Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

leonkaye headshot

The New GM: New Fuels, Less Waste, More Involvement with Detroit

Words by Leon Kaye

General Motors (GM) just released its first sustainability report since the company’s transformation to what is now GM Company. The last several years have been excruciating for American automakers and Detroit. But GM has turned a corner, and despite the recent controversy with the Chevy Volt, the company is improving its performance at many levels from its supply chain management to overall design process.

From the development of new urban mobility technologies, waste diversion to a commitment to greener cars, the new GM going forward is a different company from the one with which our parents and grandparents grew up. So are the days of unruly supply chains (one reason why Japanese car companies with their lean supply chains left their American competitors in the dust), unlimited models and brands, and big inefficient cars over? Let’s take a tour of what GM is touting in its latest corporate social responsibility report:

New mobility technologies: GM is pledging accelerated research and development on the electric vehicle (EV) front. With a world rapidly increasing in population and urbanization, a complete rethink of individual transportation is needed. To that end, GM’s research into new electricity-powered, lower-impact cars like the EN-V could help reinvent cars. The new technology is not just about conserving energy: accident prevention, easier parking and more personal freedom from spending less time parking and in traffic are behind what GM calls its new vision. Whether that vision becomes a reality is yet to be seen.

Waste diversion and water conservation: Watch for more auto companies to develop new processes for water stewardship the way they approach clean energy. GM is one: it's on target to reduce the amount of water used per vehicle, and various factories are installing new wastewater treatment plants. The company is also reducing overall waste created per vehicle by 10 percent, and 100 manufacturing sites will be zero waste by 2020.

Supply chain: GM has committed to more localized supply chains, which the company says will boost local economies while reducing waste and emissions. In China, a green supply chain program collaborates with suppliers and has resulted in the reduction of wastewater, energy and greenhouse gas emissions.

Community: A global company naturally benefits from engaging stakeholders in the communities in which it operates. The company stills shows some commitment to its home as well, with one example the $27 million grant GM’s philanthropic arm gave to local Detroit high schools. The company has also donated funds to local community centers near its Hamtramck plant and volunteers from the company founded Green Place Detroit, a community garden on the site of where used to stand burned out homes.

With its alignment of sustainability and strategy, GM appears to be on the mend. The jury is out on whether the company is truly committed to reducing petroleum dependency, creating more eco-friendly transport options and operating facilities in a more environmentally friendly manner. Review the report (which follows Global Reporting Initiative Guidelines) for yourself and see if you are convinced by GM’s drastic change.

Leon Kaye, based in California, is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business. You can follow him on Twitter. He often writes about Detroit and its transformation.

Photo courtesy Leon Kaye.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye

More stories from Leadership & Transparency