Champion of Sustainability

Doug Oberhelman is a group president at Caterpillar Inc., responsible for the company’s human services, sustainable development functions and remanufacturing business. He also oversees machinery marketing operations in North America and worldwide manufacturing, marketing and support of industrial and large power systems. Since joining the Cat team in 1975, Oberhelman has held numerous positions across the globe, serving as senior finance representative for Caterpillar Americas Co. in South America, region finance manager and district manager for Cat’s North American Commercial Division, and managing director and vice general manager for strategic planning at Shin Caterpillar Mitsubishi in Tokyo.

Briefly summarize your educational background and family life.

I grew up and went to school in Woodstock, Illinois, then moved to Decatur to attend Millikin University. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a great family—my wife, Diane, and her four children, my parents, Diane’s parents, my sister, two nieces and a brand-new grand-nephew.

Explain how your career led you to central Illinois and Caterpillar.

Not many people know this, but my dad was a salesman at a John Deere dealership. I grew up around machinery and knew at a very young age that I wanted to work for Caterpillar.

Right after graduating from Millikin, I joined the company as a credit analyst in the treasury department. I spent the first part of my career in finance-related positions and had the opportunity to work around the world. I spent three years in Uruguay, one year in South Florida and four years in Japan. And before moving to the executive office, I was Caterpillar’s Chief Financial Officer and then vice president of our engine business in Mossville for a few years.

I really enjoy the central Illinois way of life. I’ve lived in Tokyo and Miami, where commute times are calculated in hours. Here, my commute takes about 12 minutes and I might have to pass through two red lights. Plus, I like all of the opportunities Peoria has to offer.

What are your responsibilities as group president at Caterpillar? What divisions within the company do you oversee?

There are six group presidents at Caterpillar who report to our CEO. In my “portfolio” there are five business units. I manage the human services division and several businesses with key sustainability opportunities and challenges—the remanufacturing, industrial power systems and large power systems divisions. I also oversee machinery marketing and sales for our North American commercial division.

You mentioned sustainability. How has Caterpillar championed and embraced this concept?

Our core businesses—mining, infrastructure development, power generation—intersect with some of the world’s biggest sustainable development issues, so it’s a natural fit for us. It’s not just that preserving our planet is the right thing to do; it’s that these issues are fundamental to our business—to our customers’ success, and therefore, to our own success.

Our customers are being challenged to do their work more efficiently and with less impact on the environment. In a few cases, their very right to do that work is being questioned. So only by making our customers more sustainable in their respective industries will our own business prosper.

Providing reliable and efficient energy solutions, promoting responsible use of materials and developing quality infrastructure are key challenges for society today. They’re also areas where Caterpillar, our dealers and our customers have been providing solutions for decades.

Discuss some of the sustainability initiatives currently underway at Caterpillar.

We’re a big company with operations around the world, so when we talk about sustainable development, it only makes sense to start with our own operations. But we believe our biggest contribution will come through our core businesses. That’s why we’re so focused on helping our customers respond to their environmental challenges—improving jobsite safety, increasing material and energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2007 we established aggressive, enterprise-wide goals to address both sides of the coin—operational performance and products, services, and solutions for customers. These goals serve as the framework for a wide range of activities related to sustainable development.

A primary goal both internally and externally is safety. In our own operations, we’ve made dramatic improvements since setting a zero-injury goal a few years ago. Over the past four years, our people have reduced lost-time injuries by 76 percent, and recordable injuries have dropped by 64 percent. That’s about 1,000 more employees that returned home safely to their families in 2007 than in 2006, thanks to our focus on safe work practices.

Now that we’ve addressed some of the more obvious safety issues, we’re working on eliminating the ergonomic sprains and strains that are among the most common on-the-job injuries. We’re getting employees involved in redesigning their workstations to help eliminate these problems. When we achieve our 2010 goals, Caterpillar will be considered world-class in safety—not just in manufacturing, but in any industry.

We’re equally concerned about the safety of people in, on and around our products. One tool we’ve developed to help our customers operate more safely is—arguably the most comprehensive website for the industries we serve. It’s filled with tools and resources for customers, including virtual walk-around inspections and operating tips.

In addition to safety, we’ve set goals for reducing waste and increasing our material efficiency. Basically, we want to do more with less in our offices, warehouses and factories. We reduce, reuse, recycle and attempt to extract the maximum practical benefit from materials used in our business. Our best-in-class facilities currently recycle more than 90 percent of their waste, and that’s not even including scrap metal, which is fully recovered.

Another goal relates to energy efficiency. In our own operations, we’ve made great strides in reducing greenhouse gas intensity and emissions. We’re a member of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Leaders program and have already exceeded our 2010 commitment to reduce greenhouse gas intensity by 20 percent from 2002 levels. We also beat an even more aggressive internal goal of 35 percent reduction by 2010—three years early.

On the customer side, energy-related products and services account for about a quarter of our business, and we’re providing solutions that range from more energy-efficient engines, to products capable of running on renewable fuels, to generator sets that convert dangerous waste gases into clean electricity.

One of our newest offerings is the D7E electric-drive track-type tractor—the first machine of its kind. When it hits the market in 2009, it will be the most fuel-efficient and productive tractor in its size class, moving up to 25 percent more material per gallon of fuel and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by a similar amount. These are improvements that just aren’t possible with conventional drive systems—and a great example of how we are applying technology to develop solutions for environmental issues.


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