BMW drives real progress on sustainability

BMW is aiming to prove that it is possible to be both an automotive AND a corporate sustainability leader.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

Some SmartPlanet readers would suggest there are certain industries that just CAN'T be considered green or sustainable, notably those in the business of promoting fossil fuels usage or that hail from the automotive sector. But from my standpoint, any real, meaningful action with intent to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions is worth attention.

It was in that spirit that I agreed to speak recently with Verena Schuler, who is automotive giant BMW's spokesperson on sustainability issues. There are some very real reasons for me to speak with BMW, versus any other automotive giant. For one thing, they are considered a "supersector leader" on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index.

BMW is also one of the corporate citizens that has focused a lot of resources on this week's United Nations climate change summit . Among other things, it has provided more than 30 cars for the official UN shuttle fleet that include hydrogen cars and "highly efficient" diesel vehicles. It also has aligned itself with the Hopenhagen movement, a group of businesses and concerned organizations that are pushing hard for legitimate action out of this week's conference.

To me, though, what's more notable is what BMW is attempting to pull off in the "real world" outside from Copenhagen. Two specific projects that I discussed with Schuler are worth some quick notes and links here.

There are two ways that you can look at sustainability from BMW's point of view. The first is to study what the company is doing to make its operations more responsible -- and when it started exercising those principles. In that vein, Schuler and I discussed the ongoing work at BMW's "Gas to Energy" program in Spartanburg, S.C. Since 2002, the company has been studying how to use methane from its landfill to create energy for the plant to operate. So far, about 14 percent of the power comes from the systems (saving the company an average of $5 million on electricity costs). New updates to the system, scheduled to go online soon, will help BMW cover more than 30 percent of its electricity needs and Schuler says the company is shooting for 60 percent coverage.

The second (and potentially more profound) project is an electric version of the company's Mini. Schuler says there are 600 so-called Mini Es on the road in New York, Los Angeles, Berlin and London and BMW is studying usage dynamics carefully before going broader with the field trial.

I'll be along for the ride as BMW continues to reveal the results of these and other sustainability efforts.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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