A Closer Look at General Motors’ (GM) Sustainability Initiatives

A Closer Look at General Motors’ (GM) Sustainability Initiatives

There’s no denying that climate change is a major issue. Though COVID-19 somewhat decreased global carbon emissions, that trend won’t continue forever. A global initiative is necessary to protect and preserve the planet’s health.

To that end, companies across the world have an important part to play. This is increasingly clear when you examine their production and distribution processes. The environment can only recover when executives embrace corporate social responsibility.

An industry giant like General Motors (GM), which owns Chevrolet and the Corvette brand, serves as a prime example. The automaker has continually built upon its initiatives, and environmental stewardship is at the forefront. Concepts like hybrid sports cars, recycled vehicle materials and new policy changes are fundamental to its efforts.

With that in mind, here’s a closer look at GM and the Corvette brand’s commitment to eco-friendly practices in 2021 and the decade ahead.

GM's Sustainability initiatives featured image

The Auto Industry’s Role in Climate Change

It’s no secret that transportation contributes to climate change. Between cars, trucks, airplanes and boats, 28% of U.S. greenhouse gas output can be attributed to this sector. That’s why the auto industry is particularly beholden to the issue.

Of course, environmental activists have urged consumers to walk and bike more often to reduce their greenhouse gas input. But their messaging hasn’t worked on a large enough scale. When you take a look at car sales, they seem to be on the rise even during the pandemic.

So, which solutions are the most effective? To start, those who can walk, bike and take public transportation should make an effort to. It’s also key to provide more accessible options for eco-friendly vehicles. If we can build electric or hybrid trucks, airplanes and boats, we’ll likely see greater progress. The auto industry’s practices and policies matter, as well.

When large corporations like GM accept their responsibility, it’s a considerable step forward. Here’s a little more on what GM has done to help the Earth.

1. Eco-Friendly Car Options

What’s a green car company without eco-friendly vehicle options? GM has been a leader in this regard since the late 1990s. It was then that the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled concerns about carbon emissions and air pollution. GM took that chance to reveal the EV1, which became the first mass-produced electric vehicle in the 20th century.

It’s one thing for a car to use electricity as fuel, but it’s another to make it completely from reusable materials. Fortunately, GM and its subsidiaries haven’t neglected this aspect. They’re striving to outfit their vehicles inside and out with recycled supplies. This goal is a newer undertaking for the company.

Here’s how GM builds electric and hybrid vehicles with recycled elements.

Electric and Hybrid Vehicles

Today, GM aims to continue that legacy by offering 30 different electric vehicles by 2025. It plans to move away from harmful fossil fuels like gasoline and diesel. Chevrolet currently sells the Bolt EV, and it also intends to make an electric SUV and truck over the next few years.

Chevrolet Bolt Electric Vehicle / Image courtesy of Gregory VarnumCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Corvette deserves the spotlight, as well. The electric sports car sector isn’t massive, but it’s growing. Audi, BMW and Ferrari all have choices — and Corvette might soon add an option to the mix. The C8 model will likely feature a hybrid version before a fully electric one. In any case, it’s a promising endeavor.

There could also be partially electric Corvette Convertibles and Stingrays available in the next three or four years. That would be a significant feat, especially when you consider that the hybrid Stingray would be the first all-wheel-drive (AWD) Corvette. The plan is to power the front wheels using electric motors, which covers the AWD part of the equation.

GM strives to make these vehicles more convenient for consumers, too. It plans to provide easy access to charging stations around the country. The company will also advocate for policy changes that ensure electric cars make financial sense for individuals looking to purchase a car. Things like tax incentives can be a major motivator.

Recycled Materials

GM as a whole prioritizes recyclable materials during the production process. It has a goal to use 50% eco-friendly material content in its vehicles over the next 10 years. These items include everything from recycled plastics to reused batteries.

Can styrofoam be recycled

You have the option to line the 2020 Corvette’s interior with synthetic suede materials that include recycled elements. This choice is also available in the Chevrolet Traverse, Blazer and Camaro. There are future plans to recycle yarns in areas like seat covers and floor mats.

You can find recycled materials on the exterior of GM vehicles, too. Features like post-consumer nylon fiber help save millions of pounds of plastic. These components aren’t available for every model — but it’s a light at the end of the tunnel anyway.

The impact of a hybrid or electric car made with recycled materials is huge. If the majority of drivers owned an electric vehicle, it would represent a revolutionary shift for environmental preservation. That said, it’s important to point out other things that GM is doing to ensure more sustainable practices in the future.

2. A Push to Create a Circular Economy

What’s a circular economy? This system aims to make our business practices more sustainable. The process involves making, using, reusing, remaking and recycling. Someday, it may be possible to create everything from recycled materials, drastically reducing waste.

GM recognizes that a circular economy would be ideal for the planet. Because of that, they make a point to reuse materials throughout production. Their goal of a circular economy hasn’t been fully realized, of course, but they have a goal and a way to get there.

In the meantime, GM continues to avoid processing virgin materials to maximize their sustainability efforts. It instead focuses on every step of production to ensure it reuses materials whenever possible. This method of production hasn’t been adopted by the majority of automakers yet. It makes sense, then, that GM was the only automaker, aside from Toyota, nominated for a Global Energy Award in 2019.

3. Renewable Energy Initiatives

An electric vehicle made with recycled materials can only be so effective. If we want to make substantial progress, we need to push industries to use renewable energy rather than fossil fuels. GM, and subsequently Corvette, plans to power its operations with 100% renewable energy by 2040.

There are many ways GM plans to achieve this goal. First, they’ve taken steps to achieve energy efficiency before all else. They also want to build and utilize more wind parks and solar plants to power their factories worldwide. The third and fourth steps will emphasize energy storage and project scale to ensure a zero-emissions process altogether.

You can see this progress happening currently at GM in many ways. Consider Southeast Michigan, where GM has powered all sites using solar energy. That’s only one example. Several other GM plants throughout America rely on renewable energy sources.

General Motors Is Unique Among Other Automakers

GM continues to lead the charge in sustainable development. From electric Corvettes to recycled plastics to solar power, they’ve made advances that many of their competitors haven’t.

Fortunately, GM is mostly on track to reach its eco-friendly goals, as outlined above. Naturally, the COVID-19 pandemic has made producing electric cars more complicated. But GM continues to make progress, nonetheless. Still, it’s unlikely that consumers will see something like an electric Stingray in the time GM initially planned.  

In any case, GM and its divisions remain pioneers. It’s a positive thing to see influential companies realize they can improve their processes and create a cleaner world. They’re not the only automaker with a progressive approach — but it’s evident that GM remains one of the best.

The verdict is that other car manufacturers should look to GM for inspiration. It isn’t a perfect company, but it’s comparatively forward-thinking. It’ll be a while before we see significant environmental improvements from its work, but the strides they’ve taken are worth acknowledgement.

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