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Clean and Green Goes Beyond Just Cars and Trucks


Sustainability drives General Motors' manufacturing efforts in a global sequence of constant improvement


By David Tulauskas
Director of Sustainability
General Motors Co.

Efforts to decrease dependence on petroleum and reduce carbon emissions extend beyond General Motors vehicles to our global manufacturing footprint. We are an industrial leader in ongoing energy and emissions reductions. Sound energy management policies help define manufacturing excellence, represent effective cost savings and offer obvious environmental benefits. From steady, incremental investments in more efficient plants and processes to ambitious installations of solar arrays, our facilities have compiled an exemplary record on this front in recent years.

In the report, “Power Forward,” prepared by David Gardiner & Associates with the guidance of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Ceres and the Calvert Investments staff found GM is one of 13 Fortune 100 companies to set commitments for both renewable energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction. Our facilities are working toward a 20% reduction in energy and carbon intensity by 2020, while more than doubling renewable energy use globally during the same period. In 2012, the company realized energy-efficiency improvement of 2% from 2011, and carbon emissions intensity decreased 2%. Also during the 12-month period, renewable energy use decreased from 73 MW to 62.3 MW. Our overall energy consumption dropped during this time period, as a result of activities such as closing the Shreveport, LA, vehicle assembly plant and the steam elimination project at the Orion, MI, vehicle assembly plant, which led to the decreased number. However, through efforts such as evaluating cogeneration options for using landfill gas and exploring additional solar power opportunities (including a 3-MW solar project at the Changwon Assembly Plant in South Korea, announced in December 2012), progress against these metrics remains consistent with our projected glide path toward reaching our 2020 manufacturing commitments.

GM Thailand’s Rayong plant met the EPA’s Energy Star Challenge for Industry within a two-year period. During this time, energy consumption decreased 24.4% at the plant.

Star Power

GM’s record in manufacturing energy and emissions reduction has been underscored by being named as 2013 Energy Star Partner of the Year—Sustained Excellence, for energy management by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It is the highest designation a corporation can receive. We also increased the number of facilities that meet the EPA’s Energy Star Challenge for Industry from 30 to 54 in 2012. All 54 plants, on average, reduced their energy usage by 26%, which represents enough savings to power a city the size of New Orleans for a year. GM has a total of eight Energy Star-labeled buildings and plants for superior energy efficiency from the EPA: two assembly plants, five warehouses, and one office building. The most recent EPA-certified site is its Lansing (MI) Customer Care and Aftersales parts distribution center, which generates 35% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and uses 35% less energy than similar buildings in the US. Many of the most recent energy-savings initiatives have been within GM International Operations (GMIO) in China, India, Kenya, Russia, South Africa, South Korea and Thailand. The latest data shows that GMIO’s average total energy usage is 1.14 MW-hr per vehicle, less than half the industry average of 2.37 MW-hr per vehicle.

The ability to achieve these savings demonstrates how energy efficiency has become a standard aspect of GM’s manufacturing processes and culture. Investments in equipment upgrades, such as lighting, ventilation system controls and automatic shutoffs, are made annually, and projects with a hurdle rate of one year or less are implemented automatically. In addition, plant performance evaluations include energy use per production unit for every site, and employees who suggest an improvement to an existing process can receive a portion of the implemented savings up to $20,000. During the past year, GM Korea held cross-functional energy workshops that led to the implementation of 63 ideas as part of a company-wide campaign to reduce peak usage of electricity in the winter.

Renewable Energy

Renewable sources comprise a significant part of GM’s manufacturing energy strategy. Today, we are the number-one automotive user of solar power in the US and have 30 MW of solar power installed across our global facilities. By the end of 2015, we expect to double solar output, putting GM well on its way to installing a total capacity of 125 MW of renewable energy by 2020.

Solar power enables us to grow our business while decreasing our carbon footprint and minimizing the risks associated with energy-related volatility. Though the business case for solar depends upon a long-term commitment and incentives, GM’s consumption of renewable energy is helping to spur growth for a solar industry still in its infancy and will help solar move toward grid parity—the point when the price of an alternative energy source becomes less than or equal to the cost of purchasing power from the grid. During the past year, we became a member of the Solar Energy Industries Association to further demonstrate our support for the US solar industry.

