General Motors Makes the Business Case for Recycling

General Motors has become a great example of the business benefits for recycling. The company announced that last year, they recycled 92% of all waste generated in their manufacturing plants around the world. This has created a lucrative side business of scrap dealing which has helped keep them afloat during the recession.

Sustainable Business writes that according to latest estimates, the company makes about $1 billion a year just from selling scrap. Since they started in 2007, they have solidified their commitment towards waste management.

GM’s commitement to waste reduction is pretty impressive. Over half of its 76 plants produce zero waste and they reuse or recycle 97% of their byproducts. They aim to add 10 additional waste-free facilities this year and boost their waste-to-energy outputs. Cardboard is a big part of their waste stream and one of their suppliers came up with a patented technology that shears and separates cardboard boxes attached to wood pallets.

This system allows the company to manage each material with the smallest environmental impact and largest financial gains. The technology not only enabled the company to become landfill-free, it also helps it to earn $20,000 a month from cardboard recycling alone. Another plant in Michigan uses cornstarch-based packaging foam from Landaal Packaging Systems that blocks and braces products like sheet metal.

The Chevrolet Volt is GM’s flagship efficient vehicle and many of its parts comes from recycling waste generated from the BP Oil Spill. Last year GM announced that it plans to use 227 miles of oil-soaked booms from the spill cleanup to make parts for the Volt. By doing so, they saved 100,000 tonnes of plastic that would have otherwise been landfilled or burned. According to Earth911, “this material was used to create parts to deflect air around the vehicle’s radiations which allows the battery and on-board gasoline generator to run efficiently in extreme weather conditions.” This material was mixed with recycled tires and other reused plastics and polymers.

Apart from the Volt, GM uses an extensive lifecycle design for all its vehicles. They evaluate materials, manufacturing processes, energy consumption as well as end of life options. They also incorporate several recycled and bio-based components into their cars and trucks. Some of these include old bumpers, bottles, blue jeans, carpets and tires.

Earlier this year, GM announced that it aims to double the number of solar panels in its facilities by the end of 2015. GM Ventures, its venture capital arm has invested $7.5 million commercial solar developer Sunlogics to do that. If GM’s report is anything to go by, other companies should start taking recycling and waste management opportunities rather seriously as well.

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also http://www.thegreenden.net