General Motors: Driving Sustainable Change – What We Learned
February 2, 2016 | Tarana Persaud
On Thursday January 28th, 2016, Sustainable Waterloo Region held its first event of the new year. We started off with a breakfast event listening to the Vice President of Corporate and Environmental Affairs from General Motors Canada, David Paterson, who gave an insightful presentation on what they’ve been up to at GM.
GM has set a 3-point strategy to improve their relationship with the environment, with technology and with the community.
GM can proudly say that their approach to tracking and reducing carbon is a serious one, and this shows in their track record. 5 years ago they moved towards eliminating waste streams that ended at the landfill. Today they can safely say they are landfill- free and this has allowed them a 50% reduction in GHG emissions. They have started to sell their scrap metal and have made $30 million by doing so. Can you think of a better way to describe ‘win-win’? This one would be tough to beat.
To read more on how they’ve improved the facilities of their operations and manufacturing, check out their latest published sustainability report here
David also talked about the way they are tackling technology. Despite having the potential to create relationships with Silicon Valley, GM Canada is staying closer to home and looking at Waterloo Region for their technology development. Kitchener is now slowly being rebranded “The Innovation District” due to the presence of entities like Velocity Labs, Google, and the Communitech Hub. Waterloo Region is showing a lot of potential and GM is reaching out to take advantage of these entities, along with the universities, as they look for a mutually beneficial relationship.
To explain their keenness on getting involved with technology, David talks about how new and unconventional approaches to driving are changing the game, such as Uber, Google, and Tesla. But instead of shying away from these challenges, GM embraces them as a means to fuel their selling and development strategy.
“Our goal is to disrupt ourselves, and own the consumer relationship beyond the car” he says as he quotes the CEO of GM, Mary Barra.
As a result, GM is investing in a lot of research into making batteries lighter for their electric vehicles, how to reduce the GHG emissions from tailpipes, and how to increase the range of their electric vehicles, thereby being more appealing to budget-wise consumers. Improving on their already helpful OnStar system (think of ‘Siri’ for your car, but it’s a real person that helps you in emergency situations) GM is looking to implement more functions such as 4G WiFi and settings for teen drivers. This enhances security and comfort, allowing the driver to have an improved and safer driving experience.
Another innovate approach GM is taking is their new relationship with Lyft, a platform that is similar to Uber, as a means to implement and simplify car sharing. One neat idea is to have their cars available in condo apartments for use by individuals by appointment. That way, everyone gets to use the one vehicle fairly, and the need for personal vehicles are reduced.
How does all of this tie in with sustainability? GM is improving their manufacturing plants, investing money into creating more affordable electric vehicles and thinking outside of the box for car sharing and urban mobility. GM is showing us it is possible to evolve your traditional platform into ways that suit consumers and the environment, without having to sacrifice one for the other.
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