Best Business Neighbor Finalist: General Motors

General Motors: Saving Green by Thinking Green

General Motors’s recycling program took sustainability into overdrive.  In just five years, GM has generated $2.5 billion in revenue from recycling with their worldwide facilities combined recycle more than 90% of the waste they generate. True innovation creates results and these results speak for themselves.


The EPA estimates that 75% of waste is recyclable, but only about 30% is actually recycled.The importance of recycling is widely known and it’s a hallmark of a corporate sustainability program. But when General Motors first announced their goal of creating landfill-free plants, it wasn’t simply a commitment to recycle more; it was a commitment to creativity, sustainable business practices and the triple bottom line.

In 2011 alone, GM recycled or reused more than 2.6 million metric tons of waste materials in its plants worldwide – enough to fill 6.8 million extended cab pickup trucks. These efforts avoided $10 million metric tons of CO2- equivalent emissions.

All GM plants monitor, measure, and report each month how they’re performing against waste-reduction. This process sparked the idea to create a landfill-free plant. Which would recycle, reuse or convert to energy all waste from daily operations, sending nothing to the landfill, essentially merging their environmental efforts with their manufacturing goals.

What GM has Accomplished

Since its initial development in 2005, the program has expanded to half of the company’s manufacturing plants around the world and gave the company the license to drive innovation into their core practices. GM has found that waste reduction is a way to enhance productivity, quality, and efficiency.

Since 2007, GM has generated $2.5 billion in revenue through various recycling activities. More than half of GM’s manufacturing plants are landfill-free, and all of their worldwide facilities combined recycle more than 90% of the waste they generate. The program not only has a significant environmental benefit, but also fosters productivity, innovation, and creativity. As of a result of this program, GM and its suppliers have developed:

  • A way to recycle scrap cardboard into sound absorbers for the Buick Lacrosse and Verano interior roof.
  • Air deflectors for the Chevrolet Silverado out of plastic shipping caps and post-consumer plastic pieces like bottle caps.
  • A way to rework pallets to form wood beams for the homebuilding industry.

Why This Project Makes Sense

The tenants of environmental responsibility and the qualities of a competitive and successful company overlap a good deal. By ingraining sustainability into the mindset of its leadership, environmental managers and employees, GM can think creatively, consistently innovate and be leaner and more efficient.

Waste reduction is a mission that’s integrated within GM’s business processes.  By approaching waste reduction from a sustainable financial perspective and tying revenue to waste streams, there is an increased interest and support for the initiative internally.


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