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When It Comes to Sustainability, Fundamentals are Good, Creativity is Better

By General Motors on May 10, 2018

Manufacturing is simple math. Well, it’s actually a lot of complex math, but the premise is simple: the more efficiently you can turn raw materials into finished products, the better off the environment and your bottom line will be.

That’s true whether you’re producing lip gloss in North Little Rock, AR, or Chevy Volts in Detroit, MI. And, even though the L’Oréal team might have been amazed at the size of our Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant (four million square feet!) and we might have been impressed by the sheer volume of their production (more than one million units per day!), we really use a lot of the same systems, processes and resources to get the job done.

It was inspiring to see the work that L’Oréal has done to build a company culture of sustainability, but participating in the Better Buildings Challenge SWAP has also given me a new sense of pride in the ways we have pushed the envelope on efficiency at our global operations. We certainly still have work to do, but I think we’ve made a lot of progress that others can borrow from:

Always be monitoring

As the saying goes, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Nowhere is that more true than in energy efficiency. At Detroit-Hamtramck, we have an Energy Management System that allows us to track our use of steam, electricity, natural gas and water around the clock, from anywhere (yes, even at home). That’s a powerful tool, both to identify our areas that need improvement and keep track of what’s working.

Share with others

It’s easy to see manufacturing as a self-contained system. However, we’ve found ways to improve our efficiency by engaging our communities. For example, our Detroit-Hamtramck facility is heated by steam that we buy from a local waste-to- energy facility. In return, we’re able to send back the condensate. Our ability to share resources creates savings for everyone.

Harness your resources

There are resources all around us, if you’re willing to collect them. At Detroit-Hamtramck, we have our own pond system to collect rainwater that we use in our cooling towers and to make high-purity paint-shop water. We also have an on-site 30 KW solar array that, coupled with a neighboring 516 KW array owned by DTE Energy, provides 10 percent of our fixed facility electricity demand.

Don’t get me wrong – doing the fundamentals well is important. Sustainability is part of our business model and core to our operations. Significant savings can result from installing LED lighting, shutting down equipment that’s not in use, and putting strategies in place to catch compressed air leaks and other inefficiencies. However, thinking creatively about saving energy is what makes the difference between good and great. Think big. Get excited. Throw ideas at the wall… and then work to make sure the best ideas become realities. Ideas like our rainwater harvesting project, or L’Oréal’s in-house composting program weren’t easy to get off the ground, but they’re the kind of ideas that make a difference. This is why we enjoy being part of the Better Plants program. We get to share our best practices and learn from other plants who are implementing some impactful energy efficiency measures.