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Mr. Green Car: Green auto manufacturing

January 26, 2011

By Allen Penticoff
Free-lance Writer

Jim Hagerty, staff writer for TRRT, wrote a story that appeared in the Jan. 12-18 Fast Lane section of this paper, titled “‘Green’ pastures have arrived in Detroit.” As Hagerty points out, North American automobile manufacturers are dropping production of inefficient vehicles and gearing up for production of smaller, more efficient vehicles in anticipation of consumer demand as fuel prices rise.

There is another “Green” revolution going on in auto manufacturing as well. The greening of the factory itself. Industry and business in general are wising up to the idea have “sustainability is good business.” Waste is being viewed as an avoidable expense, and consciously embracing environmental quality shines a favorable light on a company or business in a world where consumers increasingly choose to spend their money on products that have been made by workers who are treated fairly and whose production has a low impact on the environment.

I’ll cite some examples of auto manufacturers that are going green – though this listing is but a small sample of what is happening in the world of manufacturing.

The state of Alabama has been attracting auto manufacturers for many years. They now boast many manufacturers – at first attracted to their relatively low wages. But they have not rested on their laurels – they have created an organization, Alabama Technology Network, that provides manufacturers and suppliers technical assistance and training in “E3” – economics, energy and environment. Their goal is to reduce environmental impact, make manufacturing more sustainable, which, in turn, makes industry more stable according to Alabama’s governor, Bob Riley.

Ford Motor Company will be producing their all-electric version of the Focus on the same line as the gas version. This is an obvious economy rather than having a separate line or facility to produce an electric vehicle. Ford is installing one of the largest solar PV (500 kw) sites in Michigan on their Wayne Focus plant. Not only is it virtuous to build electric and hybrid cars with solar power, but the installation saves Ford $160,000 per year in energy costs. Also, in September 2009, Ford announced they were “recycling” their closed Wixom, Mich. facility to be the largest renewable energy manufacturing park in the United States. Solar panels, batteries, and wind turbines were expected to be among the products produced there – as well as up to 4,000 jobs.

As of this writing, within the United States, Subaru of America (SIA), is the leader in green manufacturing of automobiles at their LaFayette, Ind. assembly plant where their Legacy, Outback and Tribeca models are built. They started in 1994 by being the first auto assembly plant to be smoke-free. In 1998, they became the first auto assembly plant to be ISO 14001 Certified. In 2002, another first came in having an on-site solvent recovery system.

The factory site itself became the first U.S. auto assembly plant to be designated a wildlife habitat. Quoting their environmental policy website page: “Deer, coyotes, beavers, blue herons, geese and other animals live there in peaceful co-existence with the Subaru plant. It’s our commitment to leave as small a footprint as possible, delivering real-world benefits that everyone can enjoy.”

Subaru did not stop there. In 2004, they reached Zero Landfill status – that is, they recycle nearly everything involved in making their cars, from the scrap steel to the paper in the office. Only .7% of their waste is not directly recycled, and that tiny amount is carted off to an Indianapolis incinerator that generates steam for heating. If you send anything to the landfill, you are sending more than an entire auto assembly plant.

Subaru of America has been the recipient of several Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) WasteWise  Gold Achievement Awards. In 2006, they garnered the award as top achiever in waste reduction and recycling; in 2007, it was for Industrial Recycling; in 2008, for Climate Change; and in 2009, for Community Involvement.

From the introduction to Subaru’s 14-page “Green Procurement Guide” for its suppliers, we see the kind of commitment many manufacturers are beginning to have: “Environmental issues resulting from global warming have increasingly been a matter of great concern to peoples worldwide. Under such circumstances, it is the responsibility of a corporation to partake in building a sustainable society harmonious with the nature and pass it to future generations. We, Subaru, are now engaged in ‘the 4th Environment Voluntary Plan,’ a voluntary program for 2007 through 2011 for environmental preservation. Under the plan, efforts have been focused on delivering environment clean products to our customers from our clean plants through a clean network of logistics and dealers, thus serving the society through environment-oriented products.”

I’ve been observing a big shift in environmental awareness. Many business magazines have produced articles extolling the virtues of sustainability and environmental pro-action as being good for the bottom line, as has the local Winnebago County Green Business Awards program (of which this paper is originator and driving force). My own organization, Green Communities Coalition, is focusing on greening restaurants in our area after realizing that business is more into sustainability than most of their customers. You need to get yourself on the bandwagon of reducing, reusing, recycling, simplifying, and conserving—business is ahead of you now—what are YOU waiting for?

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