The green movement takes flight at Boeing's new North Charleston plant 

The Eco-Friendly Skies

Workers install solar panels on the roof of the Dreamliner Plant in North Charleston

Courtesy of Boeing

Workers install solar panels on the roof of the Dreamliner Plant in North Charleston

Redefining large-scale manufacturing with an environmental twist, the recently constructed Boeing 787 Dreamliner plant in North Charleston aims to deliver unrivaled, sustainable commercial aircrafts to customers throughout the world and, in turn, taper off the company's carbon footprint.

According to Rob Gross, communications specialist for Boeing South Carolina, Boeing's ambitious production schemes now parallel the company's heightened environmental awareness. "It's just the right thing to do," he says. "We're taking the best practices from across Boeing Enterprises and putting them in place. Environmental responsibility is one of the best practices we're bringing to life here."

Designed to burn roughly 20 percent less fossil fuel than similarly sized aircrafts, the Dreamliner wields a carbon fiber composite structure — a lighter and more resilient material as opposed to commonly used aluminum — as well as an advanced aerodynamics system and fuel-efficient engines.

"The 787 is definitely a more environmentally friendly aircraft," says Gross, referring to the twin-aisle airplane capable of carrying roughly 210 to 250 passengers. "It's something that resonates with our customers, and it only makes sense that our business operations reflect that amount of environmental awareness."

The Dreamliner facility is also scaling back waste production by undertaking a Zero-Waste-to-Landfill (ZTWL) project, an effort at recycling and repurposing site-generated waste and byproducts in lieu of filling up local landfills.

According to Tony Soto, the site's environment, health, and safety manager and ZTWL project lead, Boeing is also partnering with Sonoco, a South Carolina recycling company, to centralize on-site recycling by grouping together four to five large recycling containers. "We want to start the facility off on the right foot," says Soto, noting that the Dreamliner plant is the fourth Boeing site to achieve ZTWL status. "There's always plenty of room for improvement, but we want to get in on the front."

The building's completion in June revealed a resourceful, environmental masterpiece: Roughly 2,100 tons of timber were taken to local sawmills during an initial land-clearing and converted into construction-ready lumber, earning the site a Spotlight Award in March from the Carolina Recycling Association.

Gross says site officials are anticipating Leadership of Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. LEED was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and it serves as a nationwide benchmark for high-performance, environmentally friendly buildings. LEED officials evaluate newly constructed buildings' sustainability levels, including energy and water efficiency and material recycling and reuse, as well as indoor environmental quality and greenhouse gas emissions.

The site also aims to operate entirely on renewable energy. Boeing's recently established partnership in April with South Carolina Energy and Gas (SCE&G) fostered one of the nation's largest solar panel installations, with 18,000 thin-film solar laminate panels planned to cover roughly 10 acres of the facility's 14-acre roof.

"It's going to be a 100 percent renewable energy site, from air conditioning and heat to other power sources," says SCE&G Public Affairs Specialist Kim Asbill. Solar panels will generate roughly 20 percent of the site's power, with remaining amounts supplemented by SCE&G's biomass facility, a renewable energy source converting organic waste into fuel at low emission rates.

"It's a very exciting project — one we're very proud to be a part of," Asbill says. The soon-to-be completed endeavor will produce roughly 2.6 mega-watts of energy, enough energy to power roughly 250 households. "It's also a signature project for our state to showcase what companies can achieve when they work together."

Melissa Le Roy, executive director of USGBC's South Carolina chapter, believes that Boeing's push toward sustainable products and on-site operations reflects a growing movement favoring environmentally conscious policies and, on a larger level, global resourcefulness. "I'm seeing a lot of cities incorporate this into their future campaigns. This just goes to show that we're making headway," she says. "[Boeing is] leading the way. If they can do it, anyone can."

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