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Sustainable Materials

Designing for the Environment

As we transform our business to support production of electric vehicles (EVs), we are rethinking how all of our vehicles are made and designing them with a mindset focused on reducing environmental impacts throughout their life cycle.

The most environmentally friendly vehicle is not only electric—it’s circular. The idea of circularity—whereby resources and materials are reused on a continual basis—is growing in importance. Today, we enable, by mass, more than 85% reuse or recycling of our current vehicles at the end of their life. Additionally, we will continue to enable 100% reuse or recycling of returned EV batteries at the end of life.

Over the next decade, we aim to achieve at least 50% sustainable material content in our vehicles, measured by total vehicle weight. We have defined sustainable materials as those that reduce dependence on nonrenewable resources and/or minimize disruption to the environment or key natural resource systems. These may range from renewable materials, including bio-based to highly recyclable resources, such as glass or aluminum, that can be reprocessed an indefinite number of times without requiring additional mineral resources. Through verification and certification methods, we ensure the authenticity of those materials and the achievement of our key sustainability goals for manufacturing, including resource preservation and carbon footprint reduction.

Focusing on each part of the equation—a material’s origin, its design into a part and that part’s destination at the end of vehicle life—allows us to make the most meaningful impact possible. Nevertheless, with thousands of parts that comprise a vehicle design, our work toward our sustainable materials goal is complex and spans many cross-functional teams including:

  • Design
  • Material engineering
  • Product engineering
  • Purchasing and supply chain
  • Sustainable workplaces

We are focusing on specific material categories, as well as specific vehicle components, programs and brands. Components within these categories are being examined to determine sustainable improvements; analyzing potential tradeoffs between material costs, sustainability, performance and other features. Internally, we are developing new measurement tools to evaluate material sustainability. As we replace conventional materials with more sustainable materials, we will work to ensure that vehicle performance remains constant in every type of driving condition and for the life of the vehicle. The GMC HUMMER EV uses an alternative material for all applications that would otherwise use leather. Once a more sustainable material is identified, we also consider when to introduce the new material into the vehicle design and production cadence based on performance, environmental impacts and other factors.

Recycled Content in GM Vehicles

GM is working to increase the sustainable materials used to make our vehicles. While these materials are not all available on all vehicles, each improvement provides valuable insights and brings us closer toward our goal.

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Recycled thermoplastic

Cowl Vent Grill

pounds of plastic diverted

nylon fiber

Window Support Brackets

pounds of plastic recycled

Recycled PC/PBT

License Plate Brackets

pounds of plastic diverted

Recycled PET plastic
made into fiber

Wheelhouse Liners

water bottles recycled

Recycled PC/ABS

Radio Brackets

pounds of plastic diverted

Recycled tires and
plastic caps

Ultra Capacitor Barrier Shield

tires saved and 20,000 pounds of plastic diverted

In addition to these improvements, we have identified multiple components with potential for recycled content in the future. Among the examples:

  • Bin Mats
  • Console Retainers
  • Cup Holder Liners
  • Door Trim
  • Fans and Fan Shrouds
  • Headliner/Rear Shelf
  • Interior Bezel, Brackets and Trim Ring
  • Floor Carpet
  • Seat Fabrics
  • Rear Cargo Bin

With support from our supply base, we are committed to use at least 35% recycled plastic yarn in all future seat insert fabrics, and 100% recycled yarn in future seat bolster fabrics, overhead fabrics, floor carpets and floor mats. Given GM’s global scale, this means significant amounts of plastic will be diverted from waste and reused. We also will avoid a certain amount of carbon emissions and water used in the fabric-making process.

In 2020, a cross-functional team worked to identify recycled plastic opportunities for future vehicles. The team sought feedback from internal experts and select supplier partners by hosting collaborative events on the topic. As a result, we expanded the number of recycled plastic types approved for vehicle application and established criteria for integrating recycled plastic resins into future vehicles.

Beyond these examples, we are continually researching new and innovative materials that will help us mitigate our environmental impact while driving customer-focused design and innovation. Plant-based materials, biofabricated materials, regenerative farming and lower-impact leather tanning practices, as well as alternatives to chrome, are among the emerging practices and materials that we are striving to design into GM products.

