Most discussion of the environmental impact of cars is focused around miles per gallon. In other words, the impact of a given car upon the environment occurs after the point of purchase. Automobiles do indeed produce significant environmental side effects simply by being used (for example, burning gas). But what about the process of production itself? What is happening before someone buys the car?
I happen to have a Subaru. I bought the car because my wife could see out of it, and I also enjoyed driving her Subaru. At the time, a given car’s manufacturing process was not a factor at all. But it turns out that the Subaru of Indiana Automotive Plant has a very impressive sustainability story to tell.
The most publicly notable achievement is its zero landfill status—that is, recycling just about everything they use. They are very proud of this. Zero landfill means that since May, 2006, the plant has sent nothing to the landfill. Put another way, I have sent more to the landfill with my weekly trash bag than the plant has.
However, there have been some other concrete results as well. For example, they saved over 100 pounds of steel per assembled car simply by reducing excess material in parts. They also implemented a “reverse logistics” system to send excess packaging back to Japan (Subaru is a Japanese company) to be reused. Suppliers take back other surplus packaging for re-use as well. Another hidden example is the primer under the paint. Before, they used to throw the excess away; now, they scrape off the excess, dump it into a bucket, and re-use it.
A couple of other non-typical aspects to the Subaru environmental story come to mind. The Indiana plant sits among 800 acres—many of which are actually part of a Backyard Wildlife Habitat (a program of the National Wildlife Federation). Also, Subaru sells a good number of PZEV—lower emission models throughout the United States, not just California.
All this raises the question of just precisely how does one measure how environmentally friendly a car is? What if the answer goes beyond miles per gallon?
See more here: