There’s been a lot of discussion in recent months about the role of business in society. How is this discussion influencing GM’s strategic direction?
Businesses are expected to be leaders and, for the most part, are stepping up their game to provide more products and services that help solve global environmental and social challenges. But in our very connected, complex world, it’s really tough for any one business to go at it alone. Collaboration is key. Unfortunately, the progress that comes from working together is frequently hindered by a lack of trust and skepticism. If businesses are truly going to redefine their role in society, then it’s critical that they be more open—listening to all stakeholders and increasing transparency. At GM, we’re striving to take that approach.
What societal challenges is GM trying to solve?
We’re working toward a future with zero crashes to address the injuries and deaths that occur in and around vehicles; a future with zero emissions to address climate change; and a future with zero congestion to relieve the huge traffic burden that communities around the world face. That vision is about trying to use global challenges to drive innovation that will maximize our business potential and value. We recognize that in order for GM to thrive, then the communities in which we operate must thrive.
Have you set a timeframe for accomplishing any of these goals?
Not yet. We believe there are three ingredients necessary to make our aspirations a reality: innovative products, consumer acceptance and policy incentives to help bridge the gap between the two. GM can control the products, and we are doing so through a growing fleet of autonomous, electric, connected and shared vehicles. Policy and consumer acceptance are not in our control and underscore the earlier point about collaboration and depend on regulations and consumer trends in the markets where we operate. With so many unknowns, we don’t believe it’s realistic to set completion dates at this time.
GM is helping transform markets—and has an opportunity to transform from within by setting an emissions reduction target that will help keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. What progress has GM made on setting a science-based target (SBT)?
We’re getting started on what we know will be a long journey. GM has partnered with the World Wildlife Fund and Ecofys, a consultancy that provided us with a model that we can use to develop a set of SBTs. The model is based on the Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTI) requirements, and we have been sharing what we learn with SBTI as we go. In the process of developing that model, we’re also building capabilities that will allow us to use the model in-house. We also recently joined SBTI’s transportation working group, which will allow us to further learn from our peers.
What is GM’s timeline for committing to an SBT?
We remain focused on our goal of a zero-emissions future. While getting to zero is certainly aligned with science, SBTI requires an end date for completion. As we worked through this process, we realized that if we are to truly internalize the outcomes we want to achieve and unlock competitive business opportunities, we need to take our time to get it right. SBTs are far too complex to be a check-the-box sustainability project. Just as with our zero-emissions goal, we know an SBT depends not only on our own actions but also on policy and market acceptance.
What are other roadblocks along the way?
As part of SBTI's transportation working group, we have been involved in discussions around measuring Scope 3 emissions from wells-to-wheels or tank-tow-heels. Considering emissions that are outside our control and being accountable for them from wells-to-tank poses another challenge in our SBT discussions. On the other hand, given our work on energy efficiency and our road map for renewable energy use, our Scope 1 and 2 emissions are much more in our control and more easily aligned with SBTs.
Waste reduction and landfill-free initiatives have been among GM’s most significant areas of achievement. Where do you go next in waste management?
While our plants have made tremendous progress, those manufacturing facilities represent only one phase of the product life cycle. We need to move toward a more systems-based approach that goes beyond the GM enterprise to take into consideration the materials used in our vehicles. That process begins with vehicle design and extends through end-of-life. It requires engagement with suppliers through every tier of the supply chain and the communities in which we operate—all with the objective of finding uses for our products that require minimal additional processing and that contribute to a more circular economy.
What other areas could benefit from a more systems-based approach?
Just as GM views waste as a resource out of place, it’s time to apply that same philosophy to carbon. We’ve been thinking about carbon all wrong. We think of it as something bad, something to reduce or eliminate altogether. That perspective limits our ability to innovate. Carbon is a key building block to everything, a key resource that we can’t live without. The problem is that in the process of using it, we’re not putting it back where it came from, and we’re not constructing things with it as nature does. Ultimately, we want to use carbon in ways consistent with the natural cycle, in balance so that it doesn’t overwhelm systems.
The goal of a more circular economy is to close the loop and keep materials in use. The same thinking goes for carbon. Let’s use systems thinking, upfront design and resource efficiency to put the molecules where they can provide the most benefit. If we only talk about reducing our carbon footprint, we are only having half the conversation. Carbon can serve as an asset we can use productively.
As you publish this report, what is GM’s perspective on the current proliferation of reporting frameworks?
We’re engaging with a variety of stakeholders to really understand what the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) and Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) mean for the automotive industry. As an example, TCFD calls for discussion of climate scenario. We’re involved in discussions to define what that actually requires, given the nature of our business, and how global trends factor into our long-range planning. Similarly, we’re trying to make sure that disclosures outlined by SASB are material to our business. We remain committed to reporting that is transparent and that discloses information relevant and important to our stakeholders.