Measuring Material Impacts

Internally, we are developing new measurement tools to evaluate material sustainability, including renewable and recycled content. GM is collaborating with experts to evaluate tools to measure material social and environmental impacts. This evaluation includes life cycle analyses (LCAs) and environmental product declarations (EPDs). Select supplier LCAs will include data from “cradle to gate”—or raw material extraction through delivery to GM. Beyond gathering information about recycled and renewable content, we will measure environmental impacts like equivalent GHG emissions, total energy consumption, water consumption and end-of-life treatment as reused, recycled, composted, landfilled or burned to produce energy as waste to energy. In this way, we will develop a clearer picture of progress, not only toward our sustainable materials goal, but also our zero-emissions vision.

Battery Recycling

Given GM’s 25 years of experience developing EVs, we already have robust programs in place that enable 100% reuse or recycling of EV batteries at the end of life. Since 2013, we have partnered with Oak Ridge National Laboratory on the use of end-of-life EV batteries for backup power. Today, data centers at Milford Proving Ground and the SAIC-GM-Wuling facility are re-using EV batteries in exactly this manner, as stationary power sources for backup power. Also at Milford, we are using the batteries to balance our use of the grid with an objective to achieve zero net annual energy use for the office building at the facility. To further increase value and reduce carbon footprint, GM is working with the Department of Energy, U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium and directly with recyclers to advance lithium ion battery recycling, and exploring recycled materials that could reduce the need for raw mined materials.

Sustainable Packaging

We have established a companion sustainable materials working group that is dedicated to sustainable packaging. A multidisciplinary group has been tasked with developing a packaging goal and collecting data to better understand GM packaging specifications and requirements. The group is working closely with suppliers and external partners to innovate around current practices and embed circular economy principles in packaging procurement and design. The current priority for this new group is to develop our road map for success that takes into account the full life cycle of our packaging and carbon analysis of the various opportunities.

General Motors and Ventec Life Systems team members sign the sustainable shipping boxes before delivering the final group of V+Pro critical care ventilators to complete the 30,000-unit order for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic

As part of this work, GM has partnered with WestRock as the preferred supplier for all consumer-facing packaging. WestRock prioritizes recycled content input in their sourcing, averaging 35% to 55% recycled content in corrugated boxes and 100% recycled content in coated boards. Any virgin material used in our packaging produced by WestRock going forward will be certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).

As of year-end 2020, approximately 7,000 parts for GM Customer Care & Aftersales (CCA) were packaged in WestRock’s sustainable consumer-facing packaging. This scope and volume is expected to expand rapidly. In 2021, use of sustainable packaging from WestRock will increase in GM North America CCA facilities and Tier I supplier facilities, and will launch for the first time in Korea and Brazil. In addition to embedding sustainable materials in the packaging, WestRock has partnered with the Sustainable Workplaces team on a recycling project to create new packaging out of used cardboard from GM sites.

Another recent packaging success story has been around the ventilators, masks and face shields that GM produced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The boxes used for these products, provided by supplier Menasha, contain 33% to 95% recycled content, with remaining materials coming from SFI-certified sources.

Sustainable Natural Rubber

The tire industry consumes around 70% of the world’s natural rubber, and demand is increasing. Most of the world’s rubber today comes from Southeast Asia. As demand grows, so too does pressure to convert ecologically valuable and sensitive tropical forests into more rubber plantations which, in turn, puts pressures on local communities that could threaten their fundamental human rights.

Recognizing the importance of taking action to limit the social and environmental impacts from natural rubber production, General Motors became the first automaker to commit to sustainable natural rubber in 2017, and in 2018 became a founding member of the Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR).

GPSNR is a multistakeholder initiative whose goal is to transition the natural rubber supply chain to a more sustainable model. The initiative now has more than 100 members, including OEMs; tire manufacturers; rubber producers, processors and traders; NGOs; and smallholder farmers. One of the group’s most significant accomplishments in 2020 was the creation of a members' sustainability policy framework. All members will be expected to adhere to this framework, which covers economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainability and will help protect ecological health, local livelihoods and fundamental human rights. The policy will be released publicly within the next year and will be one of the most sweeping sets of commitments aimed at increasing the sustainability of a commodity.