CEF Spotlight

Transforming Transportation: Embracing the Disruption

By David Tulauskas, Director of Sustainability, General Motors 0e0fbc2

Today’s auto industry, quite frankly, is not sustainable. There are macro trends and complex challenges that are shaking up the status quo and we need to be proactive in responding.

Climate change, congestion, urbanization, as well as consumer behavioral changes such as the acceptance of a sharing economy and greater desire for connectivity are changing the way people view transportation. For many, driving has become the distraction. New products, services, and business models challenge today’s traditional automobile and the industry’s business model.

As a result, we believe our industry will change more in the next five years than it has in the last 50. That’s powerful. The impact on every company in the industry’s value chain, every urban center and hundreds of millions of consumers will be significant. GM wants to be a leader in transforming transportation and will do this through our products, plants, people and partnerships.

There are roughly 30,000 parts in the typical automobile and virtually all of them are being reconsidered, reimagined and transformed. Different fuel sources; new propulsion systems; lighter, stronger materials; even connectivity preferences. Long term, GM believes connected, intelligent, and electrified transportation that is affordable for a wide segment of customers will define the future of our industry. These are the building blocks that will enable autonomous driving leading to significantly reduced accidents, and new mobility business models that offer new revenue streams, and significant social and environmental benefits.

In addition to transforming the automobile, we are also transforming how we build them. We have 122 plants that send zero waste to landfills. That means whenever you put out a bag of trash on garbage day that is more trash that goes to a landfill than all of these plants combined. To achieve this, we changed our perspective about waste. We view waste as a resource out of place and as a result, have changed our waste streams into new revenue streams. Our aspirational goal is to send zero waste to landfills from all or our manufacturing facilities.

We also have changed our perspective on how we power our plants. Not too long ago, it was difficult to justify the use of renewable energy, especially for large, energy-intensive industrial users. Today, we view the use of renewable energy as a strategic energy source that does make business sense – to our bottom line, and to reduce various risks. We want to play a role in scaling the use of renewable energy to make it a mainstream choice for industrial energy users. This increased use also helps to maximize the benefits of electric vehicles.

As we reimagine our products, reinvent how we manufacture them, and explore new ownership options and business models, we are embracing the disruption and learning lessons along the way.

  1. Sleep on it with unlikely bedfellows: Complex issues are best solved through collaboration.

Large-scale renewable energy use is full of hurdles. While the benefits are significant, the path to incorporating these projects requires overcoming various regulatory, policy, and/or financial obstacles. Earlier this year, we joined 11 other companies in signing on to the Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles – a clear set of guidelines designed to help utilities and renewable energy providers understand how they can help make renewable energy investments easier for companies and meet rising demand.

The World Wildlife Fund and World Resources Institute formed this informal consortium to identify commonalities among us, share best practices and create a set of guiding principles that help the renewables market understand the needs of renewable energy buyers, like GM. Throughout all of our discussions, we were guided by one goal: make renewables more affordable and accessible for all companies. We want to open up new opportunities for collaboration and see this growing sector flourish.

GM also is a founding member of the Business Renewables Center, a collaborative platform launched by the Rocky Mountain Institute. The center aims to accelerate corporate renewable energy procurement with a goal of nearly doubling U.S. capacity of wind and solar energy by 2025. There are a lot of bright opportunities in this area, and by teaming with NGOs, other companies and service providers, we can make progress happen at a much faster rate.

  1. Ride a bike: Change your perspective to see problems as new opportunities.

We are a mobility company focused on moving people in a way that best fits their lifestyle and needs. As different trends emerge and urbanization spreads, new and integrated transportation solutions are needed. For example, our Technical Center in Warren, Mich. features a bike share program – the first of its kind from a U.S. automaker – enabling 19,000 employees to commute more easily both on and off campus. Employees can use Zagster bikes to travel between 61 buildings covering the 330-acre campus. It’s not only a way for us to invest in the long-term health and productivity of our workforce, but it has provided a real-time, real-world platform for our employees to look at transportation in a different way than we traditionally have. Where many employees once saw a threat, they now see an opportunity.

  1. Ignore change at your own peril: Embrace disruption.

Acknowledge it. Use it to define the future you want to create. Let it inspire and empower your employees. Disruption is an opportunity for innovation, for customer-centric solutions, and for teaming together to tackle some of our world’s biggest challenges. If done right, economic, social and environmental value will be increased and consumer benefits will be maximized.

By working together, keeping an open mind and embracing change, anyone can be a driving force for transformation.

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