Columbus-based Cummins Inc. set multiple environmental sustainability goals three years ago, considering them vital for success. As the targets have been hit and increased, the company and the communities in which Cummins operates have benefited.

Known best for making diesel engines, Cummins has saved $40 million in operational efficiency as a result of the comprehensive plan it unveiled in May 2014, said Karen Cecil, the company’s director of global environmental sustainability, whose role was to create the comprehensive plan.

Cummins communities are benefiting because of more recycling, less waste being sent to landfills, reductions in greenhouse gases and more water being conserved, said Brijesh Krishnan, the company’s environmental manager for facilities and operations.

The company is the Columbus region’s largest employer with about 7,500 workers based in southern Indiana.

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“When we reduce waste or reuse waste for other products, that benefits the local community and gives it much more lead time for the life of the landfill,” Krishnan said.

At the time of the comprehensive plan’s unveiling, Cummins Chairman and CEO Tom Linebarger pledged that everything the company does would lead to a cleaner, healthier and safer environment.

“We just focus our work on the right things,” Cecil said.

The company has performed environmental sustainability projects for years.

In 2011, it took on a community project to increase fuel efficiency in buses operated by Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., which has used Cummins diesel engines for its transportation fleet since 1972. The projected was estimated to have a 10-year savings of $7 million.

“The importance of a comprehensive strategy is it’s a way we can change or work together and align work and set goals,” Cecil said.

Cummins’ recently released 2016 Sustainability Progress Report, its 14th annual, illustrates the strides the company has made in its focus areas.

Increasing facility recycling rate: 2020 goal, 95 percent; 2016 progress, 89 percent

Zero disposal: 2020 goal, 30 sites; 2016 progress, seven sites. One of the zero disposal sites is a testing facility that employs about 150 at its Walesboro plant.

Decreasing direct water use intensity: 2020 goal, 50 percent; 2016 progress, 42 percent. Original goal set in 2014 was 33 percent.

Water neutrality: 2020 goal, 15 sites; 2016 progress, seven sites.

Decreasing energy use intensity in facilities: 2020 goal, 32 percent; 2016 progress, 24 percent. Original goal set in 2014 was 25 percent.

Decreasing carbon dioxide per kilogram of goods shipped: 2020 goal, 10 percent; 2016 progress, 3.7 percent.

Decreasing carbon dioxide from products in use annually: 2020 goal, 3.5 metric tons; 2016 progress, 2.9 metric tons.

Cecil credited the energy of employees for the progress Cummins has made in meeting its goals. The sustainability report noted that for the second consecutive year, 80 percent of company employees participated in the Every Employee Every Community program, the purpose of which is to build stronger communities.

“I think the biggest learning for us was when you set a goal and set people in a direction and explain why it’s important and how they can make a difference and give them incentives, people move,” Cecil said.

Cummins has had particular success with its water-conservation efforts. It had a 13 million gallon reduction in absolute water use compared to 2015. The company already has surpassed its original goal for reducing direct water use intensity. And, it’s about half way to its water neutrality goal.

Cecil said water conservation has improved because of factors such as better detection of water leaks, greater irrigation and reducing cooling water consumption for tests.

Tactics ranging from simply turning off test cells after use to installing water systems to reuse non-potable water have also helped, company spokeswoman Katie Zarich said.

Cummins has taken its efforts even further in water-stressed areas such as the Krishna River Basin in India, the Panuco River Basin in Mexico and the Hai Ho River Basin in China. In these areas, Cummins employees have created check dams to collect rain water so that it can be channeled to villages and local farmers for irrigation of crops, Krishnan said.

Achieving the environmental sustainability goals has its challenges, however. In some areas across the globe, zero disposal isn’t yet possible because a process doesn’t exist yet for recycling some types of waste, vendors for the waste aren’t available or local regulations are such that zero disposal is not yet possible, Cecil said.

“We can definitely get to 95 to 99 percent zero disposal. Getting that last bit is the toughest piece,” Krishnan said.

Find the report

Here’s how to go online and find the full Cummins 2016 sustainability report:

cummins.com/company/global-impact/sustainability

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Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.