In 2014, Norfolk Southern’s environmental group launched an interdepartmental initiative to improve how the company tracks and manages wastes at work locations across the railroad’s network.
The initiative, the company’s most comprehensive review of waste streams, showed that more than 82 percent of waste from approximately 200 offices, shops, and rail yards was recovered, reused, or recycled. Waste materials included trash, locomotive oil, crossties, batteries, metals and steel, solvents, and paint waste.
Norfolk Southern facilities generated more than 383,000 tons of waste in 2014. Of that, only 67,170 tons, or about 18 percent, went into landfills, according to the analysis. The company hired a third-party consultant to assist with the study. Data was gathered from vendors the company uses to collect and dispose of waste and from employees responsible for maintaining waste-related records.
“Although we currently are doing a great job recycling, this effort is going to help Norfolk Southern identify more opportunities for recycling, divert more waste from landfills, and make us a better corporate steward of the environment and our natural resources,” said Chris Oakes, manager environmental remediation, who chaired the study team.
Recycling is a way employees help reduce business impacts on the environment, and local efforts surface across the network.
In 2014, the Norfolk HorsePower chapter—a diverse team of employees focused on workplace innovation – launched a campaign to publicize a change to single-stream recycling in the corporate headquarters building. Chapter members created and delivered large “Think Green, Go Blue” stickers to every employee in the 20-story building. The stickers promoted use of blue recycling bins to dispose of all recyclables, including paper, plastic, cans, and bottles.
“It’s the right thing to do to protect our environment. It’s a small and simple effort, but little things truly do go a long way,” said Paul Trively, manager shared services and a leader of the HorsePower initiative.
In another initiative, Norfolk Southern’s corporate sustainability group sponsored two “e-waste” recycling drives. Employees in Norfolk and Atlanta hauled in 1,259 pounds of electronics as tax-deductible donations. The company partnered with Nobis Works, a nonprofit electronics recycling organization in Kennesaw, Ga., to properly dispose of the e-waste. Through its Reworx program, Nobis Works develops and provides job training, employment, and vocational support for youth and adults with disabilities and other barriers to employment.
Under a program launched in 2013, Norfolk Southern is recycling 100 percent of used oil collected at 32 locomotive and rail car shops. The company’s strategic sourcing group, which oversees supply-chain sourcing, initiated the program as a way to reuse the oil to heat shop facilities or sell it to a third-party vendor for reuse and recycling.
Currently, the rail car and locomotive shops in Enola, Pa., and locomotive shops in Chattanooga and Knoxville, Tenn., recycle the oil for winter heating, saving the company an estimated $20,000 annually. Norfolk Southern sells most of the remaining used oil – about 1.5 million gallons annually – to a third-party vendor. The vendor resells the oil for use in heating, manufacturing asphalt, or producing lube oil products.
The recycling program improves the company’s sustainability footprint and reduces the total cost of ownership of a resource vital to operations, said Tracie Baetz, director purchasing, who initiated the program. Before adopting a formal oil disposal process, each facility had decided how to dispose of it. Some used the oil for heating, some sold it to third-party vendors, and others gave the oil away without realizing its value.
“It reduces our costs, helps the environment, and makes us more efficient.”
Employees at Juniata Locomotive Shop have led the way in recycling locomotive oil. Since at least 2010, the Altoona, Pa., shop has participated in Safety-Kleen’s “Make Green Work” closed-loop recycling program for used oil and cleaning solvents.
In 2014, Juniata avoided 379 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents by participating in the program, according to Safety-Kleen, which converts the used oil into an industrial lubricant. Juniata earned a Certificate of Environmental Achievement for its participation. Safety-Kleen said Juniata’s CO₂ savings were the equivalent of consuming 42,441 gallons of gasoline or 881 barrels of oil.
Over the past five years, Juniata has avoided an estimated 4,651 metric tons of CO₂ equivalent emissions.
Norfolk Southern employees are encouraged to look for ways to contribute to corporate sustainability in their daily work. Jake Willis has done just that in a job that lends itself to a sustainable approach. For his efforts, Willis earned a 2014 company SPIRIT award, which recognizes employees who exemplify our core values of Safety, Performance, Integrity, Respect, Innovation, and Teamwork.
Jake Willis oversees one of the rail industry’s largest railway reclamation and recycling operations at Norfolk Southern’s Roadway Material Yard in Roanoke, Va. When the railroad’s maintenance-of-way gangs replace track, all of the metal materials except rail – tie plates, spikes, and anchors – are loaded onto rail cars and transported to the material yard.
Once there, the materials are placed on a long conveyor belt and sorted by Willis’ 10-person crew. The employees identify items that can be reused elsewhere in the system or that should be retired and sold for scrap. Nothing is sent to a landfill – everything is either reused or sold to be recycled.
Willis works in our Engineering Department’s program maintenance group and holds the title of panel supervisor. Since moving into the job three years ago, he has focused on expanding recycling efforts and increasing work efficiencies. His group’s work ties directly into the company’s sustainable business practices, he said. Reusing material means the company saves money and reduces environmental impacts.
“I see the material yard as a great asset to the company,” said Willis. “The money we save by reusing this material allows our Engineering Department to do more track maintenance work and maintain a better railroad.”
The cost savings are significant. In 2013, Willis’ crew saved Norfolk Southern $14.5 million. In 2014, his crew reclaimed 1.2 million tie plates; 11,000 kegs of spikes; and 850,000 relay anchors, saving $15.3 million.
Reclaiming tie plates is a large part of Willis’ job. Tie plates are flat pieces of steel that sit on top of rail crossties and help hold rail in place. In 2014, Willis set a goal to reclaim 1 million tie plates. His crew met the goal two months before schedule and went on to reclaim 200,000 more by year’s end.
His work group also reclaims rail spikes, which secure tie plates, and anchors, which prevent the rail from expanding and contracting in changing weather conditions. “If the plates, spikes, or anchors are not bent up or too old, we reuse them,” Willis said. Typically, the reclaimed materials are removed from high tonnage rail lines and “relayed” to lines that have less traffic or lower tonnage. Anything deemed to be unusable is sold as scrap.
“Norfolk Southern is one of the few Class I railroads that actively reclaim track material the way we do,” Willis said. “My goal is to help the company save money and be more efficient in using our resources. If that makes us more sustainable as a business, I’m all for it.”