Nowadays in the car industry, if you're not "going green" in some way, you're not doing your part to minimize human impact on the world. Some, like Subaru, are taking "going green" to an extreme level and have not only implemented eco-friendly tech in their vehicles, but have also converted their production facilities into modern minimum-waste locations. Subaru of Indiana Automotive Inc., located in Lafayette, Indiana, is the automaker's pride and joy when it comes to its green North American production plants. And I got the full inside tour.
Rs and 0s
SIA is a zero-landfill plant, and according to executives, it was the first of its kind in the car industry. Since May 4, 2004, SIA has sent none of its waste to local landfills. That's right -- zero, nil, nada, nothing. SIA recycles 99.6 percent of its waste, and incinerates the remaining 0.4 percent. Companies such as Frito-Lay and Raytheon tour its 832-acre campus to better understand the intricacies of zero landfill.
SIA transitioned from being moderately mindful of its environmental footprint to full zero landfill status in less than a year after becoming fully owned by Subaru parent company Fuji Heavy Industries. (Built in 1986, the plant was owned and operated jointly by Subaru and Isuzu. Toyota now fills some of Isuzu's void.)
So how does a 3.4-million-square-foot plant that produces 260,000 Legacies, Outbacks, and Tribecas, plus 95,000 Toyota Camrys every year recycle so much byproduct?
Here are some ways:
• Power in the People: It all begins with SIA's 3500 employees and their collective mentality of helping the environment. A spirit of kaizen, or the desire to become better, permeates the facility's ultra-filtered air. This isn't just some corporate mantra. Rather, it's an idea everyone subscribes to.
On a physical level, employees are urged to participate in daily group stretches led by an accredited trainer, and there is a health and wellness center on the premises. In SIA's eyes, a healthy company is made of healthy associates.
• Lean Lines: Every SIA associate is conscious of waste. The term encompasses unnecessary excess in all forms, such as waste in time, production, and efficiency, as well as manufacturing byproducts. Efficient and lean production lines help to produce vehicles quicker (a new Subaru rolls off the line every 1.5 to 1.7 seconds) with fewer build mistakes and worker injuries.
Automated robots bring pre-sorted parts bins to workers, ensuring a speedy installation. Above the floor is a ceiling lined with miles of conveyor belt moving individual parts to a specific areas.
Barrels and bins near each line make recycling easy. Employees are urged to participate in bettering their workplace and can earn a $500 bonus by suggesting a successfully implemented way of improving efficiency and reducing waste.
• Savvy Suppliers: Subaru's request of its suppliers was simple: Provide us with only the materials we need. Take, for example, the stamping stage of production. The huge steel reams used to create car doors are delivered in smaller dimensions better suited for the part's form. Subaru formerly bought untrimmed steel that resulted in heaps of extra metal. Less material for the supplier equals less excess material for Subaru to discard.
On the shipping front, executives asked domestic suppliers to transport parts in reusable blue plastic bins instead of cardboard boxes. Those unable to make the switch, such as many international firms, were asked to cut their box tops in half or completely off in order to reduce cardboard use. Styrofoam used to ship delicate engine and transmission pieces between Indiana and Japan is now reused up to 15 times before it is refurbished. Nearly 85% of all SIA Styrofoam gets recycled in Japan; the same can be said of the little rubber caps found on the brand's Japanese-made transmissions.
Subaru prefers to buy American-made materials. And if it can be sourced from an American company closely situated to Lafayette, well, that makes the deal even sweeter. Nearby suppliers reduce road and rail congestion, not to mention shipping time and fuel usage. Plus, it's good for the local and national economies.