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Robinson holds up a piece of oil-soaked boom from the BP spill, material being used in air deflectors in some GM cars.

Sustainability encouraged

CEO Forum panel gives success stories to business leaders

Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Mike Robinson, GM’s VP of sustainability and global regulatory affairs, was keynote speaker at the 19th annual CEO Forum.

When it comes to caring for the environment, slick slogans aren’t enough, a business leader from Kansas says.

Some companies may try to highlight their sustainability efforts by creating a marketing plan, Dave Mathis told more than 100 people Thursday at the 19th annual CEO Forum at the University of Saint Francis.

“But it goes much deeper than that,” said the executive vice president with honey producer Golden Heritage Foods of Hillsboro, Kan. “It’s about driving out costs. … That makes us all more efficient.”

The event’s theme was “The Future of Sustainability: Impact on Efficiency, Innovation and Profit.”

Mike Robinson, General Motors Co.’s vice president of sustainability and global regulatory affairs, gave the keynote address. He beamed over the automaker saving $2.5 billion in the last five years through energy efficiency and recycling methods but said such efforts start on the factory floor.

The success is a result of GM’s employees buying into the importance of sustainability, which he called “a long-term point of view.”

“And not (just) about goods, but about doing good,” Robinson said.

The Allen County truck assembly plant is an example. Although GM has about 80 landfill-free facilities worldwide, the local operation is the company’s only landfill-free assembly plant in the U.S. That means the plant, which builds Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks, doesn’t produce any waste that’s not recycled in some way.

Robinson also cited other examples like the Chevy Cruze, which uses recycled jeans as an insulator.

Looking into the future, an audience member asked the executive what to expect by way of fuel-efficient cars. There will likely continue to be several options, Robinson said.

“There is not a silver bullet,” he said, adding that electricity will undoubtedly continue to play a major role. And “gasoline is going to be around for a while.”

There are still ways to make the combustible engine more fuel efficient, Robinson said. And with the technology aboard vehicles today, there’s no reason why they “can’t talk to each other” using sensors to prevent accidents.

Other panelists participating at the forum were Paul Chodak III, president and chief operating officer for Indiana Michigan Power; Tom Huntington, president and CEO of WaterFurnance International Inc.; Tom Horter, co-founder, president and CEO of Alexin LLC; and David Steiner, partner and environmental attorney at Barrett & McNagny.