Defense takes many forms
When does a BAE Systems site start to resemble a prairie versus a production factory?
One might think that BAE Systems Electronic Systems sector’s mission, “We Protect Those Who Protect Us®,” applies only to the nation’s military, but the company is also investing in ways to protect endangered aspects of the world’s fragile ecosystem, which plays a part in preserving our way of life.
BAE Systems designs, develops and produces innovative technologies that protect the lives of U.S. armed forces. As responsible corporate citizens, it is also our duty to protect the environment in which we live – an environment that must provide food, water and clean air for generations to come.
Electronic Systems’ (ES) Austin, Texas, site is supporting this model by literally changing their landscape back to its native state, one which will help sustain natural resources. One important resource is the monarch butterfly, whose population is threatened across the United States and into Canada and Mexico.
The monarch is losing its habitat; specifically, it is losing milkweed plants, which it depends on for laying eggs and caterpillar food. As a result of this habitat loss, as well as several other contributing factors, its population across North and Central America has dropped by about 90 percent over the past 20 years.
The monarch is one of several Texas pollinators that uphold ecosystems all over the planet. Three quarters of all the world’s most common human food crops require insect pollination, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Because of this, it is vital to ensure pollinators have the resources they need to survive.
BAE Systems is the first corporation in Austin to partner with Texan by Nature, a nonprofit organization founded by former First Lady Laura Bush with a mission to spur Texan-led conservation that produces tangible benefits for people, prosperity and natural resources. The organization launched the Monarch Wrangler project in 2015 in partnership with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department with a goal to create habitats essential to the monarch butterfly and pollinators on corporate campuses and in Texans’ backyards.
“I’m sure there are some who will think, ‘Butterflies, really?’ when they hear this,” said ES Community Investment director, Lu Goncalves-Getty. “While our strategic path does not typically include environmental outreach, this partnership works for the Austin site. They are thinking of the future and our responsibility to protect our natural resources. In Austin, that means saving the monarch butterfly.”
With 140 acres of land in the direct migration path of the monarch, it made perfect sense for the Austin business to support the project.
The project will be implemented in phases over the next few years. Phases I and II will identify and remove invasive grasses, trees and bushes in areas 5, 7, 9, and 10 to allow natural sunlight to filter through so that native vegetation can grow.
As area 1 is the front face of the business to Highway 183, BAE Systems is working with Texan by Nature to engage the University of Texas at Austin to provide a landscape architect student to design the space. This partnership reflects BAE Systems’ strategic goal to promote science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics in the areas where employees live and work.
The additional projects will be led by the newly formed Sustainability committee comprising 15 employee volunteers. Since its formation, the committee has assisted with the creation of the education gardens, improved recycling to include gold leads, film, plastics, foam and metal. The team also plans to create a walking trail through the natural habitat areas plus a butterfly garden near the cafeteria.
“We’re so excited to have BAE Systems as one of our first Monarch Wrangler partners,” said Texan by Nature executive director Erin Franz. “This company represents our goal to bring non-traditional audiences to the table to help solve our state’s most-pressing issues in natural resource management. You don’t have to be a park or wildlife refuge to help restore the population of the monarch. Conservation is for everyone, including defense contractors. We’re thrilled that BAE is committed to pursuing this cause and educating their employees on the importance of native habitat in Texas.”
The effort to make the Austin site more environmentally friendly did not begin with butterflies. The company is currently registered with the Wildlife Federation as a natural wildlife habitat and is home to wild boar, deer, bobcats, hawks, fox and raccoons. Several years ago, facilities vehicles were replaced with golf carts to eliminate fuel emissions. The business partnered with the city of Austin in 2013 to utilize reclaimed water for use in the air conditioning system, saving the company $65,000 and 10 million gallons of potable water per year (Electronic Systems Pulse, Vol.5, p. 14). Facilities has also installed rain water and condensation collection tanks used for restroom flushing and irrigation, installed five white roofs for energy efficiency, is composting cafeteria waste and has developed an extensive recycling program. At present, Facilities is working with the American Honey Bee Protection Agency to establish bee hives in some of the undeveloped areas to further establish a pollinator-friendly environment.