Boeing’s Environmental Initiatives

On July 19, Boeing’s Vice President of Environmental, Health and Safety, Mary Armstrong, was a keynote speaker at the 2011 ASA/AFRA Conference.

Armstrong spoke at a joint session of the memberships of both the Aviation Suppliers Association (ASA) and the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association (AFRA).  Her speech made it clear that Boeing is acting as a leader in aviation’s efforts to  achieve better environmental performance.

Boeing has been taking steps to reduce energy use, and to reduce the production of hazardous materials.  This has lead to significant measurable reductions in both areas at Boeing.  Boeing is now working on reducing the waste-to-landfill to zero.  They have already achieved this at four locations (Huntsville, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City and South Carolina.  In South Carolina, the Boeing facility has gone to 100% renewable energy, including a ten acre solar roof and using biomass for remaining energy needs.

She discussed Boeing and AFRA’s efforts at lifecycle environmental footprint reduction.  The aerospace industry has taken a cradle-to-grave approach, trying to minimize environmental footprint throughout the aircraft’s lifecycle.

Armstrong explained that for Boeing, environmental performance starts with design.  Boeing is focused on increasing the use of recycled materials in products and in tooling.  They are designing their Aerospace products to reduce or eliminate the use of hazardous materials and the generation of hazardous wastes.

They are switching to non-chromated paints and primers for their aircraft.  This is a significant change from traditional coatings that used chrome, which is a hazardous material.

Boeing is participating in a new group known as the International Aerospace Environmental Group.  This group is made of aerospace manufacturers working together to share best practices that will permit them to achieve better environmental performance.  One of their goals is to create a consistent process for suppliers to list their chemical bill of materials.  This will provide the framework against which the manufacturers can reduce their adverse environmental impact.

Armstrong explained that aviation produces about 2% of the global carbon emissions, if you take into account all of the aviation-related sources.  Therefore the industry feels compelled to focus on control and limitation of carbon growth.  The 787 and 747-8 aircraft will both be cleaner and quieter.  The 787 is designed to reduce carbon emissions by 20% and the 747-8 should reduce carbon emissions by 16%.

Boeing is testing biofuels in an effort to identify sustainable biofuels.  By sustainable, they mean crops that will not compete for water or land with food crops.  They have been engaged in test flights since 2008, and are identifying fuels that will work as well as or even better than pure Jet-A.  They are working to develop 50/50 blends and the standards for this have been recently approved by ASTM.

Boeing is also working with the FAA on the development of modern air traffic management systems.  Implementation of improvements in this area could cut 12% or more off of aviation’s carbon emission total.

Boeing wants to be an environmental leader, so the next step, which Boeing and AFRA are both taking together, is to undertake a cradle-to-cradle approach.  This means thinking about where the recycled materials from an aircraft will go, and undertaking strategies that will permit the aviation industry to recover recycled aerospace materials for use within the industry.

Boeing is working with AFRA and ASA to develop better strategies for reclaiming materials.

Armstrong praised AFRAs BMP efforts.  She explained that she expects the draft Recycling BMP to lead to an effective mechanism for improving effectiveness and efficiency in recycling of aircraft materials.

Between 2010 and 2030, the aviation industry is expected to add 33,500 new airplanes and half of these will replace existing aircraft.  In the next ten years, the industry expects a significant number of aircraft retirements, all over the world.  These older aircraft will yield to more economical and environmental aircraft, but their retirements create a recycling challenge.

Boeing is engaged in a number of pilot projects for environmental improvement.  These projects include:

  • Recycling carbon fiber, for interior components, for non-structural applications and for tooling
  • Recycling interior materials, like aircraft carpet to reduce landfill materials

Boeing is working on technologies that will permit creation of carpet tiles from recycled carpet.  There is a pilot project for testing these carpet tiles with Southwest Airlines right now.

Boeing is asking its supply base partners to adopt environmental management systems similar to ISO 14001 (although they need not be registered to ISO 14001).  Boeing expects to address environmental responsibility, in the future, as an element to consider for awarding contracts to partners.

One thing that Armstrong did not mention in her speech is that Boeing is one of the founding members of AFRA, and AFRA’s goals include a variety of environmental and recycling efforts.  Through AFRA Boeing has achieved some significant advances by publishing Best Management Practices related to aircraft materials recycling.

Boeing is expanding its understanding and expanding its collaborations in order to create new value for customers and for the environment.


About Jason Dickstein
Mr. Dickstein is the President of the Washington Aviation Group, a Washington, DC-based aviation law firm. He represents several aviation trade associations, including the Aviation Suppliers Association, the Aircraft Electronics Association, the Air Carrier Purchasing Conference, and the Modification and Replacement Parts Association. He also represents private clients drawn from the spectrum of the aviation industry.

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