By Allen Penticoff
When I recently tested the diminutive Chevy Spark, I took note of a big, leafy “ecologic” sticker plastered onto the left rear window. It was an environmental commitment statement from General Motors (GM) — one of the largest corporations in the world … at one time, THE largest.
Corporate green policy statements are no longer something new. Many of the largest are now clamoring to be more sustainable. But, I’ve long had a problem with the misuse of the word “sustainable,” corporate or otherwise.
To me, sustainable means a process is self-supporting with no overall impact on the environment. It is a process that can be repeated with no impact. There are precious few of these going on. An example is eating grass-fed beef. Grass grows, cattle fertilize the grass, cattle eat the grass, they have calves, we eat the old cows, the grass grows. Otherwise, sustainability is just a catchword for “reduced environmental impact.”
Often in manufacturing, such conscious reductions are good, but there is still considerable impact. With this in mind, I’ll take a quick look at General Motors’ recent actions to reduce their environmental impact.
The following quote is from their 2011 statement posted online. It is a good model for other corporations to follow, and shows business is leading the charge toward efficiency and reduced environmental impact more than we individuals.
“As we’ve talked about more than once on this blog, it’s no longer considered unusual to incorporate sustainable practices into your business plan. At GM, we recognize it as a business necessity, and our business model is one that purposefully integrates sustainability into our operations and products around the world.
“Sustainability feeds our bottom line, and we have the numbers to back it up. It aligns our business growth with the needs of society — namely energy alternatives and advanced technologies that help reduce dependency on petroleum and pave the way for transportation alternatives that lie ahead …”
The report goes on to identify four areas of sustainability they feel can make the biggest impact: green vehicles, energy efficiency, resource preservation and waste reduction.
On the Spark’s “ecologic” sticker, it claims the following “Features and Consumer Benefits” (quoted excerpts): Fuel-Saving Technologies — Continuously Variable Valve Timing (VVT) adjusts airflow in and out of the combustion chamber under all engine speeds, which make for better fuel efficiency and lower emissions. Electric power steering uses an electric motor instead of an engine-driven belt, which result in a lighter overall workload and better fuel economy. The engine has been factory-filled with engine oil meeting GM’s new DEHOS specification, which has improved viscosity characteristics … contributing to better fuel economy. Responsible Manufacturing — The assembly and engine facilities are landfill-free. These facilities use a process to reuse, recycle or convert to energy all waste created in their daily operations, which conserves resources. End-of-Life Recyclability — After the vehicle’s useful life, 85 percent of it is recyclable. The majority of its components can be broken down and recycled, which conserves resources and reduces landfill deposits.
GM’s 2013 comments on their progress from their 2012 sustainability report include items of note. They have 105 landfill-free facilities (everything is recycled). They generate and use 60 megawatts of renewable energy (solar and landfill/biomass gas) and are about halfway to a goal of 125 megawatts. They recycle or reuse 90 percent of their manufacturing waste worldwide — generating $1 billion in revenue for GM. They have reduced 55 pounds of waste per vehicle since 2010. They have a goal to put 500,000 vehicles with some form of electrification on the road by 2017 (still way behind Toyota, which already has millions, but at least they’re working on it). GM seeks to double the models that achieve 40-mpg or better by 2017. And they aim to reduce average U.S. fleet carbon dioxide emissions by 15 percent by 2016 and their Opel/Vauxhall fleet emissions by 27 percent in 2020.
If you are interested in reading more about General Motors’ sustainability achievements and goals, you can start with a search for “General Motors sustainability,” or visit Chevrolet.com/ecologic.
From the Oct. 16-22, 2013, issue