Sustainability Q&A

Sustainability
Road Map

Sharon Basel, Senior Manager,
Sustainability

“We’re transforming our approach to supply chain by taking a more holistic, multitiered approach, going well beyond Tier 1 to understand impacts.”

The theme of this year’s report is “Transformation in Progress.” How does that support GM’s vision of zero crashes, zero emissions, zero congestion?

Every decision we make and every action we take is about realizing that vision. And that vision is so much bigger than GM’s business. It’s really about transforming personal mobility in the future — finding ways to deliver all the benefits of personal mobility without any of the negative impacts. To get there, however, we have to transform as a business, and that’s what is happening today throughout the company on a global basis. And it goes way beyond moving vehicles away from the internal combustion engine to electrification.

So you’re not just talking simply about the transformation of GM’s product portfolio?

No, much broader transformation is required to get there. We’re transforming our workforce, for example, by moving three-quarters of our product development and engineering talent from traditional to advanced technologies. We’re transforming our approach to supply chain by taking a more holistic, multitiered approach, going well beyond Tier 1 to understand impacts. We’re transforming our view of strategic partnerships, working with a competitor — Honda in this case — to collaborate on autonomous technology. We’re championing public-private partnerships to accelerate charging infrastructure. And the list goes on. It’s a very different outlook than we had even as recently as five years ago, and I think it speaks to the incredible pace of change happening in the automotive industry.

GM has put a lot of emphasis in recent years on reshaping its culture. How does this effort factor into the transformation journey?

It’s foundational, and it’s been a priority for our senior leadership ever since the ignition switch recall in 2014. We realized then that the underlying culture had to change — and to do that, we had to change our behaviors. The culture had to become more accountable and embrace a common set of values and ways of behaving at work. Now, we’re much more open about showing recognition when we see peers living out our behaviors — as well as speaking up when something’s not right. Culture is also a strategic priority because it helps us attract and retain the talent required to move toward our vision.

What are some of the attributes of this new culture?

There has been a tremendous emphasis on safety — both of our products and our workplace. That was important coming out of the recall, and it’s critical to our future. After all, the first step to realizing a vision of zero crashes is to create a culture of safety. As you’ll read in this year’s report, we’ve made significant progress in the area of workplace safety. Diversity and inclusion are also real strengths today at GM. It’s an area that we’ve been working on for years, and, while there’s always room for improvement, we have some really interesting initiatives underway, such as our Take 2 re-entry program.

How does the idea of sustainability fit into GM’s culture today?

It’s hard to think of a business concept that incorporates sustainability more than our zero-zero-zero vision. If everyone is working toward that vision, then a sustainable mindset is automatically institutionalized and integrated by every function in the organization. We’ve also seen an enhanced awareness and appreciation of the potential for sustainability to create and drive business value — in part thanks to increased investor interest.

In what way?

Asset managers are placing a much greater interest on nonfinancial issues. One in every four dollars under asset management in the U.S. now considers ESG criteria. That creates a very tangible and universal language that everyone in the company can understand. So whether you’re a new or seasoned employee, whether you’re in finance or quality, you can now see a clear line between sustainability-related principles and initiatives and how the capital markets are valuing our business. That permeates the way we do business and the thoughts and considerations that we put into our work.

Are you engaging more with ESG-minded investors? What do those engagements look like?

We’re engaging much more frequently and see these engagements as critical for two reasons. First, we’re committed to being transparent and continually try to publicly share more data. We want to engage with as many players in the ESG community as possible — investors, as well as raters and rankers — to ensure that GM data is being represented accurately. Second, and equally as important, engagement is an opportunity to provide context. Data is just data until you talk about it. That’s when investors can really get an understanding of what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and the progress that is being made.

Has this influenced your decision to report across more frameworks, such as SASB and TCFD?

To some extent it has been in response to feedback from investors, but we also look to these various frameworks to help determine where we should focus our attention. They provide us a way to analyze gaps in our disclosure and help drive performance. We also are cognizant of the fact that the transportation industry is now the largest emitter of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. That means we have an obligation, and our stakeholders expect us to look at a broad set of criteria when it comes to climate-related disclosure.

How has climate change evolved as an issue within GM’s business?

Climate change and sustainability continue to be a focus of our business and have been incorporated into our enterprise risk management process. As a result, these topics are at the forefront of everyday decision-making and requires active management and review at the highest levels of the company. Also in 2018, for the first time, a cross-functional team held a climate change workshop that envisioned several different scenarios related to a 2-degree warming. These developments really underscore how far GM has matured with respect to integrating sustainability into the business and how these topics are shaping where we go as a company.

As you conclude this reporting cycle, what achievements are you most proud of over the past 12 months?

Internally, it’s amazing to see how the entire organization is embracing our vision, values and behaviors on a daily basis. Hardly a meeting goes by when I don’t hear someone bring up how the topic under discussion or the decision being made will help us achieve our zero-zero-zero vision. As a veteran GM employee, I can report that the cultural shift is real and continuing to progress. Externally, I’m thrilled with the recognition that GM is receiving, particularly around gender, diversity. This is an issue important to GM employees, and it’s really been brought to light through disclosure and reporting. When we get named to the Just 100 two years in a row or earn the No. 1 spot for workplace gender diversity by Equileap, it’s a win for every GM employee everywhere in the world.