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So much waste that can be avoided.

Northwest Airlines has made a strategic decision to play a leadership role in our industry relative to the environmental movement. The value added to our company has been significant, if not easily measurable. Not only has it bound many of our employees around a cause, but it also offers the potential to set us apart in the eyes of our customers. In an industry experiencing intense competition, as well as well-publicized labor issues, this combination offers a unique advantage.

Our effort has gained much of its momentum from dedicated groups of employees behind the scenes who are establishing innovative recycling programs. Their commitment to leaving a better world for their children and grandchildren provides a motivation that has generated a number of important programs. Each of these offer long-term implications for how we think about what we are creating in accomplishing our business objectives. Once you begin to focus on recycling as a way of thinking, it is amazing the waste that can be avoided.

Anyone who has taken a Northwest flight lately has probably noticed our Northwest flight attendants walking through the aisles with maroon plastic sacks that read "Northwest Airlines Recycles." They are collecting trash for recycling. Northwest recycles more than 2,600 tons of in-flight waste, saving 15,500 trees a year. The recycling of cups, paper, cans, and plastics is just one of the more visible ways that Northwest is working to protect our environment and natural resources.

Some of our other efforts are less visible, but equally significant. For example, a 15-member volunteer recycling and reclamation committee in our technical operations area has resulted in a substantial savings in waste reduction in a relatively short period of time. In 1992, technical operations employees recycled 1,800 tons of materials. Most significantly, this refuse did not end up in landfills.

What kinds of things are we recycling? Some of the more basic materials include wood, glass, metal, and paper -- including all of the magazines that come off the aircraft. We have also collected 75,000 pairs of eyeglasses that were left on our flights. After we attempt to return the glasses, they are donated to Third-World nations through VOSH (Volunteer Optometric Services for Humanity).

Some other less obvious materials our employees are recycling include carpeting, airplane seat covers and seat cushions, and aircraft windows. Even the metal seat frames are melted down in smelters and reformed into new products.

The technical operations employees also track Northwest's hazardous waste, set goals to reduce solid waste, and work closely with suppliers to ensure that we purchase materials least harmful to the environment. We have been successful in reducing the number of new chemicals ordered from our vendors by 20% since June 1992.

This same division has also organized a Chemical Review Committee, a 13-member volunteer committee which meets once a week to review Northwest's use of chemicals to make sure that we are using the safest, most effective materials.

Another innovative program called "Under Our Wings" benefits both the environment and the communities we serve. Northwest donates over-produced food items to food banks in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Detroit, Memphis, and Seattle/Tacoma for distribution to various community centers. In 1992 Northwest donated 28,800 pounds of extra food from our flight kitchens as well as other items, including glassware and paper products, juices, and sodas. Normally, these high-quality food items would be discarded in landfills.

As part of its charity support program, Northwest's first-quarter partner this year was Kids for Saving Earth. This program was extremely successful in helping to raise financial support and awareness for its mission to "educate and empower children to take positive, peaceful action to protect the Earth's environment."

Our active participation as an environmental champion has led to several firsts in the airline industry. We were recognized in the Green Consumer newsletter as the most "Eco Friendly Airline" for the second consecutive year. We were the only airline invited to take part in the "Concerts for the Environment"--a series of concerts promoting environmental awareness. Northwest was the first airline to develop in-house and on-board recycling programs.

As a corporation, we believe it to be good business to operate consistent with good citizenship. As we educate our customers and employees on our programs, the awareness grows. As that happens, our leadership in these areas becomes more valuable to our corporate goals. We are not focusing on the immediate reward that this program offers the company. We are focusing on being part of building a sense of community with our current and future customers. When these kinds of initiatives are actually written into our corporate goals they become a commitment to building more than just a bottom line. We believe that consumers are becoming more discerning about where they will do business and that companies that care about their overall welfare as opposed to "filling a seat" will achieve greater loyalty.

John H. Dasburg is President and Chief Executive Officer of NWA Inc. and its principal subsidiary, Northwest Airlines. Before joining the airline company in 1990, he served as President of Marriott's Lodging Group and Executive Vice President of Marriott Corp. Northwest Airlines has made an active commitment to be an environmental champion, Dasburg says, and he reviews some of the company's industry-leadership programs below.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Special Section: Answering the Call for Leadership; Leadership in Environmental Initiatives; Northwest Airlines Inc.'s environmental policy
Author:Dasburg, John H.
Publication:Directors & Boards
Date:Sep 22, 1993
Previous Article:Opportunity knocks, and leaders answer.
Next Article:Recycling: into the mainstream.

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