General Motors announced the opening last week of its latest LEED Gold engine factory in Joinville, Brazil — the first LEED Gold automotive plant in South America.
The plant features a 350 kW solar CHP array that provides enough electricity to handle all the lighting for both the factory floor and the offices. That’s equivalent to powering 220 homes. At the same time, it heats 15,000 liters (3,962 gallons) of hot water per day. Together, the heat and power generated provides a combined savings of 28 tons of CO2 per day: 10.5 tons from the electricity and 17.6 tons from the hot water heating.
The plant, which is GM’s sixth LEED-certified plant worldwide, also contains a reverse-osmosis water purification system that recycles wastewater for industrial purposes such as cooling towers. This filtration system, an automotive first, saves an estimated 22.9 million liters (6 million gallons) per year, enough to fill nine Olympic-sized swimming pools. The plant also harvests natural light and utilizes plantings to pre-filter wastewater.
The plant’s completion was delayed by strong rains and floods in the area.
Santiago Chamorro, president, General Motors do Brasil, said: “The environmental performance of this plant has been on our minds since Day One of construction. This operation embodies GM’s outlook on integrating sustainability into every decision we make – from building efficient facilities to designing efficient vehicles.”
Since 2005, GM’s Brazilian operations have reduced water consumption by 58 percent and energy use by 36 percent on a per-vehicle basis. Non-recyclable waste was reduced by 76 percent, putting the operation on the path to landfill-free status, something GM has been committed to.
When I spoke with John Bradburn, GM’s manager of waste reduction last summer, they were up to 106 plants that were landfill-free worldwide, including six in South America. Many of them are using things like excess plastic and paint sludge to make pallets, eliminating the need for wooden pallets.
David Tulauskas, GM’s sustainability chief, told me last year that: “Traditionally, companies have been considered great if they delivered great quarterly results. Going forward, greatness is going to depend not only on financial results, but on their environmental and social performance. That’s how we’re approaching it at GM. This is about top-line growth opportunities, bottom line improvements and risk mitigation that delivers long term stakeholder value in a responsible manner.”
GM’s first factory given LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council was in Lansing Delta Township, Mich. It began production near the end of 2006. That plant, which used more than 25 percent recycled material in its construction, has a roof made of a special polymer to minimize heat absorption and is expected to save $1 million in annual energy costs. It is also uses roof drains and other water conservation practices to save more than 15 million liters (3.9 million gallons) per year. That factory also received a Gold rating
This is one area where large multinationals can spread constructive and sustainable ideas across the planet, while saving money and improving their image at the same time.
Do projects of this type actually save money? According to information posted by NRDC, LEED projects on average show little to no difference in upfront construction costs if planned properly, while they often cost considerably less money to operate.
RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He writes for numerous publications including Justmeans, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, and Energy Viewpoints. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining romp that is currently being adapted for the big screen. Now available on Kindle.
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