Combating global warming and air pollution is about more than electric cars, as General Motors has made clear in its annual sustainability report issued at the end of June.

GM CEO Mary Barra has repeatedly proclaimed the company’s goal of “zero accidents, zero emissions, and zero congestion.”

To that end, late last year, the company announced that it will double its investment in electric cars and self-driving technology. But it won’t stop there.

According to its annual sustainability report for 2018, the company also plans to improve the energy efficiency of its operations—the total amount of energy it uses per car it produces—by 20 percent between 2010 and 2020. The report notes that the company has already cut 3 percent of its emissions since 2010 and cut energy use by another 520 gigawatts in 2018, but its efficiency dropped by 3.7 percent because of cuts in its automotive output.

The company was already scheduled to develop 20 new electric and fuel-cell vehicles by 2023 and is working on its third-generation battery-electric vehicle architecture, off which it plans to build a Cadillac SUV sometime after 2022. In the report, GM reiterated that Cadillac will become its new lead brand for selling electric vehicles, as it attempts to compete with Tesla in building more luxurious and profitable EVs.

GM has also announced that it is working on a derivation of the Bolt EV (based on the company's second-generation EV platform), which is expected to be a larger electric crossover vehicle, perhaps called the Bolt EUV. And it plans to build an electric pickup truck, possibly a GMC.

“For years, we have said that the auto industry is experiencing more change today than in the past 50 years. That pace of change is only accelerating,” said General Motors chairman and CEO Mary Barra, in releasing the report. “I believe the only thing that can stop us is not acting quickly enough."

Michelin Uptis prototype tire, on Chevrolet Bolt EV

Michelin Uptis prototype tire, on Chevrolet Bolt EV

The most interesting tidbit was the company’s announcement that in March it signed onto an initiative by the tire industry to launch the Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber. The organization aims to develop standards that will protect human rights in tire manufacturing, increase transparency and traceability of tires, and protect biodiversity and water in rubber manufacturing.

Rubber, which makes up about 5 percent of the residue of cars that are recycled, is a leading contributor to deforestation and biodiversity loss, and employs 5 million people in Southeast Asia.

In 2018, GM included tire manufacturers in its Green Supply Chain project, and certified two tire makers in China, Maxxis and Giti, to provide sustainable tire production. The annual report notes that training, energy conservation and water reduction projects there have resulted in savings of 30 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, 17,000 tons of coal consumption and a resulting 36,000 tons of CO2 savings.

Other global savings

Across the company GM says it plans to increase the portion of renewable power to 125 megawatts, a goal it reached in 2016, a target it has now more than tripled. The company says it is now working to reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. Along the way it cut its absolute carbon output by 31 percent (relative to 2010) by 2017. The company says it remains committed to the goals of the Paris Climate Accords to limit total global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius by 2100.

Other goals over the same timeframe for the company’s manufacturing operations include reducing water use by 15 percent (per vehicle; a goal it again missed because of production cuts), reduce waste by 40 percent (in which it again made early progress but is trending upward); reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds (for which hit is ahead of schedule);  and increase the number of facilities it owns which generate zero landfill waste. Currently the company is at 137 (up from 142 last year) against its target of 150.

In a company the size of GM—and that encompasses most global automakers today—the numbers add up quickly. Cranking out cars by the millions is an energy and resource intensive endeavor. Even modest efforts at savings can have an outsized impact.