Boeing's Mesa, AZ, site says 'environmental stewardship is fundamental'

A conversation with Boeing's Kim Smith
Aug 14, 2017 4:25 PM ET
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**This is the 10th article in a series focusing on The Boeing Company's environmental performance and progress in 2016. Visit www.boeing.com/environment for more information.**

Kim Smith is vice president of Attack Helicopter Programs and leads the Boeing site in Mesa, Arizona, which produces the AH-64 Apache and AH-6i Little Bird helicopters for the U.S. Army and allied defense forces around the globe.

Boeing in Mesa also makes electrical and composite components for other commercial and military aircraft and supports developmental flight testing for multiple programs. The site has a robust record of improving the environmental footprint of its operations and products. Kim discusses Boeing Mesa’s environmental progress, challenges and opportunities for continuing improvement.

Boeing in Mesa is a big and complex manufacturing site. How would you describe its environmental strategy?

Boeing in Mesa is fortunate because environmental stewardship has become fundamental to how we do business; it’s not a separate activity. Site leaders continually look for creative ways to conserve resources, reduce waste, save energy and strengthen community partnerships. Over time, it’s become part of the culture and our way of life.

A key part of our strategy relies on a fundamental feature of the culture, which is the amazing passion of our employees for environmental action. For example, since 2012, we reduced our water use—one of the site’s key performance targets—by 35 percent. Employee teams suggested some of the more innovative projects for conserving water, such as slow-closing irrigation valves that reduce irrigation line breakage and leaks by minimizing hydraulic shock, and a sand filter backwash collection and recovery system at the Central Cooling Plant that saves 12,500 gallons (47,318 litres) of water a day.

Our employees also come up with creative community projects, from collecting rainwater at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, to supporting sustainable gardens at Sunshine Acres, a Mesa home for children at risk.

The leadership here in Mesa gets behind and supports employee involvement in finding new projects to improve efficiency, reduce waste and expand recycling. Partnerships and collaboration are critical to environmental progress. We share best practices with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and work closely with state agencies on a variety of pollution prevention programs.

What sort of environmental improvements have you seen with the site’s main product line, the Apache helicopter?

Our government customers are interested in improving the efficiency and the overall environmental impact of military platforms. The Apache was among the first military aircraft to use a paint primer free of hexavalent chromium, a hazardous chemical commonly used to resist corrosion. Boeing has made substantial investments in finding environmentally cleaner alternatives to chrome and other chemicals used on its aircraft.

An Apache also was the first rotorcraft to fly on biofuel, by the way, in a 2010 test flight conducted by one of our customers, the Royal Netherlands Air Force.

Boeing has been the industry leader in supporting the growth of a viable market for sustainable aviation fuel.

A huge opportunity to improve the Apache’s efficiency and performance will come with the Army’s Improved Turbine Engine Program. It’s a plan to modernize several helicopter platforms with the new engine technology that will double the power and reduce fuel consumption and emissions by 25 percent.

What is the biggest environmental challenge facing the Mesa site?

The biggest challenge is finding new ways to keep getting better. We have a history of innovation and continuous improvement in our site operations. Our aircraft production rate will be going up and we expect more work coming into our fabrication centers.

We are privileged to live in this wonderful community. Mesa has done so much for us since we opened in the 1980s and we feel an obligation to keep giving back. Boeing has shown it can increase its business and reduce its environmental footprint at the same time. We need to keep it going.

How important is an improving environmental footprint in the company’s continuing business success?

To have a bold vision and bright future, Boeing must be an environmental leader. We can’t be complacent about the importance of environmental stewardship. Our customers and communities expect innovation and continuous improvements in the efficiency of our products and operations.

It’s also important to understand there is no conflict or tradeoff between investing in sustainable business practices and a strong financial bottom line: they are integrated and complementary. Reducing energy use and emissions, conserving resources and reducing waste all help cut costs and improve quality.

What does Boeing need to do to remain an environmental leader?

It’s all about continuing to innovate, but in bigger and bolder ways. And I look to the remarkable creativity and drive of our employees to help it happen. Boeing helps send people to the moon—and someday soon to explore Mars—protect our country’s security and connect people across continents. I’m confident we’re also inspired to find new and better ways to create a sustainable future.