General Motors’ commitment to the environment extends beyond the borders of the United States. The automaker has a global presence and so it is only fitting that its environmental initiatives extend globally as well. Last week, the company announced two new landfill-free plants in Asia, an engine plant in Thailand and a proving ground in Korea. These two plants bring the total number of landfill-free facilities in Asia to 33 and the global number to 106.

“Regardless of where our teams are building cars for our customers around the world, we all share a commitment to the environment,” said Tim Lee, GM vice president Global Manufacturing and president of International Operations. “We work with all of our plants to ensure they have a roadmap to get to landfill-free, which is important considering our commitment of 125 landfill-free facilities by 2020.”

GM’s focus on worldwide operations is impressive but I was curious about the challenges that the automaker faces with landfill-free initiatives outside of the United States and so I connected with John Bradburn, GM’s waste-reduction manager. I asked Bradburn what are three of the biggest challenges of a global landfill-free program.

In an email Q&A, Bradburn lists these three challenges as well as what General Motors is doing to address them.

Challenge #1 - Infrastructure

“In some areas of the world, such as certain regions in South America, parts of Asia, and Africa, the infrastructure to support recycling is not yet well developed. Given this, we share waste-reduction best practices within every region in which we operate. We set up a reporting system that allows the global sharing of lessons learned by:

* Hosting monthly and web-based global conference calls with experts from each region. 

* Hosting commodity-specific and regular resource management calls with suppliers.

* Sharing best practices on specific processes and technologies.”

Challenge #2 – Hard-to-treat waste streams

“In North America and Europe where infrastructure is strong and growing, challenges relate to unique or hard-to-treat waste streams. Best-practice sharing is key to success here, as well. This program also includes collaborating with regulatory agencies to understand that innovation has created more options for some currently regulated waste streams. We discuss ways to best manage them using sound scientific principles. Smaller companies may partner with bigger companies to do this or join a business association to help address challenges and generate solutions together.”

Challenge #3 – Consistency

“When running a global landfill-free program, it’s especially important to ensure a consistent, structured process. GM manages the initiative through a single corporate entity to enable oversight, a holistic approach and subject-matter expertise. The definition of landfill-free and how to reach and maintain it is common throughout the organization, regardless of where operations are located. Each site tracks their waste and sets and reports their waste goals. GM uses a single resource data management system, allowing it to best manage waste streams with the byproducts yielding valuable commodities.”

GM isn’t just focusing its efforts internally; the company is also sharing what it knows to help other businesses achieve waste-reduction goals. GM's 'The Business Case for Zero Waste' blueprint, which was published on October 19, 2012, provides details on how the company has converted more than 100 facilities to landfill-free status. These nine steps to a landfill-free plant include prioritizing waste-reduction activities, engaging employees and resolving regulatory challenges.  

Kudos to GM for its commitment to reducing waste on a global level.

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