Environment Picture

GM breaks new ground with LEED certification

The automotive industry is a regular whipping boy for environmentalists in a lather over fuel economy standards and the beyond-petroleum “vision thing.”

So what was a contingent from Michigan Environmental Council doing in clean room suits and safety glasses ogling General Motors’ new Delta Township plant outside Lansing in May?

The answer: Admiring the company’s LEED-Gold certified manufacturing facility that is the only one of its kind in the world.

Incorporating state-of-the-art energy-saving processes, water-conserving technology and environmentally sound recycling and waste reduction measures, the GM plant is one of fewer than 200 LEED-Gold certified buildings in the world. And it is the only automotive manufacturing facility on the planet to receive the LEED (Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program) certification.

The 3.1 million-square-foot plant employs close to 3,000 people and manufactures vehicles that include the Saturn Outlook, GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave.

It incorporates innovate materials recovery systems and a host of money saving, environmentally friendly practices. Lighting, for example, is automatically dimmed or extinguished when workers are not present, said Keith Wilson, regional environmental manager for GM’s mid-Michigan area.

“It’s break time,” he said during the recent visit, gesturing to a dimly lit area of the assembly line. “So the lights are off until the team members return.”

Environmental highlights of the plant include:
  • Energy efficiency is designed into most systems, resulting in energy costs that are 45% lower than industry standards, with a projected savings of $1 million per year.
  • Bright task lighting and lower overhead lighting levels reduced lighting energy used in the plant by 20%, or 3 million kwh annually.
  • The 1.5 million square foot roof is made of a special white polymer that reduces heat absorption, resulting in reduced costs to cool the building.
  • No ozone-depleting substances (CFCs, HCFCs or halons) are used in any of the building’s heating and cooling, refrigeration and fire suppression systems.
  • Of the construction materials used for the plant, more than 25% were composed of recycled content.
  • More than 60% of all materials used in the construction of the building were sourced through manufacturers located within 500 miles, supporting the local economy and reducing transportation energy costs.
  • Of the waste generated during construction, 80%, or 3,963 tons, was diverted from landfills.
  • Non-manufacturing water use has been reduced by 45%, for a savings of over 4.1 million gallons of water annually.
  • Rainwater is collected from the roof by a cutting-edge roof drain system. It is then stored in cisterns above rest rooms and is used instead of potable water to flush toilets.
  • Waterless urinals that use a filter-based technology save over one million gallons of water annually.
  • Half of the site was left undeveloped; 75 acres have been set aside to preserve and enhance existing plant and wildlife habitat, and are used by various local organizations as a venue for environmental education. This area received both Corporate Wildlife Habitat and Corporate Lands for Learning Certification from the Wildlife Habitat Council in 2006. Also in 2006, the site was named the Wildlife Habitat Council’s “Rookie of the Year” for being the best newly certified site.
  • Stormwater at the site is managed through an innovative system that uses unpaved ditches and culverts. This system allows much of the water to be naturally absorbed into the soil and groundwater in the area and filters out solids before water leaves the site.
  • All landscaping added to the site consists of either native species or specially adapted drought-resistant plants to eliminate the need for an irrigation system.
-Hugh McDiarmid, Jr., Michigan Environmental Council
RELATED TOPICS: clean energy, energy efficiency
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