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Caterpillar sustainability push: Green priorities

Sustainability is high on the agenda at construction equipment manufacturer Caterpillar.

Equipment giant Caterpillar has set some tough sustainability targets to hit by 2020 – for its own operations and for its customers. The results are coming through in new, fuel efficient machines and in an emphasis on recycling and rebuilding at the end of a machine’s working life.

Among the firm’s internal goals are a commitment to design all new buildings to meet LEED or comparable green building standards, hold water consumption at current levels and use alternative or renewable sources for 20% of its energy. The company also intends to reduce is greenhouse gas emissions from existing facilities by 25%, compared with 2006 levels, and is encouraging customers to reduce theirs by 20%.

So, is Cat setting itself up as a leader in sustainability, or is it responding to external pressures? “Our customers often lead us – especially in Europe,” says Caterpillar sustainable development manager Barbara Lax.

“They often have to demonstrate that they are reducing their environmental footprint. We’ve set ourselves some goals concerning our customers, and because they are under a lot of pressure themselves, it is a very good partnership.

“What’s really driving us now is lowering our environmental footprint and helping our customers do the same”

Barbara Lax, Caterpillar

“Recent product development – and for the near future – is focused on reducing fuel consumption to benefit the impact we have on the environmental side. But there are also other solutions, like the connected worksite, and eco-operator training,” she adds.

Lax says Caterpillar’s “character” and “spirit” are all about durability and quality, which lends itself to sustainable working practices.

‘Conservative’ company

But at the same time it is a “conservative” company. “What is changing now is that more and more products are fuel efficient, which fits with the main concern of sustainability, and our technology groups in the UK and United States are really focused a lot on reducing the environmental footprint,” she explains.

“We want to know where are the biggest impacts, and what is our job in helping them.”

Cat’s technology specialists are doing more than just looking at how to reduce fuel consumption in traditional diesel engines. The company has already developed a hybrid machine, and last year acquired German firm MWM, which makes natural gas and alternative fuel engines. At the moment, says Lax, MWM mainly produces energy from methane gas generated in landfill and mining operations, but “the next step would be to use gas in a machine”.

“What’s really driving us now is lowering our environmental footprint and helping our customers do the same,” she adds. “That’s where the solutions lie to really be a partner with the customer – to look at how they are doing a job, and what they could do better.”

Grade Control system

Examples include the firm’s Cat Grade Control system, now available factory-fitted on scrapers, graders and hydraulic excavators.

The machine guidance system automates some basic machine processes - like judging depth and slope when using an excavator - to improve efficiency, eliminate re-working and reduce material and fuel costs.

“It can eliminate some working processes completely, for example by needing less passes on a slope, so there are a lot of fuel savings,” says Lax, who adds that the firm has seen productivity increases of up to 100% in some processes.

While the more conspicuous results of Cat’s sustainability drive are on the environmental front, Lax says there is now “so much more to it”, including financial and social sustainability.

Financial stability is a “given” according to Lax, while the firm’s social agenda includes working with contractors to improve site safety, particularly in developing markets and areas like Africa and the Middle East where standards are lower than they are here.

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