attend the September 14 breakfast event at Perkins Coie!


Boeing is working to be “the most environmentally progressive aerospace company.” What does that mean to you?

Because air travel helps drive economic growth and prosperity and brings the people of the world closer together, Boeing and the aviation industry are growing. Passenger traffic on airplanes is expected to continue to grow by about 5% annually, and to meet this passenger demand, the global fleet is forecast to double over the next 20 years.

At the same time, increases in carbon dioxide concentrations are expected to lead to rising global temperatures and climate changes. Climate change is a global challenge. Aviation is a global industry, accounting for about 2% of total manmade carbon dioxide emissions, and therefore global action is required to meet the challenge.

As our industry grows, Boeing understands that we have a responsibility to continue to reduce aviation’s environmental impact. This benefits our customers, our company, our employees and the planet.

We are investing billions of dollars to design and build a new generation of more fuel-efficient and quieter airplanes and increase efficiency for in-production airplanes. For example, the 787-10 Dreamliner delivers 25% greater fuel efficiency and lower carbon dioxide emissions than airplanes it replaces, with an environmental performance will be at least 10% better than anything offered by the competition. In our factories and offices, we are focused on continuing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, hazardous waste generation, solid waste to landfills and water intake. We reduced each measure between 6% and 11% between 2012 and 2015, while increasing our airplane production rates and growing our operations.

Working toward our goal of being the most environmentally progressive aerospace company, therefore, is not just good corporate citizenship. It’s deeply connected to Boeing’s aspiration to be the best in aerospace and an enduring global champion. It’s the right thing to do on so many levels—for the continued success of our industry, for the benefit of our planet, for the prosperity of our customers, and for the health of the communities in which we live and work.

Boeing is known for airplanes, and we often hear about efficiency gains having to do with those airplanes. What is Boeing doing on the manufacturing and operations side to lower its environmental footprint?

While Boeing has had a long history of conservation efforts dating back to WWII when we first began recycling aluminum and other materials, we established our first set of five-year manufacturing and operational targets for the environment in 2007. We wanted to reduce the amount of solid waste we sent to landfills, our hazardous waste and greenhouse gas emission intensity, and increase our energy efficiency. What we found is that we could—and did—while increasing production and adding facilities.

That means something. It shows us we don’t have to do business at the cost of our planet.

We’ve had continued success in reducing our hazardous waste generation, greenhouse gas emissions, solid waste to landfill and water intake 6% to 11% between 2012 and 2015, but recognize that true environmental leadership requires constant improvement.

Boeing Salt Lake in Utah received the 2015 Utah Recycler of the Year award from the Recycling Coalition of Utah. Employees in Russia identified an opportunity to replace standard factory lighting with LED lights, reducing energy consumption while increasing lighting intensity by 60%. All of the electricity at our Washington 737 and South Carolina 787 factories comes from renewable sources.

About 20% of our workforce—nearly 30,000 employees—take advantage of alternative commuting methods daily.

We’re currently working on even more aggressive targets to aim for as we continue to reduce the environmental footprint of our manufacturing and operations facilities.

You recently mentioned that environmental compliance is a team sport and that Boeing can’t reach its goals without quality partners and technology providers. What do you look for in a partners and technology solution?

We have a tremendously talented team here at Boeing, but at the end of the day we’re one aerospace company. Climate change is a global issue; no one company, organization or individual is going to solve these problems in a vacuum.

That’s why we put so much emphasis on working with stakeholders around the world to inspire global collaboration and create industrywide solutions throughout the aviation life cycle. We’re working with organizations like the International Aerospace Environmental Group (a trade association that helps develop voluntary consensus standards that promote environmentally responsible design, operations and practices) and the United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organization (a collaboration across the aerospace industry to find global solutions for complex environmental challenges).

However, we’re not just focused on the aviation industry. We’re also looking to nonprofit organizations like The Nature Conservancy and other organizations that support projects that revitalize and protect forests and wetlands—and strengthen communities that depend on these resources. We’re collaborating with numerous research and nonprofit groups such as the Washington Stormwater Center (WSC), Los Angeles Conservation Corps, Washington State University, the University of Alabama and the University of California, Los Angeles, on technology and green infrastructure solutions that can mitigate stormwater pollution.

