Texan by Nature is excited to recognize BNSF Railway (BNSF) as a 2021 TxN 20 honoree for their leadership in conservation and sustainability. BNSF’s commitment to conservation, their projects/programs, best practices, and lessons learned are an example and inspiration for us all.
Honoree Industry and Size: Transportation – Enterprise
Headquartered in Fort Worth, BNSF Railway (BNSF) is one of North America’s leading freight transportation companies. BNSF operates approximately 32,500 route miles of track and almost 8,000 locomotives in 28 states, and also operates in 3 Canadian provinces and over 40 ports. BNSF is one of the top transporters of consumer goods, grain and agricultural products, low-sulfur coal, and industrial goods such as petroleum, chemicals, housing materials, food, and beverages. BNSF’s shipments help feed, clothe, supply, and power American homes and businesses every day. BNSF has approximately 35,000 employees, and about 8,400 of these employees are located in the state of Texas. Together, we have developed one of the most technologically advanced and efficient railroads in the industry. We work continuously to improve the value of the safety, service, energy, and environmental benefits we provide to our customers and the communities we serve.
What is BNSF’s conservation and sustainability mission and why is it important to your company culture?
BNSF plays a vital role in our economy by keeping freight moving across the country. As the world and supply chains continue to change and evolve, BNSF is prepared to meet the needs of our customers, employees, and communities by providing the most sustainable mode of land-based freight transportation.
Rail is the most sustainable way to move goods long distances over land. The inherent efficiencies of rail generate value for our customers and communities by reducing transportation emissions and carbon footprint, increasing safety for local communities, and driving growth and economic value for BNSF and our customers. The more freight we take off the road, the lower the impact is on the environment.
For example, trains move the same amount of freight more than three times as far as trucks per gallon of fuel. Moving freight by rail instead of truck lowers greenhouse gas emissions up to 75 percent.
BNSF customers are significantly decreasing their carbon footprints by converting their shipments from trucks to trains. A single double-stack intermodal train removes several hundred long-haul freight trucks from the highway. In 2020, shipping with BNSF enabled our customers to reduce their total carbon emissions by 24.7 million metric tons. This carbon savings is equivalent to:
We are proud of the thousands of men and women who without fail show up to work every day ready to deliver on our promise to safely transport the essential goods the country needs. Railroading is a high calling and our people have answered the call. Despite today’s monumental public health challenge, our entire BNSF team has shown incredible perseverance. We are humbled by the dedication that our employees have shown during these trying times.
We believe that intentionally creating a culture of equality and inclusion is how we can achieve our tremendous potential as individuals and as a company. We believed that 25 years ago when BNSF and our values were created, and we believe it today. As we look to the future, we will remain focused on keeping our economy moving by safely and efficiently delivering essential goods in a sustainable way.
How is conservation and sustainability a part of BNSF’s business strategy?
In 2017, we conducted a materiality assessment to identify and prioritize the most significant sustainability issues for BNSF and our external stakeholders. The assessment revealed 20 material sustainability topics for our company. We address how we manage and monitor these topics throughout our sustainability report – read the 2020 annual review here.
BNSF is actively pursuing multiple means to reduce our carbon emissions and utilize more sustainable technology in our operations. Cleaner technologies we invest in include:
What are BNSF’s short and long-term goals as they relate to conservation and sustainability?
At BNSF, we do not stop where our customers’ carbon reductions begin. We are keenly aware that much of our emissions come from our locomotives, so we look for ways to improve our fuel efficiency, explore renewable fuels, and continue to advance hybrid technology.
We are putting that commitment in writing. Like other businesses around the world, we are committing to set carbon emission-reduction targets as part of the Science Based Target initiative in 2022. Our business will benefit from setting and meeting these targets, and they also show that BNSF means business when it comes to doing long-term good for the planet.
Who at BNSF is leading your conservation and sustainability efforts and what are some examples of employee engagement in conservation and sustainability at BNSF company?
Our sustainability efforts are championed by a diverse internal team at BNSF referred to as Sustainability By Committee. Fifth generation native Texan Nathan Joe Loftice, Director of Sustainability, leads this team and a diverse internal team at BNSF’s parent company Berkshire Hathaway, referred to as the Sustainability Leadership Council. Employees from across the enterprise are engaged in various sustainability workstreams, opportunities, and challenges. Additionally, BNSF has an internal Green Team composed of team members from diverse backgrounds across the company, led by Tiffany Greenway, Manager of Environmental Operations in Texas.
