A new assembly plant from one of Detroit’s Big Three car companies is getting attention for its “green” qualities. Big Three automakers may not rank at the top of most environmentalists’ list for companies of the year. But some say the new auto plant is a sign that environmentally-sensitive manufacturing has finally gone main-stream. It’s not just because building green plants is the right thing to do. Really, it comes down to a different kind of green. The GLRC’s Dustin Dwyer has the story:
A new assembly plant from one of Detroit’s Big Three car companies is getting attention
for its “green” qualities. Big Three automakers may not rank at the top of most
environmentalists’ list for companies of the year. But some say the new auto plant is a
sign that environmentally-sensitive manufacturing has finally gone main-stream. It’s not
just because building green plants is the right thing to do. Really, it comes down to a
different kind of green. The GLRC’s Dustin Dwyer has the story:
The first thing you notice about the smell of General Motors’ newest plant is how much
you don’t notice it. The plant smells like nothing at all. Not paint, grease or even that
new car smell. GM says it specifically selected materials for its new Lansing Delta Township
Plant in Michigan to limit indoor air pollution. And there’s a lot more to not notice about the plant.
Like how much space it doesn’t use.
On a tour with reporters, GM Environmental Engineer Bridget Bernal points out that less
than half of the plant’s 1,100-acre lot has been developed. The rest is left green, including
75 acres for habitat preservation:
“And basically in that 75 acres, we have a couple of pretty large wetlands, along with
some smaller wetlands. We have a rather large wood lot. And we’ve got a significant area
that’s being developed as native prairie.”
GM says it only planted native species on the site. And it planned ditches and culverts to
help filter water as it drains into other areas. A quarter of the materials used to build the
facility was recycled. The plant uses 45 percent less total energy than a traditional plant.
And, on the day GM gave reporter tours, it rained. Even that gets used. The water is
collected in cisterns, and used for flushing. GM says the plant saves a total of more than 4
million gallons of water per year.
Put together, all these elements were enough to win GM a LEED Gold Certification from
the U.S. Green Building Council.
Kimberly Hoskin is director of the council’s new construction program. She says she’d
been traveling a lot for work when one of her colleagues asked if she’d be willing to take
a trip to an event Lansing, Michigan.
“And I said, ‘Well, who’s it for? And she said, well, General Motors.’ General Motors, a
factory, is getting a LEED Gold Certification? Yes, I’ll go. Of course I’ll go. This is really
GM is not the first auto company to use green elements in an auto plant design. Ford’s
Rouge Plant in Dearborn, Michigan was built earlier this decade with a 10-acre “living”
roof that helped manage storm water runoff.
But Hoskin says, out of about 560 buildings in the nation that have been certified by the
Green Building Council, only five are manufacturing facilities, and GM says the Lansing
facility is the first auto assembly plant to get Gold, the agency’s top rating.
But for GM, the green elements of the Lansing Delta Assembly Plant aren’t just about the
environment. They’re about cold, hard cash. The lower energy use alone will save GM a
million dollars a year. That gives people like Hoskin comfort that the plant isn’t just a
public relations move by GM and it increases the chances that we’ll see more green plants
in the future.
Sean McAlinden is Chief Economist with the Center for Automotive Research:
“As we slowly replace our old big 3 plants, many of which are very elderly, they’re all
going to look like this. They’re all going to be green plants. In fact, some of them will
keep getting greener.”
That’s good news for places where there’s a lot of auto manufacturing, but many people
are not ready to absolve GM of all of its environmental sins.
David Friedman is with the Union of Concerned Scientists. He says a green plant is nice,
but the real problem is still the product:
“Over eight times the impact on the environment when it comes to global warming is
once that vehicle leaves that plant. That’s the biggest step that we need automakers to
take and to improve the fuel economy of all of their cars and trucks.”
GM, and other automakers, say they are working to make cars cleaner. High gas prices
may force even more changes as sales of big pickups and SUVs drop off. Ultimately, car
makers’ profits could depend on building cleaner cars, just as keeping manufacturing
costs down will depend on having cleaner plants.
That could change the way auto companies think about environmental improvements
because going green will be about more than just doing the right thing, or protecting the
brand image. It will be about protecting the bottom line. What’s sustainable for the
environment will also be sustainable for the business, and both will show a lot more
For the GLRC, I’m Dustin Dwyer.