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GM Sustainability Report 2012: A Cautious and Futuristic View of the Auto Industry

Words by Leon Kaye

This morning General Motors (GM) released its 2012 Sustainability Report. Unlike many sustainability and CSR reports that are either a laborious read or cause eyes to roll upward, GM’s latest sustainability report engaged and captured my attention right away. Considering the automobile industry’s history, it was also jarring. Titled “Charging Ahead,” it came across as a report from Tesla at first glance, not one from the company that is home to GMC, Chevy and Buick (and of course, Hummer).

What is fascinating about this report is how it demonstrates the transition automakers like GM and its competitors, foreign and domestic, are currently undergoing. Gasoline will never be under two bucks a gallon again, so consumers want more fuel efficient cars; more young adults are eschewing cars and delay scoring a driver’s license; and the Big 3 are not only automobile manufacturers, but technology and lifestyle companies. And the evidence suggests all the talk about electrification is not just another teaser EV1 moment of the late 1990s, a shameful episode in GM’s history. The road ahead for electric vehicles will be bumpy and full of (range) anxiety for a while, but change is occurring—just as GM insists in this latest report.

So what are GM’s latest accomplishments?


Yes, GM, we get it. The future of electric vehicles is the overriding theme of this report. GM pledges to have 500,000 with some form of electrification on the roads by 2017. EV advocates who have long harangued the Big 3 for moving slowly on EVs will wonder which one of their cronies wrote this section of the report. Fans of the Volt and Spark as well as those anticipating the Cadillac ELR will be heartened by GM’s words. And the statistics are impressive: Chevy Volt drivers, for example, have driven 216 million miles in “EV mode” (all-electric, no gas) as of yesterday. Of course, the fact that GM collects that data opens concerns about privacy. In fairness to GM and the other automakers, the EV’s future is dependent on several factors. First, batteries have got to improve their performance and become more efficient. Next, the country needs a better infrastructure to support a surge in EV sales. And of course, a massive consumer education campaign is necessary. For now it doesn’t matter that most EVs have a range exceeding the length of most commuter's daily rides—range anxiety is a hurdle to greater acceptance.

Energy efficiency

GM’s cars are gaining better gas mileage while its office and factories are becoming more energy efficient. Like most companies in their CSR reports, GM talks a lot about goals, such as a drive to reduce its carbon and energy intensity by 20 percent and install 125 megawatts of energy use by 2020. GM also became an EPA Energy Star partner of the year and also met the agency’s Energy Star Challenge for Industry standards at dozens of its facilities—and saved $90 million in energy costs as a result.


For the most part, automakers are sustainable when it comes to the end of their cars’ lifecycle: depending on the model, 50 to 75 percent of a car is recyclable at the end of its life. That statistic aside, however, plenty of waste is generated throughout GM’s factories. The company has over 100 factories that have attained the “Zero Waste” mark. Meanwhile, the company is studying end-of-life options for its used lithium ion EV batteries, including their use for battery storage facilities for towns built on an upgraded electrical grid.

For more of GM’s sustainability report, click here.

[Image credit: GM]

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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