One way that BNSF advocates for all employees is through business resource groups (BRGs), providing an inclusive, open, and collaborative workplace that encourages and supports diverse perspectives in every interaction. Our BRGs are networks for passionate BNSF employees who are driven to lead by offering solutions to workplace challenges. BRGs provide a constructive and supportive environment for our team members to use creative approaches to solving business issues in support of BNSF’s strategic priorities.
We currently have six active BRGs and are continuously evaluating this program to see where others may be needed. Each of our BRGs offer different engagement and growth opportunities to its members. These BRGs help employees bond over shared experiences while offering support to members, our company, and the community. BRGs also serve as a way for allies to show their support and learn from those with different experiences than their own. BRGs include: the Women’s Network, the Hispanic Leadership Council (HLC), the Management Trainee Leadership Network (MTLN), the BNSF Asian American Network (BAAN), the African American Networking Group (AANG), the Business Resource Advocating Veterans Engagement (BRAVE), the Council of Native Americans, and Pride+.
What conservation and sustainability programs and projects does BNSF lead and participate in?
At BNSF, we know that sustainability is a journey whereby we continue to evolve and grow through refinement of our Operational processes and adopting and piloting key technologies that will help us become even more efficient. Increasing our efficiency across our network results in safely and reliably meeting our customers’ needs while simultaneously reducing our carbon footprint and reducing transportation emissions.
Safety will always be our first priority. Our approach to safety is built on the personal responsibility that every BNSF team member brings for themselves, their colleagues, communities, our customers’ freight and the environment.
As such, we continue to be an innovator in this space with how we maintain and inspect our network infrastructure. We recently implemented a new technology to assist our inspectors in this effort called Track Health Optical Recognition, or THOR. This optical track inspection technology detects and reports defects on rail joints, such as missing bolts or cracks, and is mounted and fully operational on both of BNSF’s manned geometry cars with capabilities of capturing high-resolution images at speeds up to 70 mph. The resulting defect information along with supporting images are transmitted within minutes for review and corrective action.
Another key component of our sustainable efforts remains improving fluidity at our intermodal hubs where we exchange freight with our shipping partners. We promote our RailPass app, which combined with our Automated Gate Systems, has reduced truck drivers’ gate times at our intermodal facilities from three minutes to as little as 30 seconds, thereby lowering our collective carbon footprint and emissions.
Our next steps for the reduction of gate times is through our piloting of a touchless gate at our South Seattle Intermodal Facility. Using the RailPASS app as a backbone, this new technology will remove the need for driver interaction at our facility gates by communicating waybill and identification information between shipping partners before the driver arrives at the gate, ultimately resulting in shorter turn times and removing the ability for human error.
We are also leveraging and piloting battery storage and electric power/motor technology efficiencies at our hubs and in our locomotive fleet to reduce total cost of ownership and achieve zero-emission benefits. At our intermodal hubs, we utilize battery electric and/or hybrid yard trucks, cranes and other cargo handling equipment. We have also installed onsite power and battery energy storage devices to support this equipment at key locations.
For our locomotive fleet, we recently completed the first demonstration of our collaborative pilot with Wabtec of a battery-electric locomotive (BEL). The prototype BEL works in conjunction with conventional diesel locomotives to make a battery-electric hybrid consist. The core functionality of the pilot demonstration was to test regenerative-brake charging and wayside charging of the BEL that resulted in a fuel and emissions avoidance. The demonstration was successful in proving these efforts, and we are proceeding with development work for the iteration of this technology.
Recycling efforts reduce BNSF’s environmental impact. Materials recycled in 2020 included approximately:
BNSF has partnered with Friends of Rio Grande Valley (RGV) Reef to recycle rail ties in an unexpected way – under water in the Gulf of Mexico. Since 2014, Friends of RGV Reef have been combating reef loss by deploying artificial reefing materials of different concentrations and sizes that act as graduated stepping stones of habitat for marine species – creating the largest artificial reef in the Gulf of Mexico at 1,650 acres. Artificial reef materials range from intentionally sunken vessels to cinder blocks to concrete rail ties. BNSF donated more than 60,000 used concrete ties to help build an approximately one square mile section of artificial reef, which is more than 32 feet tall and weighs more than 3,700 tons. More than a quarter million fish, primarily red snapper, call this reef home.
“This concrete tie reef is better than any other material because the ties lay across each other, creating a very complex environment for marine life.”
-Gary Click, President of the Friends of RGV Reef
Learn more at BNSF’s Rail Talk story here.
