General Motors, an automotive company that sells hundreds of thousands of giant gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs every year, says it will be carbon neutral by 2040.
The company says it will achieve this goal by “removing emissions from all our products, including every vehicle we produce, and all of our global operations in the next twenty years.” And when removing those emissions aren’t possible, GM says it will purchase carbon credits to offset the pollution for which it is responsible. Notably, though, GM wouldn’t commit to ending its sale of gas-powered vehicles within its targeted time frame.
The announcement comes a day after President Joe Biden signed a series of executive orders aimed at combating climate change. The new administration has provided an opportunity to GM to fully embrace the electrification of its vehicle lineup, as well as shrug off its past support of Donald Trump’s effort to allow vehicles to pollute more.
The company recently committed to spending $27 billion on electric and autonomous vehicles through 2025 — up from the $20 billion it announced before the COVID-19 pandemic. GM has also said it will launch 30 new electric vehicles around the world during that time period, more than two-thirds of which will be available in North America.
GM is the largest automaker in North America. As such, its effort to eliminate carbon emissions from its manufacturing operations, supply chain, and from the tailpipes of all its vehicles is sure to be a massive effort, and not one where victory is assured.
By 2030, GM says it will use “100 percent renewable energy” to power its US plants and facilities — and for global facilities by 2035. These are often referred to as Scope 1 and 2 emissions. Scope 3 emissions come from a company’s end-of-use products and supply chain, and are arguably much harder to eliminate. But GM says it aims to achieve the eradication of Scope 3 emissions, which make up 75 percent of the company’s total carbon output, by 2040.
But the company is also giving itself some wiggle room. In a LinkedIn post, GM CEO Mary Barra describes the goal of eliminating tailpipe emissions from its new light-duty vehicles by 2035 as “an aspiration” rather than a certainty. And during a conference call with reporters, when asked whether the company planned to stop selling gas-powered vehicles by 2035, GM’s chief sustainability officer Dane Parker indicated that it wasn’t totally up to GM to make that decision.
“What we really need is the efforts of all these groups we’ve mentioned combined,” Parker said, citing partnerships with environmental groups and governments to build the infrastructure to support electric vehicle charging, for example, as well as all of the companies in GM’s vast supply chain. “And so in some ways, this is a great example of ‘it takes a village.’”
A likely scenario, for example, is that GM continues to roll out new electric vehicles while also selling gas-powered models and using the purchase of carbon credits, as it has said it will do, to offset the CO2 created by those vehicles.
Purchasing offsets have become a standard way for car companies and other businesses to write off their carbon emissions, by investing in renewable energy or conservation projects aimed at bolstering forests’ ability to naturally store carbon. But there’s growing evidence that offsets haven’t succeeded in slowing global warming, and have instead given companies a license to keep polluting.
GM is the latest company in the transportation sector to commit to carbon neutrality. Volvo said it would reduce its carbon footprint by 2025. United, Delta, and JetBlue said they would eliminate all of their emissions over the next several decades. And Uber and Lyft have both pledged to go carbon neutral within a similar timeframe as GM.