GM Scrap Becomes Coats For Detroit’s Homeless

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New coats for Detroit’s homeless are based on GM scrap insulation material

A company such as General Motors has a complicated supply chain, from the high tech components that automate a car’s functions to the insulation that buffers drivers and passengers from noise. Speaking of insulation, a chance encounter between a GM employee and an advocate for Detroit’s homeless led to the launch of a program that now provides coats for some of the Motor City’s poorest residents, thanks to leftover scrap that would have otherwise ended up in a dumpster.

The project started when John Bradburn, GM’s manager of waste reduction efforts, happened to meet Veronika Scott, head of Detroit’s Empowerment Plan, at a documentary premier. A series of conversations ensued as both sides sorted out how GM could help with the vexing poverty and housing crisis in Detroit, where as many as one in 42 residents are homeless. The answer was found with one of GM’s suppliers of insulation material.

GDC Corp is the manufacturer of Sonozorb, a polypropylene-based material that not only absorbs sound but retains heat. GM installs this insulation, which GDC cuts into a variety of odd shapes and sizes, in its Chevrolet Malibu and Buick Verano sedans. Sonozorb is then tucked into some of the tightest door cavities and vehicle compartments, and as a result GDC had a plentiful supply of this scrap. Bradburn showed Scott some of the Sonozorb scrap and suggested that it could be converted into a fabric that could provide warmth during the harsh Michigan winters.

The result was the reprocessing of this scrap material into bolts of lightweight, heat-trapping and flexible fabric that provided 2,000 yards of material, enough to sew 400 coats. Scott in turn employed eight homeless women to sew the warm and waterproof coats at a rate of about 150 a month. Since last year, the coats have been distributed to various homeless advocacy organizations throughout Detroit. Plans are underway to launch a second coat design and expand the program outside of Michigan. For GM this program offers employees opportunities to reach out in the community, boosts its waste diversion efforts and builds upon the company’s recent sustainability initiatives.

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More of the superfabric that was once insulation and is now the source of winter coats material

Bradburn explained in an interview yesterday that GM’s participation in the manufacture of coats for the homeless enhances the company’s overall sustainability agenda with a focus on community.  The company’s partnership with the Empowerment Plan is an opportunity to directly help people in the region, and is a also a tool by which to engage and empower employees to do good in their communities. From urban gardening to modern outwear for the very poor, Bradburn touted this project has another way to assist local non profits while going beyond the mere counting of carbon emissions or monitoring of water consumption.

Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and covers sustainable architecture and design for Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.

Photos courtesy GM.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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