“We would like to thank Texan by Nature for recognizing BNSF Railway as a 2021 Texan by Nature 20 honoree, and for their continued efforts to unite business and conservation leaders to collaboratively address issues that impact the Texas economy and our environment. The inherent efficiencies of rail generate value for our customers and communities by reducing transportation emissions and carbon footprint, increasing safety for local communities, and driving growth and economic value for BNSF and our customers. BNSF is constantly looking to develop more sustainable solutions for our operations. Our contribution to the reef revitalization project is an example of our continued commitment to serve the needs of the communities where we operate. As we look to the future, we will remain focused on keeping our economy moving by safely and efficiently delivering essential goods in an ever more sustainable way.”
– John Lovenburg, VP Environmental, BNSF Railway
Additionally, BNSF and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) began working together in 2014 to support community-based projects that conserve wildlife and enhance local cultural and economic values – creating Nature Based Solutions (NBS). Working through multiple NFWF programs, and through several BNSF Railway Foundation grants, this partnership has continued efforts to minimize negative interactions with grizzly bears in the Northern Rockies, retrofitted fences to reduce pronghorn mortality across the West, and improved high-value natural areas and water quality in Chicago and Pacific Coast cities. This partnership supports NFWF’s efforts to maintain the incredible wildlife assemblage of the Rocky Mountains, secure critical migration corridors for iconic western species, and improve the health and vitality of waterways in key cities across the country. BNSF supports the following projects:
To promote further adoption of Nature Based Solutions (NBS), BNSF collaborated with The Nature Conservancy and eight other companies (AECOM, Bayer AG, The Boeing Company, Caterpillar Inc., Chevron Corporation, Dow, Duke Energy, and United Parcel Service), researchers, and students at Yale University to learn more about what factors drive collaborating companies to implement NBS, what tactics they used to spur adoption of NBS, and what challenges they have faced in the process. Read the white paper, “Strategies for Operationalizing Nature-Based Solutions in the Private Sector” published from the results of this work.
How do you see the future of conservation and sustainability evolving, and what role will BNSF play in that progress?
As we look to the future, BNSF strives to reduce our impact on the environment while improving efficiency. Two recent examples are our battery electric locomotive pilot in Southern California and our commitment to the Science Based Targets initiative to set a science-based carbon emission reduction target in 2022.
We take great pride in moving the economy in a sustainable way. By its very nature, rail is the most environmentally-friendly way to move goods long distances over land. The inherent efficiencies of rail generate value for our customers and communities by reducing transportation emissions and reducing our carbon footprint.
How does BNSF quantify investment and return on conservation and sustainability?
BNSF quantifies our investment in conservation and sustainability through direct monetary investment, here are two examples:
We also quantify reduction in carbon emissions for our customers that use BNSF for shipping and calculate the equivalent return on the respective carbon savings. For example, in 2020, shipping with BNSF enabled our customers to reduce their total carbon emissions by 24.7 million metric tons. This carbon savings is equivalent to:
What is the one lesson that BNSF has learned from your conservation and sustainability efforts that others can take back and think about applying within their own space?
At BNSF, we see ourselves as partners with our communities. We strive to build and nurture long-lasting relationships and involve their voices in decision-making. In turn, communities contribute to successful development projects that create economic value while also preserving community and environmental wellbeing.
Why is Texas an important home or base of operations for BNSF?
BNSF offers Texas sustainable supply chain connections to the rest of the United States and the world. For example, shippers who move commodities and a wide range of consumer goods between Portland, OR, or Seattle, WA, and Dallas/Fort Worth (Alliance Texas) can reduce their rail transit times by up to two days using BNSF. This is very comparable to over the road options, but with at least three times greater fuel efficiency, thereby minimizing the environmental impact.
“We regularly work with our customers to identify and offer new and better transportation solutions to make their supply chains more effective. So we are constantly looking for opportunities to help meet consumer demands and this new service checks all the right boxes for adding efficiency to the marketplace. With an economy as dynamic as ours, BNSF is focused on delivering options that strengthen the competitive advantage of U.S. companies through our country’s supply chain.”
-Katie Farmer, President and CEO, BNSF Railway.
Service options in the Texas and central section of BNSF’s network offer expedited service for customers who wish to have their shipments arrive in Dallas/Fort Worth quickly and with ease.
Learn more about BNSF’s conservation and sustainability efforts here.
In 2020, the BNSF Railway Foundation gave more than $2.4 million to local and regional organizations in Texas communities.
In the last decade, BNSF has rehabilitated approximately 150 sites and invested approximately $345 million toward remediation efforts.
Shipping with BNSF enabled their customers to reduce their total carbon emissions by 24.7 million metric tons in 2020.
BNSF 2.9 M rail ties, 1.9 M pounds of batteries, 4.3 M gallons of lube oil recycled in 2020.
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