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GM earmarks $40 million for community clean energy projects

Posting in Energy

Automaker says funded energy efficiency technology and renewable energy projects will offset the environmental impact of the estimated 1.9 million Chevrolet vehicles it hopes to sell in the next year.

General Motors is riding high on the accolades being garnered by the success of both the Chevrolet Cruz Eco and the Chevy Volt electric car. Now GM is setting its sights on how to address the very public impact of the emissions generated by the vehicles that it sells each year. At the same time, it hopes to boost its image across the heartland of America as a business that cares about the environment.

GM's Chevrolet division has pledged to put $40 million into clean energy and energy efficiency projects that are intended to help reduce roughly 8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. That happens to be the estimated impact of the 1.9 million vehicles that the automaker hopes to sell in the United States over the next year. "Chevrolet's investment is an extension of the environmental initiatives we've been undertaking for years because the solution to global environmental challenges goes beyond just vehicles. This is an opportunity to connect with Chevy customers through clean energy projects that directly impact them," said GM CEO Dan Akerson in the press release issued by the company.

Internally speaking, GM is definitely paying attention to the corporate sustainability mantra. It has cut carbon dioxide emissions related to its manufacturing operations by around 60 percent over the past 20 years. Water usage was reduced by 35 percent between 2005 and 2009. Approximately 95 percent of the waste GM produces is now recycled; and it actually boasts 75 landfill free facilities, about half of its global manufacturing footprint.

In a briefing to discuss the intended external investments -- which will unfold over the next several years -- GM executives said the company will look to third-party organizations including the Bonneville Environmental Foundation in Portland, Ore., to help define the projects that should get funding. The roughly 3,100 Chevy dealers across the nation will also have a say, because Chevy intends to support projects that are tied closely to loyal buying communities. Several other non-profits affiliated with Climate Neutral Business Network Advisors will advise Chevy about the investments. Those involved include Bob Sheppard, vice president of corporate programs at Clean Air-Cool Planet; Derik Broekhoff, vice president at Climate Action Reserve; Mark Kenber, deputy CEO at The Climate Group; Snehall Desai, Sustainability Marketer; Janet Peace, vice president at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change; and Eban Goodstein, director of the Center for Environmental Policy at Bard College.

Here are the sorts of projects that will receive consideration:

  • Energy efficient technology including smart energy sensors and solar panels for schools or other public facilities in need
  • Wind farm and solar projects that could both aid local communities through contributions to the grid AND help family farms add to their revenue sources
  • Efforts to capture methane produced at landfills, with an eye to converting it into clean energy
  • Forestry stewardship

"People are going to be able to see, feel and touch the investments that Chevy is making," says Pease.

Ah, there's the clincher. I would be willing to bet that Chevy branding will be prominent on these projects. Kind of like corporate sponsorships of sports arenas. I can see it now: "This solar array was made possible by a grant from Chevy."

Talk about smart branding.

Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure