Mike Robinson fondly remembers being only 5 or 6 years old and fishing with his grandfather.
The outings included lessons – taught by example – on preserving nature’s unspoiled beauty. For instance, the grandparent always removed their trash, never leaving a trace behind.
Robinson, 57, carried away a healthy respect for the Earth’s resources. Even so, the General Motors Co. executive says focusing on sustainability is as much about sound business practices as it is about environmental stewardship.
GM’s vice president of Sustainability and Global Regulatory Affairs is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the 19th annual CEO Forum at the University of Saint Francis.
The Oct. 18 forum’s theme is: The Future of Sustainability: Impact on Efficiency, Innovation and Profit.
Robinson defines sustainability as running a business in a responsible, thoughtful, forward-thinking way. Doing so, he said, saves money.
Sustainability is not some altruistic pursuit of Nirvana here, he said, adding that GM has saved about $2.5 billion over five years from energy efficiency and recycling efforts.
GM continually looks for ways to use fewer resources, including water and energy, Robinson said. The executive described his employer’s priorities during a phone interview last week.
The company’s Allen County truck assembly plant has been landfill-free for about one year. As such, it doesn’t generate any waste that isn’t recycled into another useful product.
The Detroit automaker builds Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks at the plant, which employs more than 3,600. Methane gas created by a nearby landfill provides 21 percent of the plant’s energy.
GM has about 80 other landfill-free facilities worldwide. But the Allen County location remains the company’s only landfill-free assembly plant in the U.S.
It’s an incredible accomplishment for a plant that size, Robinson said, noting that the factory covers about 3 million square feet.
Companies don’t have to be the size of GM to find savings in sustainability, however.
Find ways to work with your suppliers to take the waste out (of the process) instead of looking for ways to dispose of the waste, he said.
Even changing to energy-efficient light bulbs and increasing insulation can make a noticeable difference in energy use, Robinson said.
Tom Huntington has seen evidence of that at WaterFurnace International Inc., where he is president and CEO.
The Fort Wayne geothermal heat pumps manufacturer relies on homeowners’ desire to reduce energy costs while minimizing impact on the environment.
The systems pay for themselves with energy savings in three to five years – but last an average of 24 years, Huntington said.
WaterFurnace’s factory cut its own lighting energy costs in half last year with the installation of more efficient fixtures. It also relies on energy produced by a 5-acre retention pond on the company’s campus to provide heating and cooling energy for the office, factory and engineering laboratories.
The local operation has also reduced shipping waste by more than 90 percent by investing in reusable containers for suppliers to ship component parts in.
Huntington marveled at GM’s 100 percent landfill-free operation at the Allen County assembly plant.
The CEO is looking forward to picking up some new ideas next week at the executives’ meeting.
GM’s Robinson, who admits he isn’t fond of sticking to a script, is committed to making the case at the CEO Forum in favor of reducing, reusing and recycling.
This is not a political statement, he said. This is not an advocacy statement. This is trying to run the business responsibly.