Transforming Our Industry Together
A Conversation with Dane Parker,
Chief Sustainability Officer
Chief Sustainability Officer
Q: You are stepping into the role of Chief Sustainability Officer — a new position for GM — at a critical time, as the company accelerates its sustainability efforts on multiple fronts. Why is now the right time for GM to make bold changes?
A: Both as a company and as a society, we’re at an inflection point. Scientists tell us that we have about 10 years to sharply reduce global GHG emissions, and achieving that will take significant work that needs to begin now. The path we’ve been on has been necessary, but it’s not sufficient. Now is the time for us to go faster. At GM, that means aligning efforts related to our products and our operations, and moving aggressively to help the world transition to an all-electric future.
“ GM has already been part of one revolution in the way we transport people, and now we have the opportunity to do it again with EVs.”Dane Parker, GM Chief Sustainability Officer
Q: That’s no simple task. How do you know that it’s possible?
A: I compare our company’s current situation to the one we were in almost exactly 100 years ago. In the 1920s, most people still got around by horse and carriage. Automobiles were starting to gain traction, but there were barriers to ownership. They couldn’t pull heavy loads. They were far more expensive. And gas stations didn’t exist yet, so people worried about range.
Then, a business transition occurred. Many carriage makers, including William Durant, the founder of General Motors, went from making buggies to making automobiles. Together, they made it easier to own an automobile than it was to own a horse and carriage, and the changeover to automobile ownership quickly followed.
We’re facing many of the same dynamics today. What this history teaches us is that we won’t see widespread adoption of EVs until they offer a better ownership experience than ICE vehicles — in terms of ease of charging, affordability and design. But we shouldn’t be afraid of transformational change. GM has already been part of one revolution in the way we transport people, and now we have the opportunity to do it again with EVs.
Q: Beyond fast-tracking the transition from ICE vehicles to electric, how else can GM drive sustainability?
A: For several years, we’ve been reducing our operational footprint and have been recognized by external groups for doing so. The U.S. EPA has acknowledged us for our disciplined global process to achieve energy efficiency, as well as our renewable energy strategy and results. But there remains much more we can do. For example, we still generate around 200 kilograms of waste with every vehicle we produce, and we hope to bring this number down significantly.
In a circular economy, materials stay out of landfills through continuous reuse. If we can build vehicles that use more sustainable materials — and also encourage that those materials are reused or recycled at the end of a vehicle’s life — we can make an important contribution to circularity.
Q: GM has a vision of a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion. It’s clear how “zero emissions” relates to sustainability — but what about the other aspects of your vision?
A: The three parts of our vision are deeply intertwined. Autonomous vehicles will help lead to fewer crashes and less congestion, which will lead to less time on the road and therefore lower emissions as the world transitions from ICE vehicles to EVs. And we’re working on each piece of our vision in tandem. Not only are all of our AVs also EVs, we’re incorporating advanced driver control features like Super Cruise, the industry’s first true hands-free driver assistance feature for compatible highways, into the EVs in our portfolio. The next generation of the Chevrolet Bolt EV and the Chevrolet Bolt EUV, as examples, will be available with Super Cruise.
Beyond environmental benefits, AVs could reduce the more than 1 million deaths that result from vehicle crashes every year, and free up the hours that drivers would otherwise spend sitting in traffic. In this way, electric, autonomous vehicles will give people back a precious resource: time. More time for people to do the things they enjoy — another aspect of the sustainable future we envision.
Q: GM has set new environmental sustainability goals and is in the process of developing others. What is the thinking behind these goals, and how will they support GM’s vision?
A: If I had to use one word to describe the new goals we’re setting, it would be “inclusive.” First, we’re making sure we have metrics that cover all parts of our carbon footprint. That’s why we have targets not only to reduce emissions from the operation of our facilities, but also for the materials that are used in our vehicles. And we’re targeting the vehicle use phase by setting goals for the number of EVs we hope to sell in our major markets as we advocate for policies that support consumer adoption of these vehicles.
Our goals will also encompass the entire GM value chain. Eventually, we hope to evaluate suppliers not just on quality and price, but how they’re doing on sustainability and how they’re reducing their own carbon footprints. Finally, we want our goals to include the entire GM team. I want every employee at GM to see and feel the direct impact they can have on achieving our zero emissions vision and our sustainability goals, as well as the positive difference their actions can make for our future. If we can help everyone understand their role in the larger vision, I know we will unlock our collective creativity, which in turn will have tremendous potential to bring about positive change.