Automakers Using Greener Plants

HUDSON: The week between Christmas and new year`s has become a big week for auto sales. It could be a strong finish to what has been a steadily improving auto sector all year. As we continue our partnership with Planet Forward, the George Washington University social media project, Frank Sesno tonight explains how auto makers are using new, greener buildings and production techniques.

FRANK SESNO, PLANET FORWARD:  If cars are polluters, than car plants are even worse, right?   Not so much anymore as car makers go green. Planet Forward GW students Sara Snyder and Bridget Lynn got a close-up view of the new VW plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  It`s the first LEED platinum auto plant in the world. LEED is a rating system for sustainable building. The students uploaded their work to Planet Forward and here`s one innovation they found.

VOICE OF BRIDGET LYNN, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIV. STUDENT:  VW now has a four-coat paint process. They eliminated the primer coat to save energy and paint.

SESNO:   Another way VW saves energy and money —

LYNN:  The Chattanooga plant loads 550 to 600 cars out of the facility daily.  Eighty five percent of the cars use rail instead of trucks, which cuts down on environmental costs.  On average, trains are four times more fuel efficient than trucks.

SESNO:   Volkswagen isn`t alone in building environmentally friendly auto plants. At a Subaru facility in Indiana, nothing goes into a landfill.  Everything gets recycled. General Motors (NYSE:GM) opened its gold leed certified plant in 2006.  And Toyota (NYSE:TM), Honda and BMW all opened LEED-certified plants in recent years. Why all this green activity?  It helps with the bottom line since efficiency equals savings and going green has become synonymous with corporate responsibility and good marketing.

HUDSON: Franks Sesno now joins us from our Washington, DC bureau.

Frank, kind of an interesting plant there for Volkswagen and pick it up right where you left it.  Is it as much about marketing as it is about the money?

SESNO: There`s a lot about marketing. There`s just no question about that. But Volkswagen is very anxious to present itself as green, as innovating as the first platinum leed certified plant in the world, auto plant.  But there is also the money issue and they say this can save a lot of money.

HUDSON:   How much?  What is the bottom line on investment? How long does it take to get that return?

SESNO:  If you do the math based on what platinum leed certified – they`ve done all these things.  It`s very energy efficient and all the rest, it`s supposed to safe around $60 a square foot over 20 years based on a nearly two million square foot plant, which is the Chattanooga plan. This plant, this leed certification could save them as much as $100 million over that period of time. That`s substantial savings and more than pays for the investment.

HUDSON:   Pull out beyond auto making here.  Have we seen these types of practices begin to really be incorporated in the DNA of business models?

SESNO:  Tom, I think that`s what`s really changing here. I have spent a lot of time looking at this stuff and whether it`s the auto industry, big companies like Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), companies like FedEx (NYSE:FDX), all of them are incorporating green technologies and practice into their business, because it goes to the bottom line, because it also goes to the marketing line and because the public itself is becoming more accustomed to wanting to know what they`re doing on this front. I think things are changing for the good and for the long term.

HUDSON:   Frank, we`ll leave it there. Frank Sesno tonight, he`s with the Planet Forward project.

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