On Track to Conserve – Interview with Union Pacific

If there’s one thing that Texas businesses know how to do, it’s get the job done. At Texan by Nature (TxN), there’s nothing we love more than seeing industry leaders making strides in both their craft and in conservation as part of their company’s culture. With only weeks to go until the TxN 20 submission deadline, we’re featuring examples of businesses practicing excellence in conservation and sustainability. We sat down with Union Pacific’s Assistant Vice President of Public Affairs, Brenda Mainwairing to learn about the country’s leading railroad company and hear what makes them Texan by Nature.

TxN: What is your name and role at Union Pacific?

Mainwaring: Brenda Mainwaring, AVP Public Affairs. My responsibility at Union Pacific is for the South Region, which includes 9 southern states — Texas included! Responsibilities also include community relations, philanthropic activities, legislative activity, and communications and interactions with the general public.


TxN: What does Union Pacific do and what is Union Pacific’s mission?

Mainwaring: Founded July 1, 1862, when President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act, Union Pacific, or UP, has been building America for more than 150 years. UP is an integral part of the nation’s transportation and infrastructure. Did you know that UP transports one third of all freight by volume in the United States? Union Pacific wants to be a leader in moving goods in an environmentally responsible manner.

Photo: Telegraphic Corps in Weber Canyon, Utah. In the 1862 Pacific Railway Act, Congress stipulated that a telegraph line be built in addition and adjacent to the railroad. Image by A.J. Russell. via https://www.up.com/timeline/index.cfm/union-pacific-charter

TxN: What does conservation or sustainability mean to Union Pacific?

Mainwaring: When you’re a part of the American landscape, you protect it.” After the founding and development of UP, the railroad allowed the expansion of settlement and opened up opportunity in the western states. During this expansion, UP documented the beauty and splendor of the West and captured some of the first photographs of the unaltered terrain and wilderness. When the national parks were built, UP introduced Americans to the natural landscape. UP operates in the wilderness areas, and UP employees cherish that and the long history of UP shaping America’s landscape. We strive to preserve the history and understand that a healthy environment is essential for a strong country and economy. Protecting and preserving that foundation is a part of UP’s core mission.

Photo: The City of Portland, shown here in an advertising photo, is the train that set the transcontinental speed record in 1934. via https://www.up.com/timeline/index.cfm/city-of-portland

TxN: What are examples of conservation or sustainability practices that Union Pacific does or implements?

Mainwaring: Railroads are one of the most fuel-efficient modes of transportation. Railroads move approximately one-third of all U.S. exports and intercity freight volume in the United States. Despite the large volume, EPA data shows freight railroads only account for 0.5% of total U.S. GHG emissions–that is four times more efficient than trucks– and just 2% of emissions from transportation-related sources. At Union Pacific, we moved a ton of freight 444 miles on a single gallon of diesel fuel in 2018, and we are working to do better. We understand the Earth’s climate is changing. As one of the nation’s largest freight railroads, it is our responsibility to act as environmental stewards, working to reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. UP is investing in fuel technology, technology solutions, hardware solutions, has retired almost 2000 less efficient train models, and has purchased 1500 new train models that are more fuel efficient. We even help customers calculate their carbon emission footprint. Last year our customers eliminated 33 million tons of carbon emissions by shipping with UP.


TxN: What part do businesses like Union Pacific have to play in conservation in Texas and beyond?

Mainwaring: When you think about it, UP is a 32,000-mile-long factory without a roof. We are able to touch a lot of diverse ecosystems and we strive to reduce our impact to improve these ecosystems’ resilience. We make sure that the environments we operate in are healthy and work to support local economies across the U.S. UP employees live and work in the areas that we operate, and most of our conservation efforts are employee-driven initiatives. Examples of conservation and sustainability actions that we have taken across our operations are lightbulb replacements to LEDs, solar powered signals to reduce electricity usage, and connecting with communities to help them protect their community spaces. Last year UP awarded about $100,000 in Texas for projects that were defined by local communities. One example is Katy Prairie. UP grants helped Katy Prairie Conservancy improve water retention and increase wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation at their site. At a national level, UP partners with the National Park Foundation, along with other funders for a multi-year, multi-million dollar program called Open Outdoors for Kids. This program encourages kids to get into the national parks. Last year about 42,000 students were able to access national parks in 15 different states.


TxN: What is one recommendation on conservation or sustainability that you wish more people knew about or would practice?

Mainwaring: Recycling. Most people in their homes recycles, but a lot of businesses don’t do it as much as they should. Last year UP diverted 71% from landfills. This included 300,000 tons scrap metal and whole pieces of equipment. When companies think of recycling, many think small things like recycling bins in lunch rooms, but companies have the ability to think big, recycle at a large scale, and make an impact.


TxN: What makes Union Pacific Texan by Nature?

Mainwaring: UP has had a presence in Texas for more than 150 years and helped shape the infrastructure of the state. City and community planning always follows the railroad. UP does all their work across the entire Lone Star State and is able to reach into all communities, large and small. When a community decides they want to implement conservation projects, UP can be the connection to smaller communities to provide funding when there aren’t other options. This can make a huge difference for a small community, for example to build a community garden so citizens can have access to fresh produce.


TxN: What’s your favorite thing about Texas?

Mainwaring: I am from Iowa, where there is not a lot of ecological diversity. I love the diversity of Texas, you can be in piney woods one day, on the coast the next, in the desert and mountains of West Texas, and you can see all of it from the train, which is even better. 


Learn more about how Union Pacific is protecting the environment here.

If your Texas-based business has a conservation story to share, consider submitting for the TxN 20 before the August 14 deadline!


Find out why other people are Texan by Nature by visiting our blog page.