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GM’s Renewable Efforts Build from the Ground Up

June 22, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

GM Energy manageImproving energy performance is the responsibility of everyone at General Motors — but a particularly important group for managers to tap into are those closest to the products the company makes, according to Mari Kay Scott, GM’s Executive Director for Environmental Compliance and Sustainability.

Scott, during her keynote today at the Environmental Leader 2016 Conference in Denver, said that there often are great ideas available from folks on the line.Ensuring that these people understand their input is valuable is one of many other ways to drive environmental goals. Achieving these goals goes hand-in-glove with energy efficiency and reduced spending. She added that workers generally are eager to share what they have learned.

Other related steps include energy treasure hunts, creating teams within the plants and “dumpster dives” that can discover reuse opportunities that may have gone unknown otherwise. Examining the contents of the dumpter isn’t fun, but can tell important tales: “You take everything out of dumpster and ask: Where is it coming from? Why is it here?” said said. “Sometimes you have to get your hands dirty in this business.”

A study from Utah State University referred to by ISS’s head of global sustainability Dan Gilbert at a conference panel found that 20 to 40 percent of discarded materials can be reused.

Scott gave several examples of innovative reuse of materials. For instance, metal shipping materials are used at the Renaissance Center in Detroit to make vegetable gardens. The vegetables are used at restaurants in the center and donated. Reusing bubble wrap also is a easily implemented step.

These steps seem small — even incidental. But enough of them, if replicated across the huge company, makes a big difference. Scott said that GM now is using 106 MW of renewable energy and has avoided $80 million in spending during the past 22 years by employing renewables. She also said that 131 company plants are landfill free and the 9 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions have been avoided since 2015.

The target should be to have goals — the right goals — enable them to cascade across the organization, to measure and to demand action if the goals are not being met.

The $80 million figure cited by Scott refers only to money saved through the use of renewables. More broadly, GM has saved $237 million in energy efficiency initiatives since 2010, Scott said. In some cases, the savings were the result of projects; others were changes in procedures and new technologies. For instance, she said, vehicles would need to be painted and “baked” three times. Now, she said, technical advances have collapsed that into one process.

The bottom line is that technology, societal goals and building cars and trucks are changing quickly. “The automobile industry had changed more in the last five years than in the previous 50,” Scott said. “So there is a lot of work to be done in this area.”

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