The story of Caterpillar and the environment focuses on two themes: reducing the company’s carbon footprint and helping customers reduce theirs.
The company, which makes tractors, engines and turbines, set ambitious goals in 2007 before the economic downtown. But instead of abandoning them as product demand fell, Caterpillar is recognizing that sustainable development is "not a passing fad," as Chairman Jim Owens said in the company’s 2009 Sustainability Report, on which much of this article is based. Indeed, the company has discovered that helping customers reduce emissions provides lucrative business opportunities.
One of the company’s key initiatives is to help customers reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent.
Caterpillar’s methane-burning generator sets are one product that helps customers reduce their carbon footprint and save money at the same time. The gas engines and the company’s Solar-brand turbines produce electricity from methane gas released from landfills.
For example, in Willamette Valley, Ore., Stahlbush Island Farms is using a Caterpillar engine to convert farm waste into energy. The customer takes waste such as damaged fruit and puts it into large tanks where it is deprived of oxygen and combined with bacteria. That produces methane-rich biogas. And the gas is used to fuel the engine, which produces both heat and electricity. According to Caterpillar, it’s the first biogas plant of its kind in North America, and it will reduce the farm’s annual electricity bill from $500,000 to zero.
The company’s Forest Products division is helping logging customers turn branches, bark and other byproducts of logging into a source of energy. Woody biomass is considered a carbon neutral source of energy because the carbon produced during generation is equal to what was absorbed while the biomass was growing.
"We are especially interested in developing this resource because it helps our customers, the loggers, by providing another market for what they would otherwise leave behind on the forest floor," said John Carpenter, president of Cat Forest Products.
Caterpillar has also developed an electric drive tractor that helps customers spend less on fuel, fluids, parts and maintenance over the life of the tractor.
The company’s dealers are helping customers extend the life of oil used in the Cat Electric Power standby generator sets. Caterpillar’s extended oil drain program allows customers to triple the useful life of the oil to up to three years.
The dealers also recondition and repair Caterpillar tractors and other machines that are then sold to customers at a much lower price.
The company has made great strides in reducing consumption of natural resources and increasing efficiency at its own plants and offices.
The company’s global headquarters in Peoria, for example, was certified Gold by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB). The designation is given to offices and plants that reduce waste, materials and water usage, and that manage energy usage more effectively.
Caterpillar aims to design all of its new buildings to meet LEED specifications or comparable green building criteria.
Caterpillar has set a long-term goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions at its existing facilities by 25 percent. The company’s 2009 emissions of 2.05 absolute million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents exceeded the original goal for the year by 22 percent.
The company also has an ambitious goal to hold water consumption at its facilities flat. The company’s 2009 usage of 4.73 absolute billion gallons was 22 percent better than the target it had originally set for the year.
The company has undertaken an extensive program of gathering data in order to track which internal processes are most water-intensive. A model program was rolled out at the company’s East Peoria plant in 2009 that identified its most expensive water processes with an eye toward reducing usage, and will be replicated at other Caterpillar facilities in 2010.
Caterpillar is also working for the conservation of important rivers around the world. In 2005, the company became the lead corporate donor for The Nature Conservancy’s Great Rivers Partnership project. In doing so, it committed $12 million over five years to support conservation of the Mississippi River in North America, the Paraguay/Parana River in South America and the Yangtze River in Asia. These three rivers supply water to nearly one billion people on three continents.
It was the largest outright corporate donation The Nature Conservancy has ever received, according to Caterpillar. While the company’s initial commitment was financial, Caterpillar’s dealer network in Brazil, China and the U.S. is working with The Nature Conservancy to identify other ways to help conserve the rivers.
For more information on Caterpillar and the environment, check out the Sustainable Development section of the company's Web site.