As much as it might want to, GM doesn’t stand for Green Motors. The legendary but gasping company should get a few props for trying though. The trick now for the General and other U.S. carmakers is to get greener fast while reorganizing, rolling through their bankruptcies and bleeding greenbacks.
Sarcasm and skepticism is easy when considering GM and its recent legacy of management failure, choices in car offerings, design, performance and quality and its late seating at the green table.
At the same time it is also possible that despite that company’s sorry recent past and desperate present it has learned a lesson for the future. It must do this or reap the whirlwind.
There was word Thursday that the company was ready to exit bankruptcy protection by selling its best assets to a new, leaner company in which the U.S. government will hold a majority stake. GM filed for bankruptcy on June 1, vowing to emerge as a leaner, more profitable company once freed from its crushing debts. It received court approval on July 5 for the asset sale.
Meanwhile GM has done some serious rebranding and public relations around the green theme. It’s a strategy that goes beyond the launch next year of the much-anticipated and ballyhooed Chevrolet Volt, a “range-extended” electric vehicle that might go a long way to saving GM’s neck. Many believe the vehicle could be a game a game-changer for the company, here and in Europe, where it will sell as the Opel Ampera.
GM maintains that it is making “dramatic improvements” and investments to reduce the environmental impact of its worldwide manufacturing operations. It’s reducing energy and water use and seeking renewable energy opportunities and sustainable manufacturing methods while reducing waste at global facilities.
“While GM is in the process of reinventing the automobile and the company, we’re also redefining environmental sustainability in our factories,” said Elizabeth Lowery, GM vice president for Environment, Energy and Safety Policy. “We know that when it comes to environmental impact, the end vehicle is only part of the equation and that taking steps to green our manufacturing processes are critical as well.”
One of the company’s big environmental initiatives was to make 50 percent of its global manufacturing operations landfill-free by the end of 2010. GM facilities achieve this status when all production waste or garbage is recycled, reused or converted to energy.
GM says it has 54 global manufacturing operations that have reached landfill-free operating status. This diverts more than 825,000 tons of waste from landfills each year. GM expects more than 80 of its 160 manufacturing facilities will reach landfill-free status by the end of 2010.
At GM’s landfill-free plants, more than 95 percent of waste is recycled or reused, while just over 4 percent is converted to energy. No production waste or garbage is sent directly to a landfill.
“To put GM’s landfill-free initiative into perspective, when a household puts a single bag of trash on the curb, they are sending more waste directly to a landfill than all our 54 current global landfill-free plants combined,” Lowery says.
According to GM over the past five years it has reduced its global manufacturing energy demands more than 23 percent. It says it is a leading renewable energy user, but there’s still a long way to travel on that score: Renewable energy sources represent about 2.5 percent of its total U.S. energy use. The company does have the world’s largest rooftop solar photovoltaic power installation – at a car assembly plant in Zaragoza, Spain. The 85,000 panels cover about 2 million square feet on the roof and generate about 15.1 million KW annually.
It also has solar installations in California on parts warehouse facility rooftops at Rancho Cucamonga and Fontana.
GM is also pushing the EcoCAR initiative, a three-year collegiate advanced vehicle technology engineering competition that has challenged 17 universities in North America to “explore solutions to achieve improved fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while maintaining performance and consumer appeal.
“EcoCAR students are designing and building advanced propulsion solutions that are based on the vehicle categories from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) zero emissions vehicle (ZEV) regulations,” GM says on the Inside the Green Garage blog. “Teams explore a variety of cutting-edge clean vehicle solutions, including full-function electric, range-extended electric, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell technologies. In addition, they will incorporate lightweight materials into the vehicles, improve aerodynamics and utilize alternative fuels such as ethanol, biodiesel and hydrogen.”
The Department of Energy and more than two-dozen government and industry organizations, including GM, sponsor the EcoCAR consortium.
Piling on the U.S. auto industry, and GM in particular is easy and fun but serves little purpose until the greening of GM and the others succeeds or fails, and wouldn’t it be nice if it succeeded? GM didn’t exactly force those gas-guzzling SUVs and huge Hummers and Suburbans down the throats of the American public: It produced the vehicles we demanded and bought in big numbers over a long period of time. Sure GM was shortsighted and silly but there’s plenty of room for everyone on that ride.