GM’s low emission electric-gasoline Chevy Volt has been a hit with car buyers since it launched last year with a splash of publicity including a cross-country road trip, but GM has also been working behind the scenes to reduce emissions at the manufacturing end as well. In one of its latest efforts, the company has announced that it will build a 1.23 megawatt rooftop solar array as part of an expansion of its complex near Baltimore, Maryland. Appropriately enough, the new addition will make components for GM’s electric vehicles. The Baltimore facility is already on the sustainability radar, having garnered one of Maryland’s first annual Maryland Green Registry Leadership Awards. All in all, GM’s strategy for its Baltimore area operations indicates that a strong sustainability strategy can provide U.S. manufacturers with a greater degree of flexibility when deciding where to build and expand new facilities.
GM’s Green Manufacturing
Though Rust Belt woes are most closely associated with the midwestern states, former East Coast manufacturing powerhouses also suffered mightily from plant closings. However, there is also a strong advantage in proximity to global shipping and rail transportation, which would provide a significant competitive edge for companies that can devise ways to overcome the region’s obstacles. One of the many factors arrayed against East Coast states, for example, is high waste disposal costs. GM dealt with that a few years ago by making its Baltimore facility landfill free. GM is also using landfill gas, hydro and solar at other U.S. facilities. The company just announced plans to build a new 516-kilowatt solar installation at its Volt plant in southeast Michigan, which like the Baltimore plant recently won a green award (the Clean Corporate Citizen Award) from its home state. The facility includes a certified wildlife habitat and recently underwent an energy efficiency overhaul.
Good Green Citizens, Good Green Jobs
For mainstream policy makers, jobs and the environment have always been treated as a zero-sum game, with the environment losing in favor of jobs. Since World War II, though, the U.S. experience has shown that job gains can be highly transitory, while environmental damage can linger long after the jobs have gone. This goes not only for urban factories but also for rural areas, one example is the draining of coal jobs out of Appalachia as coal companies shifted to mountaintop coal mining, a less labor intensive method involving irreversible, widespread damage that could cripple the region’s already fragile economy. GM’s efforts at its Baltimore facility show that sustainability measures have the potential for enabling manufacturers to grow and create new jobs without imposing significant new burdens on local communities or running afoul of local environmental regulations. As a side note, this parallels a U.S. EPA effort called Re-Powering Americas Land, that is partly focused on creating new green jobs in distressed urban communities by reclaiming brownfields and other classified sites for renewable energy generation.
Image: Baltimore Orioles baseball mascot by Keith Allison on flickr.com.