We’re not always the experts. We’re not the ones who are going to solve major climate problems. But together, we can achieve all that and more.

We tend to view environmental concerns as a local, regional or even national initiative, but Boeing is a global player. How does that change your perspective in setting environmental targets and action plans?

By tackling it on all levels. It’s not a question of local or global at Boeing … it’s both.

Our products are truly global. That’s why we work with organizations like the International Aerospace Environmental Group (a trade association that helps develop voluntary consensus standards that promote environmentally responsible design, operations and practices) and the United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organization (a collaboration across the aerospace industry to find global solutions for complex environmental challenges).

We’re also subject to global regulations. For instance, the use of chemicals in Boeing products—commercial and military aircraft, satellites and even unmanned underwater vehicles—faces growing restrictions around the globe over concern about environmental and human-health effects of target substances. We’re working together as an aerospace industry to develop strategies to ensure compliance with a changing regulatory landscape and ongoing research into innovative chemical solutions.

However, our operations—even though they are global—are also local. As we work to reduce the environmental footprint of our operations, we’re benefiting the communities in which we work. While we increased commercial aircraft deliveries between 2007 and 2015, GHG emissions were 15% lower (on an absolute basis). When normalized to aircraft deliveries, GHG emission intensity was 47.8% lower in 2015 than in 2007.

Last year, Boeing contributed $76 million in charitable donations to support environmental and other causes, while employees channeled their passion and innovation to improve communities around the globe.

Every year, about 30 Boeing Korea employees in Seoul head to Nouel Park to plant trees and maintain the outdoor space. Employees in Mesa, Arizona, contribute more than 550 hours of volunteer labor annually cleaning up public recreation areas like Canyon Lake.

The work you are doing on stormwater is really interesting. Why is stormwater management such a focus for Boeing environmental programs?

Water is one of our most precious resources, and we need to treat it as such. Water quality is an important issue around the world, and certainly in the communities in which Boeing does the majority of its production: Washington State and South Carolina.

We support water quality and conservation efforts in Washington, Missouri, California and South Carolina through organizations like Stewardship Partners, The Nature Conservancy, Low Country Land Trust and others who seek to protect natural landscapes and marine habitat.

That’s certainly not to imply that stormwater management is more of a priority than solid waste to landfill or the efficiency of our products. It’s just one of the ways we can benefit our employees, our communities and the environment.

What other environmental impact initiatives is Boeing spearheading?

We partner with communities and organizations around the globe to help them advance environmental protection, preservation and education. These partnerships focus on sustainable aviation fuel development, composite material reuse, water and energy conservation, habitat preservation and restoration, green infrastructure and water quality.

In Missouri, for example, The Nature Conservancy is working to protect and restore the Meramec River basin, which is a critical natural resource for the state and serves as the water source for more than 75,000 St. Louis–area households. In South Carolina, we are working with The Nature Conservancy and the Low Country Land Trust to protect and restore acres of wetlands. In Puget Sound, we focus support on green infrastructure approaches to improving water quality as well as land management practices to benefit wildlife, waterways and humans with marine spatial planning, a science-based approach to ensuring sustainable use of the ocean’s resources.

All told, along with other supporters we are helping these partnerships preserve more than 6.5 million acres (2.6 million hectares) of land worldwide.

Education is vital to change behavior, and we help train and equip teachers to integrate environmental sustainability principles into their curricula. For example, in Los Angeles, the Environmental Charter School’s Green Ambassador Institute has trained more than 230 educators in 70 public schools, transforming their instructional practices to foster a shared commitment to protecting the environment.

We invest in the South Carolina–based Sustainability Institute and its Energy Conservation Corps Program. The program provides workforce development training to at-risk youth and veterans in energy-efficiency services while providing energy-saving retrofits to income-qualified families in the Charleston region.

The latest Boeing environmental report contains 60 pages of detailed programs and results. What else should CleanTech Alliance know? What should folks expect at the September 14 breakfast session?

We will be looking to members of the CleanTech Alliance to participate in the discussion. We want to talk about the best practices we are implementing, and hear from participants about ideas they have for innovative solutions.

By coming together through opportunities like this, we can change the world. Let’s get going!

Interested in partnering with Boeing to impact our cleantech economy and environmental commitment? Be sure to register to attend the September 14 breakfast event at Perkins Coie!