BANGKOK – General Motors Thailand is setting new standards in environmental efficiency at its key powertrain manufacturing facility here in Rayong.

The auto maker has attained Thailand’s "landfill-free status," with an impressive 97% of waste now recycled or reused. The remaining 3% is converted to energy or incinerated.

The factory produces GM’s Duramax engine, which is fitted in a range of global vehicles including the Colorado pickup and Trailblazer SUV assembled locally.

While the engine plant becomes the 105th in GM’s worldwide manufacturing operations to stop contributing to landfill, it is, significantly, the first such factory in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

With environmental practices becoming as important in Thailand as elsewhere in the world, the move puts GM in the driver’s seat while also setting an industry example.

“Achieving LFF status was an initiative the team took on and worked to achieve,” David Clarkson, vice president-powertrain, General Motors Thailand and Southeast Asia, tells WardsAuto. “Going about it that way made it easier to achieve, but it took quite a bit of time and effort to train (people) and find the right outlets for all of our waste.”

Heading up the “Zero Landfill” initiative was the GM Environmental Services Group, the OEM’s environmental-technical operations.

Implementation involved a change in workers’ mindset. “At first, some employees didn't understand why they had to separate the plastic bags from plastic bottles, for example, and some just ignored the direction,” Clarkson says.

However, he is confident everyone finally is pulling together. “The powertrain workforce is now very supportive and motivated to contribute to the plant’s environmental initiatives,” he says.

“We were also lucky to have some employees with (a recycling) background from their previous job experiences, and they made getting everyone on board much easier.”

Clarkson is quick to point out that this is no cuddly media showpiece initiative. Recycling saves money. “We are saving the company real cost by recycling our waste,” he says.

The Thai government sees the domestic automotive industry as continuing to play its primary role as a key growth driver and is anxious for the latest methodologies and technologies to be implemented, including recycling programs.

That means there has been support and interest in the GM Thailand initiative from the state side.

“The Department of Industrial Works and Industrial Estate Authority of Thailandare the two Thai government agencies that support and acknowledge our achievement,” Clarkson says.

Among the government-sponsored environmental standards that can be achieved are two projects called the 3Rs and Zero Landfill that many Thailand companies have applied for and received the awards.

“From a business perspective, eliminating waste and reducing environmental impacts saves the company cost, and at the same time GM is committed to minimizing the impact of all of our facilities to human health, natural resources and the environment through sustainable strategies,” he says.

Attaining Zero Landfill status makes GM Thailand a leader in the environmental-responsibility field. This is especially important as the heavily industrialized Rayong region is suffering the effects of growing pollution. As the country’s auto industry booms, reducing industry impact has become vital.

The 97% of waste that is recycled at GM Powertrain includes metal and wooden scrap, plastic bottles, cans, batteries and plastics. The remaining 3% comprises hazardous materials such as contaminated clothes, wastewater and fluorescent lamps.

“The GM Powertrain plant prides itself in being a good corporate citizen and strives to be a benchmark company in every aspect, especially the environment,” Clarkson says. “GM has a commitment and a strong tradition of environmental stewardship around the world; we are committed to doing the same in Rayong.”

All GM plants in Thailand now have a wide range of environmental issues measured and compared on a regular basis.

In global terms, GM has an ambitious strategy through 2020 that includes reducing energy, waste, water use, volatile-organic-compounds emissions (from paint processes) and carbon intensity, while also increasing the use of renewable energy and maintaining water quality.

GM is interacting with local communities to educate on environmental and energy issues as well, and that holds true for its Thai subsidiary.

“We utilize the environmental achievements to help promote activities the plant sponsors in the community, as well as plant-focused activities such as celebrating World Environment Day and creating new initiatives like creating a wildlife habitat area on the site,” Clarkson says.

Promoting the bigger environmental picture has had a trickle-down effect, he adds. “This has led our employees to have a focus on how our process impacts the environment, and employees are always looking for ways to reduce, reuse and recycle.”

GM Thailand now is starting to push for greater environmental efficiency from its massive supply chain. The U.S. parent will spend more than $2 billion this year on parts and services in ASEAN.

LOC, a Tier 2 supplier that manufacturers items such as sealants, tape and rubber, is the first supplier to cooperate with GM Thailand’s Landfill Free initiative, Clarkson says. “We are assisting them and guiding them on how to achieve LFFs.”