The Chevy Volt: Driving Towards a Healthier Planet

I absolutely love to drive. Whether cruising along highways, adventuring down a road less traveled or “dropping the hammer” on a closed course, there’s something about driving cars that puts my whole body and mind in a good place (except when I’m bogged down in traffic!).

So I noted with interest when Chevrolet — one of four remaining brands with General Motors (GM) and the mastermind behind iconic cars such as the Camaro and Corvette — announced a new initiative to invest $40 million in clean energy projects in an effort to reduce eight million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next few years. This may be a drop in the bucket for a company that sold over two million cars in 2010, but it’s encouraging to see a company that has experienced incredible tumult in past years (from bankruptcy to government control to a record-breaking IPO) align its business and environmental strategies in this way.

According to the most recent data provided by the EPA, overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across U.S. economic sectors have increased by 14% since 1990, reaching a total of 6,956 million metric tons in 2008. The transportation industry has been a big part of that number, responsible for 1,886 million metric tons of GHG emissions and second only to the electric power industry. Needless to say, it’s important for leading automakers like GM to make these strides for the planet.

There are some positive signs. The EPA also reported a 2.9% decrease in GHG emissions from 2007 to 2008, which was closely associated to a decrease in demand for transportation fuels. Electric vehicles like GM’s Volt, the Nissan Leaf and the fully-electric Toyota Prius can contribute significantly to this emerging trend.

Given my line of work and my passion for cars, I was excited to have the opportunity to test drive the new Chevy Volt with some of my colleagues at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Greenbiz.com recently reported that The Volt was recognized as Motor Trend’s 2011 Car of the Year and one of Car and Driver’s 10 Best Cars for 2011.

Challenges for electric vehicles (EV) remain. A J.D. Power and Associates report isn’t so optimistic on EV’s. The report cites mixed consumer attitudes, the lack of  tax incentives and higher fuel economy standards as factors that could  prevent these cars from becoming mainstream. But with all of the accolades the Volt has received, along with the noted interest from both car enthusiasts and environmentalists, the potential is there. We need to figure out how to overcome concerns like range anxiety and the infrastructure to help the rubber hit the road.

So even with companies like GM taking steps toward the goal of global carbon reduction through initiatives such as the Volt and GM's $40 million clean energy commitment, a great deal of work is yet to be done. We are excited to see companies push the boundaries of innovation, and we look forward to what is still to come.

If you want to learn how to get your company started on environmental initiatives, visit us at EDFbusiness.org.