Norfolk Southern strives to be a responsible corporate neighbor. The company looks for opportunities to reduce the environmental impact of business operations and to partner with local governments and community groups to conserve natural resources.
In 2015, Norfolk Southern expects to start construction of a “living shoreline” demonstration project that will create wetlands and wildlife habitat and serve as a model of how coastal cities can protect against flooding and sea level rise.
The quarter-mile stretch of shoreline is on the Elizabeth River near Norfolk Southern’s Lamberts Point Coal Terminal in Norfolk, a facility that loads mostly metallurgical coal onto colliers for export to steel producers around the world. The project site is one of the largest undeveloped tracts on the commercialized river, home to the world’s largest U.S. Navy base and a range of industries.
Norfolk Southern has budgeted $1.6 million for improvements that will protect against erosion and flooding. Much of the shoreline will be planted in wetlands grasses, salt bush shrubs, and native trees such as live oak and Southern wax myrtle. The plantings will create five habitat zones for fish, shorebirds, crabs, and upland wildlife. The marshy wetlands will improve water quality by filtering upland stormwater runoff and keeping sediment out of the river.
Preparing the site includes removing a deteriorated wooden bulkhead and several acres of phragmites, an invasive, non-native reed of limited habitat value. The property once was used to dispose of sludge dredged from the river channel, but erosion has washed away much of that, adding to silt and sediment runoff into the river.
As a user of the Elizabeth River, Norfolk Southern takes responsibility for minimizing environmental impacts and helping to restore the river’s water quality. The railroad has joined other businesses to partner with the Elizabeth River Project, a community conservation group whose goal is to make the heavily industrialized river safe again for swimming and fishing by 2020.
Based on our investments and volunteer efforts, the ERP has recognized Norfolk Southern as a Model Level “River Star” business, the highest level a business member can achieve.
In addition to our recognition for the living shoreline project, Norfolk Southern has also been recognized for a stormwater reclamation system and for raising oysters at the Lamberts Point Coal Terminal.
In the late 1990s, Norfolk Southern constructed a retention pond to control runoff going into the river. In 2013, we voluntarily added an innovative stormwater recycling system that has conserved municipal water supplies, supported community efforts to enhance river water quality, and reduced railroad operating costs.
The approximately $3 million upgrade allows the terminal to reclaim stormwater and use it to suppress coal dust at our Lamberts Point export terminal. By recycling, the terminal no longer uses municipal water for this purpose, saving the city about 1 million gallons per month. In 2014, the company saved the city 12.7 million gallons, including a maximum monthly savings of 1.9 million gallons in June.
The reclamation system pumps stormwater through hydrocyclone filtration units that remove small coal particles and deposit them into rail cars for resell. Before the stormwater is used for terminal processes, including washing equipment, it is run through carbon filtration to remove organic material and through ultraviolet light to neutralize bacteria.
Six years ago, the company’s Thoroughbred Volunteer Council supported a project to raise oysters as part of community efforts to repopulate the river with the bivalves, known for their ability to filter pollutants from water.
Since then, Bobby Carlow, general foreman at the Lamberts Point terminal’s rail car shop, has been chief caretaker of the young mollusks. Carlow served on the volunteer council when the company joined the oyster-growing program, sponsored by the Elizabeth River Project and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Each year, Carlow takes delivery of about 1,500 oyster “spat,” each about the size of a pencil eraser. He places them into cages at the river’s edge a short walk from a pier where colliers are loaded with export coal. When the oysters are about the size of silver dollars, they are transplanted onto artificial reefs elsewhere in the river where each oyster filters pollutants from more than 40 gallons of water daily.
“I like helping out. It’s nice for Norfolk Southern to do our part.”
general foreman at the Lamberts Point
terminal’s rail car shop
In 2014, Norfolk Southern’s corporate sustainability group introduced the Connections Challenge to engage employees in efforts to reduce the company’s impacts on the environment. The program encourages employees to participate in fun and simple monthly challenges, such as using reusable water bottles, volunteering in the community, and participating in “green acts.”
During the year, for example, employees were challenged to participate in two “Cleaner Commute” events – getting to work without driving alone in their cars. After the first weeklong event in May, Esi Waters, manager corporate sustainability, calculated that the 270 employees at 34 work locations who reported their challenge results avoided 2.5 metric tons of CO₂ equivalent emissions by walking, bicycling, taking public transit, or teaming up with co-workers to car pool. The greenhouse gas savings were equivalent to four months of electricity usage in the average U.S. household.
By the end of the first year, more than 1,500 employees had joined the program. Employees who participate can enter raffle drawings for prizes, which in 2014 included a folding bike and portable Bluetooth speakers.
Norfolk Southern employees contribute in ways small and large to sustainability at the company and in their communities. Sarah Cunningham and Steve McCurdy teamed up on a project to draw attention to the plight of monarch butterflies. Their effort shows that nature can adapt even in a concrete and steel environment.
A butterfly garden might be the last thing you’d expect in downtown Norfolk, Va.’s concrete and steel environment. In late summer 2014, however, that’s exactly what you could see outside a window at Sarah Cunningham’s third-floor office space in Norfolk Southern’s McKinnon Building.
Cunningham, assistant manager creative services in corporate communications, sparked the idea after watching a TV show that detailed a sharp decline in monarch butterflies. She noticed that their annual spring and fall migrations between Canada and Mexico take them over much of our rail network.
The next day, Cunningham contacted Esi Waters, manager corporate sustainability, to suggest helping out the butterflies. Waters approached butterfly enthusiast Steve McCurdy, then senior manager facility services, who landscapes his yard with plants to attract butterflies. With support from Blair Wimbush, NS’ former vice president real estate and corporate sustainability officer, McCurdy developed a local, low-cost demonstration project.
“It doesn’t take a lot to create an environment that is favorable not only to butterflies, but to bees and other beneficial insects,” said McCurdy, who retired in May 2015. “Butterflies – monarchs in particular – are a good bellwether of our stewardship of the earth – they are part of the chain.”
McCurdy designed the rooftop garden using plastic planters and several species of flowering plants, including milkweed, the monarchs’ main food source and where females lay their eggs. He installed a drip irrigation system to keep the plants moist in the rooftop’s harsh reflective sunlight and heat.
A few weeks after installing the planters, on Cunningham’s birthday, a co-worker snapped a photo of her and McCurdy watching a visiting monarch sip nectar from a blossoming milkweed.
“I saw that as Mother Nature saying, ‘Thank you,’ ” Cunningham said.
With her newfound knowledge of butterfly habitat, Cunningham and her two children have created their own backyard garden.