Auto factories normally conjure up images of smoke stacks and waste pipes spewing filth indiscriminately into their hapless surroundings. Subaru on the other hand has achieved “Zero Landfill” status with its Subaru of Indiana Automotive, Inc. plant. In fact, the manufacturing site itself is a natural wildlife refuge and this from a facility that can produce up to 200,000 vehicles per year.
Not surprisingly, Subaru has bandied its achievements in environmental stewardship in its advertising. Subaru cheerfully makes bold statements on its own website:
“Here’s something to think about: next time you take out your trash at home for collection, you’re sending more trash to landfills than the entire Subaru manufacturing plant in Lafayette, Indiana (SIA) does in a year. The Subaru plant was the first auto assembly plant to achieve zero landfill status – nothing from its manufacturing efforts goes into a landfill. It’s all reused and recycled. Each year, SIA actively recycles 99.3% of excess/leftover steel, plastic, wood, paper, glass, and other materials. The remaining 0.7% is shipped to the city of Indianapolis and incinerated to help generate steam. In 2006, SIA recycled 11,411 tons of scrap steel, 1,537 tons of cardboard and paper, and 963 tons of wood. That’s equal to conserving 31,040 mature trees, 31,572 cubic yards of landfill space, 711,631 gallons of oil, and 10,759,000 gallons of water.”
Now passionate environmentalists might argue that recognizing Subaru’s efforts are akin to congratulating the tobacco industry were it to produce a less poisonous cigarette. After all, much of Subaru’s line up is composed of inefficient vehicles such as the Tribeca SUV. Furthermore, Subaru’s positioning within the marketplace with its standard AWD is an efficiency trade-off as the extra weight, cost and complexity of an AWD drivetrain will always be at odds with good fuel economy. And to make matters worse, while AWD does offer specific benefits, to tout it as a necessity, particularly for safety, is a consumer rip off right up there with high octane gas.
However, at Caledonia, we applaud Subaru’s efforts. We’ve been aware of Subaru’s commitment to environmental stewardship and we’ve been interested to follow the effect of its leadership in this area on the industry. To that end, Honda, Toyota and more recently Ford are making their own efforts towards Zero-Landfill manufacturing processes. SIA highlights the production process as well as the end product, particularly in a marketplace swooning over hybrids with dubious and conveniently overlooked cradle to grave costs.
But perhaps most importantly, major shifts in sustainable business practices require visible leadership. And it has to start somewhere. I remember the remarks made by Michael Besancon of Whole Foods at the LOHAS Forum in 2008. He recognized Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, as now the biggest seller of organic foods in the world. But rather than assail Wal-Mart, he celebrated the fact that organic foods are going mainstream. It has to start somewhere.