GM’s newest US solar installation is a 1.2-MW rooftop solar array on top of the Toledo Transmission facility, which powers 3% of the electric consumption at the facility. In 2012, as was mentioned earlier, we also announced a solar installation at our Changwon Assembly Plant in South Korea, the home of the Chevrolet Spark and Spark EV. This array will provide the equivalent energy used by 1200 homes in South Korea in one year. The 3-MW installation will cut carbon emissions by 2400 t annually.

Solar power is only one of a diverse portfolio of renewable energy sources for GM. In total, we use more than 62 MW of renewable energy across our global facilities. We are one of the largest users of landfill gas in the US, where three of our facilities combined generate more than 20 MW of renewable energy from landfill gas. And at our GM do Brazil manufacturing facilities, we procure more than 15 MW of biomass-generated electricity from sugar cane.

Dealing with Water Hazards

There is no shortage of statistics to underscore the world’s growing concern over water scarcity. The issue affects more than 1.2 billion people today, and water stress is expected to be an issue for two-thirds of the world’s population by 2025. Global leaders attending this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, named water scarcity as one of the top four global risks.

Automotive manufacturing, relative to many other products, is not a particularly water-intensive business. Paint shops and casting plants are our heaviest users of water. Moreover, only a small percentage of our manufacturing facilities today are located in water-stressed areas. Nevertheless, we recognize the far-reaching economic, social and environmental implications that widespread water scarcity are likely to have in the future. For this reason, we have a strong record of responsible water management and have committed to reduce our water intensity by 15% from a 2010 baseline by 2020. During the past year, we maintained positive progress toward this goal with a 4% reduction. Another demonstration of our commitment to water management is through our participation in the Carbon Disclosure Project’s Water Program which seeks to help businesses and institutional investors understand the risks and opportunities associated with water scarcity and other water-related issues, including greater demand for water, shrinking glaciers and changing precipitation patterns that are likely to result in drought and flooding.

Lansing Delta Township (MI) Assembly facility, which is LEED Gold-certified, received an Energy Star label in 2011 and 2012.

GM’s 2020 commitment reflects a strong water management plan that has long been in place at our global manufacturing facilities, which account for approximately 85% of our water use, as well as our nonmanufacturing sites worldwide. Water efficiency is integrated into our business plan with targets and objectives. We localize our water management policy so that each of our four global regions contribute to corporate goals while aligning with local resources and regulations. The plant director and site utility representatives are responsible for implementing the water management policy at the plant level.

Water conservation begins in the planning stages for a new facility. We incorporate best practices for water minimization into building design, followed by continuous improvement once the facility becomes operational. Reuse from condensation and treated wastewater, as well as rainwater harvesting, are among the tactics we deploy to minimize water withdrawals. In Mexico, for example, GM’s San Luis Potosí plant is cleaning and reusing 90% of its wastewater in its plant operations. This significantly reduces the amount of groundwater used, saving roughly 264 gal (1000 L) of water per vehicle built. To date, we have identified eight GM facilities as being in water-stressed watersheds, as defined by the World Resources Institute Annual Renewable Water Supply per person methodology. In addition to this process, we also conduct local environmental assessments and watershed due diligence. In these locations, which include sites in Australia, China, Kenya, Mexico and South Africa, water withdrawal is the primary risk as we use best practices for wastewater treatment to eliminate discharge as a concern.

Our plant in Zaragoza, Spain, is a good example of responsible water discharge, which at this facility consists of treated and untreated water. Before returning water to the Jalon River, discharges are treated in a purification and water treatment plant that ensures the quality of the water returned is higher than that withdrawn.

This article is derived from General Motor Co.’s 2012  Sustainability Report. It is available for downloading online at

This article was first published in the 2013/2014 edition of the Motorized Vehicle Manufacturing Yearbook. 

Published Date : 11/27/2013

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