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Improving the environment for business

By Bernard Choi

All this week, in observation of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, thousands of Boeing employees are picking up trash, weeding out invasive plants, and restoring natural habitat.

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BOEING PHOTO BY BERNARD CHOI

Boeing employee Becky Remmert brought her son to the largest contiguous greenbelt in Seattle last week to remove invasive plants.

At one event, a Boeing employee had a simple reason for pitching in. "I have two young kids and I think it's important to leave behind a better place for them to grow up in," said Becky Remmert.

While this week's cleanup events will help, Erin Haworth sees more to do. "We should be doing these kinds of things throughout the year," said the Boeing engineer. "It's sort of what we want to do at work -- make Earth Day every day."

Haworth serves on one of many "Green Teams" at Boeing, through which employees from different departments come together regularly to find ways to improve environmental performance.

While the company's biggest contribution to the environment might be developing more fuel-efficient airplanes, Haworth says she and her colleagues can help by using less energy, throwing out less trash and recycling more.

Recently, Haworth and a fellow engineer examined the trash at Boeing's commercial airplane factory in Everett, Wash., and came up with an idea that turned rags to riches.

"We saw that a lot of the rags in the hazardous waste bins were either unused or partially used," said Haworth. Similar to cheesecloth, Boeing uses the rags to clean airplane surfaces.

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BOEING PHOTO BY BERNARD CHOI

Boeing engineers Erin Haworth (right) and Molly McLaughlin helped reduce the number of rags used to clean airplanes by making them more like rolls of paper towel.

Because the rags come in stacks, it was hard to peel off individual sheets. So Haworth and the Green Team made a simple change to the packaging.

"Now it has a roll through it just like a paper towel," said engineer Molly McLaughlin. "So you can take however many sheets you want, instead of the whole pad like they were doing before."

"We were pleasantly surprised by how enthusiastic a lot of the people were and some of the good ideas they were sharing with us," said Haworth.

The team estimates this will lead to 20 percent fewer rags purchased and wasted, helping the environment and the bottom line.

Compared to 2007, Boeing has eliminated 6,204 tons of trash annually from its operations. Of the waste that remained, employees last year recycled 68 percent of it, up from 58 percent in 2007.

Haworth says she's happy to play a role in improving the environment for business.

"I hope we're making a difference. It's everyone's responsibility," she said.