GM Grabs Green Headlines... and Hopes to Keep Doing So


With a successful IPO, a pair of prestigious car awards and a big sustainability investment, it's been a busy week for General Motors, and more specifically, Chevrolet, its number one brand. But GM’s recent news making is more than a well-timed public relations push, it is part of a broader business strategy the company hopes will make it viable and profitable for the foreseeable future.
On the same day that GM made a roaring reentry into the New York Stock Exchange with an initial public offering that raised $20 billion for the once-financially beleaguered automaker, company officials announced that Chevrolet would invest $40 million in carbon offsets over the next three to five years. The goal? Reducing 8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, a figure equivalent to the CO2 emissions of all Chevy vehicles sold in 2011. (See video below)
"This is a different kind of program than anybody has ever done in the past," said Mike Robinson, Vice President for Environment, Energy and Safety Policy for General Motors on a phone call with me last week.
"We're proud of our fuel economy investments and internally focused environmental initiatives, but this goes way beyond that,” Robinson said. “Beyond just the cars people drive and what we do as a manufacturer.”
Working with non-profit stakeholders to determine how and where the money should be spent, the $40 million in community-based investments will be spread across three categories: energy savings, renewable energy and natural resource conservation.
"Local, community based investments like these not only create green jobs, save money and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, they represent real solutions to global warming," said Ruben Aronin, Director of Communications for Global Green USA, one of the partner organizations.
No specific projects are on the books yet, but the kinds of investments Chevrolet is planning to make may include supplying energy efficient technologies like smart energy sensors and boiler upgrades to schools; supporting wind farms and solar projects that deliver renewable energy to the communities where they work; capturing methane gas from community landfills, or; contributing to forestry projects throughout America.
While there is no timeline, per se, Robinson suggested the investments might come over a span of three to five years, explaining, "We won't shoot the whole $40 million at one time."
Chevrolet will be using two tracks to determine the most effective investments: via suggestions submitted on the Chevy website and via projects curated by the non-profit organizations and stakeholder partners.
"Right from the start Chevy engaged non-profit stakeholders," said Bob Sheppard, vice president of corporate programs at Clean Air-Cool Planet, a New Hampshire-based organization that works exclusively on climate change and helping corporations manage climate risk.
"But I had no idea this would lead to something this big," Sheppard said.
Asked whether the investments would be replacing any ongoing GM clean energy or climate projects, Robinson maintained, "this is not an attempt to supplant anything or compensate for anything else. This is about doing the right thing."
Chevy Volt: Motor Trend Car of the Year and Green Car of the Year
In a week of awards, Chevy Volt was named both Motor Trend Car of the Year and Green Car of the Year by Green Car Journal. It's one thing to be named Car of the Year by the most prestigious automobile magazine in the world, but to have that same car named the Green Car of the Year is something entirely different.
Beating out a group of hybrid and electric cars including the all-electric Nissan LEAF, the Ford Fiesta, and the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, the Chevy Volt has been named the 2011 Green Car of the Year.
"The Green Car of the Year award validates the Chevrolet team’s promise to deliver a practical electric vehicle,” said Joel Ewanick, VP, U.S. Marketing, General Motors. “The Volt’s a transformational technology that will lead our industry into a new age of vehicle electrification.”
While some might dismiss the GM sustainability investments as a PR stunt to try and curry good favor with the American public--and the U.S. Government, which still owns 61 percent of the company--the awards GM received for the new Chevy Volt are much harder to dismiss. But don’t tell that to conservative pundits George Will and Rush Limbaugh who curiously blasted the Motor Trend Car of the Year Award.
“Folks, of all the cars, no offense, General Motors, please, but of all the cars in the world, the Chevrolet Volt is the Car of the Year?” Limbaugh recently asked, rhetorically. But the conservative radio host not only attacked the car itself, but also Motor Trend magazine, saying, “Motor Trend magazine, that’s the end of them. How in the world do they have any credibility? Not one has been sold. The Volt is the Car of the Year.”
But Motor Trend wasn’t about to take the criticism lying down, shooting back at Limbaugh with a pointed retort of their own:
“All the shouting from you or from electric car purists on the left can’t distort the fact that the Chevy Volt is, indeed, a technological breakthrough. And it’s more. It’s a technological breakthrough that many American families can use for gas-free daily commutes and well-planned vacation drives.”
The Chevy Volt, which began rolling out of GM's Detroit-Hamtramck plant last will begin arriving at dealerships in early December. 


Timothy Hurst is the founder of ecopolitology and executive editor of LiveOAK Media where he writes about  environmental politics and  green business. Follow him on twitter @ecopolitologist

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  • Posted on Nov. 24, 2010. Listed in:

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