Boeing‘s [BA] AH-64 Apache helicopter program has implemented the use of chromium-free primer on the helicopter as part of the company’s strategic decision to pioneer environmentally progressive products and services, according to company officials.

Instead of the bright yellow chromium primer, the Apache program has moved to the Deft Inc.-produced Sea Foam green primer, used before the familiar final Army Green paint top coat, Bill Pool, Boeing Mesa, Ariz., Environment, Health and Safety official, told reporters during a recent visit.

“It’s the first aircraft in Boeing to do so,” Pool said. The change started last year and this year 100 percent of new build Apaches will use the Sea Foam primer.

The change is the result of a $2.3 million in research and development funds and five years of development effort by the company and acceptance by the Army.

The corporate drive was expressed Jim McNerney, Boeing chairman, president and CEO in the company’s 2008 Environmental Report: “Climate change and pollution are serious global concerns. Recognizing that, Boeing has set a clear strategy to take action on protecting our ecosystem.”

Chromium is a suspected carcinogen and a hazardous waste that must be carefully handled and disposed of properly, Pool said. Moving to the Sea Foam primer reduces exposure to workers and maintenance personnel, eliminates environmental risks and life cycle concerns.

Joe Bushnell, who runs the paint shop, the last stop for Apache helicopters before the familiar Army Green paint and flight test, said the program saves money because the Sea Foam paint doesn’t need that hazardous waste disposal.

“Long term, it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Other military programs use the chrome-free primer, including the Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Boeing’s Pennsylvania-based Chinook helicopter program is also looking at this.

Other Apache environmental initiatives include implementing the use of pre-saturated wipes for most solvents instead of using solvent in bulk, Pool said. This reduces site air emissions and hazardous waste by around 50 percent. It was a hard sell, he said, as the wipes are more expensive and employees were more used to working with rags and bulk solvents, but it works.

Boeing Mesa is also saving some $55,000 annually by using recycled materials in military shipping, Pool said. This means a lot of packing material, crates and boxes are being reused, not thrown away.

Additionally, Boeing Mesa developed a “Design for the Environment” class, drawing together Apache engineers and planners to learn to anticipate and prevent environmental hazards, Pool said. This class is being shared with other company sites. Mesa initiatives also include an effort to become ISO 14001 certified this year. ISO 14001 is an international specification for an environmental management system, with standards to help organizations minimize how their operations can cause negative impacts on the environment and to comply to laws and regulations. Boeing’s goal is to certify all its major manufacturing sites to ISO 14001 by the end of the year.

Additionally, the company wants to strengthen the aerospace industry’s environmental focus by leading environmental improvement opportunities.