General Motors: Driving a Global Movement for Zero Waste | General Motors

“Excellent out-of-the box, forward thinking from a large manufacturer. I like the broad approach GM takes throughout its own organization, suppliers and business partners…all the way down through the communities in which it operates. I applaud their effort to set an example for their industry and beyond. I appreciate that they are ‘helping people reimagine waste,’ both internally and with industry peers and other companies.”
--Environmental Leader Product & Project Awards judge

GM generated an estimated $1 billion in reuse and recycling revenue annually from its byproducts and eliminated 11 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent emissions in 2012. The company has an industry-leading 108 landfill-free facilities around the world.

GM image reducedGM says industrial facilities in the US generate 7.6 billion tons of nonhazardous industrial waste in land disposal units annually, according to the EPA. To help drive a global movement for zero waste, GM has a philosophy of thinking of waste as a resource out of place and turns waste streams into revenue streams. Additionally, GM works with other companies to help them do the same.

GM now recycles 90 percent of its global manufacturing waste and has committed to increase its landfill-free facilities to 125 by 2020. The company uses a range of processes, including data collection and monitoring systems, employee and external engagement initiatives, and creative reuse and recycling. All GM plants report their performance monthly, helping identify opportunities and achieve results.

A large part of their global movement toward zero waste is sharing these strategies throughout its value chain and broader manufacturing industry. GM uses expertise gained through its waste minimization efforts, combined with academia and industry partnerships, to standardize the definition of zero waste. The company then provides other companies with a blueprint and process for how to move toward zero waste while seizing related environmental, economic, and social opportunities.

GM’s approach includes mentoring other companies, boosting recycling infrastructures, and growing green businesses.

Steps of the blueprint for moving toward zero waste include:

  • Tracking waste data
  • Defining Zero Waste
  • Prioritizing waste-reduction activities
  • Engaging employees and building a sustainability culture
  • Strengthening supplier partnerships
  • Resolving regulatory challenges
  • Achieving landfill-free
  • Improving efforts
  • Sharing best practices

Judges applauded the demonstrated accountability across GM’s participating facilities with monthly performance reporting and the fact that the company worked with UL and Society of Automotive Engineers to establish a universal standard on zero waste that helps supports their vision: a global movement that can yield substantial benefits.