Best known for its fuel-guzzling vehicles, General Motors is installing Solar Trees at one of its tech facilities in America, in a bid to shake off its stereotype. But, as Alex Blackburne finds out, it has a long way to go.
Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Opel, Vauxhall, and Holden: the remaining seven brands of the General Motors (GM) empire – an empire that has, when it comes to the global effort to reduce carbon emissions, been left behind by innovators and pioneers in the car manufacturing industry in recent years.
But in an attempt to catch up with the rest of the pack, the organisation has joined forces with Envision Solar, an American renewable energy company, to install, or plant, Solar Trees at one of its tech facilities.
Envision say the sun-tracking structures “will shade and charge six electric vehicles while providing renewable, solar electric energy” to the GM facility in Warren, Michigan.
Sun, or solar, tracking is the next step up from regular rooftop solar panels. Because the sun moves across the sky during the day, unmovable panels aren’t collecting and producing energy at their full capacity in daylight hours.
Solar tracking panels provide the solution to this by using motion-sensing technology to follow the sun throughout its journey each day, therefore meaning the energy production is notably higher. This short video from Envision explains the concept.
But is this project by GM just another case of corporate greenwash?
Despite the suspension of several of its high-profile brands, including Pontiac, Hummer and Oldsmobile, GM remains the second largest automobile maker in the world, producing nearly 8.5m vehicles in 2010.
As a company, it produced almost 8.5m tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2009. To put that in context, that’s more than the total emissions of 115 countries in the world, according to 2008 figures.
However, this is a significant reduction from the 2008 total, which placed the company’s greenhouse gas production at just under 10 million tonnes.
An article from Reuters explained how GM “has been trying to change its image after taking years of heat for relying too much on sales of large sport-utility vehicles like the Hummer and not moving faster on fuel-saving hybrid technology”.
Although they have seemingly turned up late to the energy-saving show, they are producing an increasing number of electric cars, to compete with the likes of Toyota, who currently are the only manufacturer ahead of GM in terms of car production figures.
As well as this, it has published an Environment Commitment on its website, which says, “We’re committed to continuous improvement as we reduce the environmental impact of our vehicles and facilities. Our culture of environmental responsibility makes us think creatively, consistently innovate, and be leaner and more efficient”.
In a time when corporate greenwash is common amongst large scale organisations, GM appears to be making strides forward, admittedly overdue ones, to become more environmentally friendly.
Ecodesk, an independent sustainability database, say that the American giant is making progress in energy, water, waste and emissions, reducing its energy usage by more than 40% between 2005 and 2009, whilst also reducing emissions by 39%.
There might be an element of greenwash in what GM is doing – after all, they are still manufacturing fuel-guzzlers and greenhouse gas-spewers – but then, that is going to be the case, for the medium term, with a company of their size.
Hopefully, sooner rather than later, more large-scale organisations, like GM, will see the error of their ways, and not always rely on corporate greenwash.
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Picture source: Envision Solar