General Motors Sustainability

Why General Motors Is A Leader In Sustainability

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted February 16, 2012

**Before we get to Shawn's piece today, I wanted to let you know that Shawn's new book, Global Cleantech Directory: 100 Cleantech Lists That Matter, has officially been released.  You can check it out here.

General Motors, more commonly known as GM to the public, is an American multinational automotive corporation with headquarters in Detroit, Michigan. In 2010, it was listed as the second largest automaker in the world, and for the first half of 2011, GM was actually listed as the first largest. GM is known for its numerous divisions and brands, including Buick, Chevrolet, Cadillac, and GMC. However, it is not just with automobile manufacturing that puts GM in the lead above all other automakers, but also its use of renewable energy. In 2008, GM made the commitment to ensure that half of its manufacturing plants are landfill-free. Aside from building hybrid and all electric vehicles for public consumption, GM has spearheaded a number of sustainability initiatives to make its actions much greener, paving the way for a much greener environment.

1 ) Greener Vehicles. GM is now building a number of fuel-efficient vehicles that fit the needs and lifestyle of their customers while, at the same time, being much better for the environment. Currently, 12 vehicles made by GM get a minimum of 30 miles per gallon on the highway, and GM is also the leading FlexFuel vehicle producer in the world. The engineers at GM are working tirelessly to develop advanced technologies for automobiles that will allow for improved fuel economy, a reduced dependence on the need for petroleum, and less carbon dioxide emissions.

2 ) Energy Efficiency. At GM, there is the need to reduce emissions as well as dependence on petroleum by becoming more energy efficient. Between the years 2005 and 2010, GM has been able to reduce use of energy by more than 30 percent. GM has also been able to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent. Currently, seven facilities house 30 megawatts of solar energy, with plans to double that amount by 2015. GM is also the second largest industrial users of landfill gas throughout the United States. In facilities, for example, GM utilizes energy efficient lighting, energy efficient HVAC systems, shutting down equipment, and technologies to track hourly energy consumption. The Lansing Delta Township Assembly plant in Lansing, Michigan has received LEED Gold Certification from the United States Green Building Council for all its ways of reducing energy.

3 ) Waste Reduction. Out of all the global automakers, GM reuses and recycles the most waste coming from manufacturing facilities. In 2010, GM recycled or reused approximately 92 percent of all worldwide waste, which translates into around 2.5 million tons. Half of all global manufacturing facilities are just about waste free. Employees are always looking of ways to reduce scrap as well as design products. This allowed them to cut total waste from all global operations by 43 percent from 2000 to 2010.

4 ) Resource Preservation. At GM, the goal is to help in the preservation of natural resources as well as enhance the natural habitats that surround all facilities. For instance, between the years 2005 and 2010, Toyota was able to reduce water consumption at all global facilities by 35 percent. GM also has more certifications from the Wildlife Habitat Council than any other manufacturer from North America. GM also has 15 different habitat programs going on around the world to aid in ensuring that species of plants and animals around the areas of manufacturing facilities are properly cared for and not put into danger.

5 ) Goal of Zero Landfill Waste. GM has the goal to kick landfill to the curb, and by that, GM means not sending any of the waste to landfills. GM remains committed to reducing the total amount of waste created in all facilities. As previously mention, half of all manufacturing plants are landfill-free. At these facilities, 97 percent of all waste that has been generated by daily manufacturing operations is reused or recycled, while the remaining three percent is converted straight to energy. While it is impossible to not generate certain kinds of waste, including paint sludge or scrap metal, GM is finding new and innovative ways to repurpose it so it will not end up at a landfill.

6 ) 30 HM Plants meet the Environmental Protection Agency Energy – Reduction Challenge. In December of 2011, GM had listed that they were able to cut the energy intensity at 30 North American manufacturing plants by 25 percent, equivalent of the carbon dioxide emissions created by 97,000 homes in the United States. Therefore, they were able to meet the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Challenge for Industry. These facilities were able to avoid the production of more than 775,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide passes and saved over $50 million in energy costs.

7 ) Lansing Plant Receives Energy Star Certification from the Environmental Protection Agency. In December of 2011, the Lansing, Michigan GM plant was the very first in the United States to get an Energy Star certification for its superior level of energy efficiency. This facility builds the Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, and the Buick Enclave. The vice president for Sustainability and Global Regulatory Affairs, Mike Robinson, said, “Certifications like this demonstrate our commitment to improving energy efficiency practices beyond our vehicles.”

8 ) GM’s First United States Landfill-Free Assembly Plant Located in Fort Wayne. The Fort Wayne GM Assembly Plant, which is responsible for building GMC Sierras and Chevrolet Silverados is the very first assembly plant to recycle, reuse, or convert to energy all the waste that was created by daily operations. Jon Bradburm, the GM Manager for waste-reduction efforts said, “Assembly plants are challenged with a large amount of waste streams and byproducts, from varying types of plastics and metals to expendable packaging and containers. Fort Wayne has succeeded in finding sustainable options for these materials while working with other GM lpants and suppliers to improve its impact from an overall systems perspective.”

9 ) EcoCAR Challenge. The EcoCAR Challenge was created in a partnership between GM and the United States Department of Energy. This competition challenges 16 different universities in North America and asks them to find a way to reduce the overall environmental impact of vehicles by decreasing its fuel consumption and emissions while still retaining the performance of the vehicle, as well as consumer appeal and safety. Students design and integrate their technologies into a vehicle donated by GM.

10 ) GM Installs the Biggest Rooftop Solar Panels in the World. In 2008 the largest rooftop solar power station began construction in Spain. It is made up of 85,000 lightweight panels that cover approximately two million square feet. It belongs to the GM car factory in Zaragoza, Spain. GM unveiled the €50 million project with hopes install solar panels at an additional 11 plants throughout the European Continent.

Article by Shawn Lesser, Co-founder & Managing Partner of Atlanta-based Watershed Capital Group – an investment bank assisting sustainable fund and companies raise capital, perform acquisitions, and in other strategic financial decisions. He is also a Co-founder of the GCCA Global Cleantech Cluster Association ”The Global Voice of Cleantech”. He writes for various cleantech publications and is known as the David Letterman of Cleantech for his “Top 10″ series. He can be reached at