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Making connections

Esi Waters, center, manager corporate sustainability,
explains the Connections Challenge to visitors at the
corporate sustainability group’s booth. Dave Ihmels of RP3,
Norfolk Southern’s ad agency, is at left.

As an employee approached the corporate sustainability booth, Esi Waters made her pitch: “You like water bottles? You like saving the Earth?”

That hooked Denise Ross, a clerk in Operations Service and Support in Atlanta, who was checking out the Safety and Service Expo exhibits. It took less than a minute for Waters, Norfolk Southern’s manager corporate sustainability, to bring Ross on board for the “Connections Challenge” – an easy way for employees to support NS’ efforts to reduce its environmental footprint.

Ross and more than 400 co-workers signed up for the Connections Challenge during the expo, receiving a reusable aluminum water bottle for a head start on the first monthly challenge – to avoid using disposable plastic water bottles. Every year, Americans throw away more than 35 billion plastic bottles.

“I look for ways to help save the environment for our kids,” Ross said. “It makes me feel good that my company is setting an example for employees and everybody else to follow.”

Daniel Cunningham, a conductor in Altoona, Pa., also signed up after Waters explained the challenge.

“If I do this, it’s one less thing going to the landfill,” he said. “If somebody who sees me starts doing it, and then somebody who sees them starts doing it, pretty soon there’s a lot less going to the landfill.”

That, Waters said, is the collective power that NS employees can harness if everyone joins the challenge. The purpose of the challenge, she said, is to inform employees about NS’ corporate sustainability program, which focuses on initiatives to reduce the environmental impacts of the railroad’s business operations. The program also has economic and social components, such as promoting volunteerism in the communities that NS serves.

“For a company as large and in as many locations as Norfolk Southern, it’s a challenge to engage everyone when it comes to sustainability,” said Waters. “The Connections Challenge is a way to bring everybody into our corporate effort and to make it real. We want this movement to be 30,000 strong.”

Nearly 1,000 employees have signed up for the challenge since recruitment began in February.  In addition to reusable bottles, other challenges in coming months could include carpooling with a co-worker or volunteering for a community clean-up activity. Employees can win prizes for participating, and every quarter a winning employee will be able to select a charity from a pre-approved list to receive a $1,000 donation from the company.

Waters hopes employees will tell her about things they are doing to contribute to sustainability at their work locations, such as shop or yard recycling projects.

“People on the ground who have good recycling projects know what works and what doesn’t,” she said.  “If we can get the sustainability message out through all members of the NS team, we’ll have a much more effective program.”

Jutta Spencer, NS energy analyst, and Esi Waters, manager corporate sustainability, sit at a picnic table made of recycled materials. The table was raffled off during the expo, going to the yard crew at Sheffield, Ala.