General Motors (GM) is the first automaker among 40 major United States-based companies to sign a climate declaration, collectively asserting that responding to climate change is good business.
The campaign is organised by the sustainable business advocacy group Ceres and its Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP) coalition. Signers of the declaration are calling for policymakers to address climate change by promoting clean energy, boosting efficiency and limiting carbon emissions – strategies that GM employs within its operations as it seeks to reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing.
GM’s environmental commitment has been recognised recently with the American Carbon Registry’s Corporate Excellence Award for demonstrated commitment to reducing its carbon footprint and mitigating climate impact, and an EPA ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year Award for Sustained Excellence, the organisation’s highest recognition for corporate energy management. GM has worked with Ceres for more than two decades to refine its sustainability strategies and performance.
Working to reduce energy consumption locally
General Motors South Africa (GMSA) is working closely with various component and parts suppliers in the Nelson Mandela Bay area to equip them with the knowledge and skills necessary to help them reduce energy consumption and save costs in their operations. A total of 31 delegates attended a half-day workshop at GMSA’s Kempton Road plant on Tuesday 30 April, representing 23 suppliers who manufacture parts and components for GM’s assembly plants in Port Elizabeth.
“We are working together with our suppliers as partners, not only to reduce production costs, but to also ensure that our suppliers have the most efficient and sustainable operations possible in terms of energy consumption,” says Craig Beetham, energy and utilities coordinator at GMSA.
Within manufacturing it’s the processes that consume the highest amount of energy. For example, at the GM Struandale plant the majority of consumption can be attributed to the paint shop, which is responsible for 85% of the energy consumption at the Struandale plant.
GM’s energy audits revealed that while some suppliers had good energy-saving practices in place, there was room for improvement, particularly when it comes to energy consumed in the industrial processes, which often have the highest percentage of consumption in the industrial environment.
According to GM engineers, businesses can have a significant reduction in energy consumption through close scrutiny and analysis of high consumption processes caused by oversized equipment, processes that involve heating, fans and pumps, compressed air and after-hours consumption.
Beetham refers to a process which heats up water to illustrate how an inefficient and poorly designed process can cost a company money through unnecessary consumption. In a poorly designed process there might be small amounts of steam or vapour escaping from the machines or pumps. This, according to Beetham, can be expensive. “A process losing one litre of water per minute through evaporation would require an additional 37kW of energy to compensate for the loss, which can add up to R200 000 per annum if ignored,” says Beetham.
He adds: “We have found that there is often more value in time spent evaluating processes and looking to reduce energy consumption rather than only focusing on general utilities. We challenge all our suppliers to look at every part of their industrial processes, and reassess their set-points for temperatures and pressure because this is where there’s often wasted energy in the system.”
In addition to the cost-saving benefits, there is often zero or minimal implementation costs involved with paybacks of less than twelve months when implementing the changes.
Worldwide, GM is dedicated to energy-efficiency and is working towards a goal of reducing energy intensity from its facilities with 20% by 2020. GM has 54 facilities that meet the voluntary ENERGY STAR Challenge for Industry, which requires facilities to reduce their energy intensity by 10% within five years. GM’s goal is to promote the use of 125 megawatts of renewable energy by 2020.
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Craig Beetham, energy and utilities coordinator at GMSA