Sustainable by Design: GM’s Global Design Center Turns Waste into Works of Art

Jun 26, 2018 2:30 PM ET

Sustainable by Design: GM’s Global Design Center Turns Waste Into Works of Art

At General Motors, we see waste as simply a resource out of place, and we strive to keep materials in use for as long as possible.

That’s true at our industry-leading 142 landfill-free sites around the world, and it is a driving force behind our goal to become a zero-waste manufacturer.

It’s also a good source of inspiration at our Global Design Center in Warren, Michigan, where more than 100 clay vehicle models are built each year.

When building and stripping clay vehicle models, the extended design team carefully collects and cleans the clay removed in the process. In one hour, six team members can completely strip one midsize vehicle model of salvageable clay, preventing potentially harmful chemicals and gases from reaching landfills.

Using metal detecting wands, the team meticulously cleans the recovered clay of any metal pins and processes the material in a pug mill recycling machine. In 2017 alone, the team recycled more than 13 thousand pounds of clay.

“Clay recycling is not only good for the environment, it’s great for bottom line as well,” said Sam Vitale, director, Creative Digital & Clay Sculpting. “We’ve saved the company nearly $1 million in just three years by reusing instead of purchasing new clay.”

When material doesn’t have a clear reuse, the design team draws on its collective creativity. As part of Earth Day, this year Design Center artists chose to repurpose waste materials into artwork for a design competition.

For months, unwanted and discarded items were collected at General Motors’ Global Technical Center campus, where the Design Center is located. Materials such as leather, wood, high-density foam, metal, frames, plumbing parts, mesh, caster, chain, supplier samples and more were offered to the artists on a first-come, first-grab basis.

“Project Greenway,” as it came to be known, was one of the most engaging art competitions in the Design Center Gallery’s installments.

From sculptures of robots to earrings, purses and paintings, found items were given a second chance.

“Viewing the ‘Project Greenway’ art in the Design Center Gallery was inspirational — it was impressive to see how unwanted items were turned into unique pieces of art,” said Dane Parker, vice president, Sustainable Workplaces. “These types of projects highlight the amazing creativity, capability and commitment of our GM team members.”

To further benefit our communities, proceeds from the sale of the one-of-a-kind works of art were donated to each artist’s charity of choice.

Other examples of the circular economy at work at General Motors include:

  • Plastic caps and shipping aids from the Fort Wayne, Texas facility are mixed with other materials to make radiator shrouds for the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups built at the plant.
  • Test tires from our Proving Ground in Milford, Michigan are shredded and used to manufacture air and water baffles for a variety of vehicles.
  • Scrap aluminum shavings from machining our transmission casings are melted down and used to create more casings.
  • Coats for the homeless were reinforced with insulation created from used water bottles as part of the “Do Your Part” project.
  • 2,000 of our shipping crates are home to plantings in 33 different urban gardens.