BMW Embraces Environmental Sustainability with Vigor

"A sustainable society," said the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987, "is one that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." 

Since setting up shop in Greer, South Carolina, in 1992, BMW Manufacturing and BMW Group worldwide have sponsored a lively three-pronged approach to sustainability to include:

  • Environmental/ecological:  Minimizing the impact of conducting business on the surrounding region;
  • Social:  Giving back to the community; sponsoring education; supporting the arts.
  • Economic:  Making sure the company is efficient and can continue to grow. 

Each leg of their sustainability programs has far-reaching scope and many stories, but this focus is on their environmental segment. 

Probably BMW's best known environmental initiative is the methane gas-to-energy project with the Palmetto Landfill, which is located about 10 miles from the BMW Plant.  The trash in a landfill essentially ferments and gives off methane gas.  That gas has to be disposed of somehow because it is explosive.  Typically, until 2002, it was simply burned off with a flare.  But there still was a problem:  CO2 emissions.  The Environmental Protection Agency approached BMW and asked if they had ever considered capturing methane gas as a source of energy. 

In response, BMW partnered with two other companies, and as a result, there is a 9-1/2 mile long pipeline from the landfill to the BMW facility.  The methane gas is extracted, captured, cleaned, and compressed at the landfill.  It travels through the pipeline, and is again cleaned and compressed at the plant.  Once there, two very efficient turbine engines turn the gas into electricity - enough electricity, in fact, to power half the 4 million square foot facility.  This one initiative alone saves BMW $5 million a year, and bettered the environment, hitting two of their sustainable goals. 

It was the manufacture of the X3 in 2010 that required a new body shop, a 50% addition to the paint shop, and a new assembly hall, adding 1.2 million square feet to the facility.  The usual method of delivery to the line was fork lifts, more than likely run by lead-acid batteries.  The time to change out a battery is approximately 20 minutes; and then there is the lead-acid disposal to manage.  These batteries have now been replaced by hydrogen fuel cells which refill at the press of a button in three minutes, and only produce heat and water.

The latest addition to their sustainability efforts are courtesy of the sun.  The Zentrum Museum has what looks like modern sculpture out front, but these are actually solar panels that power the entire 24,000 square feet of the museum.  This is a pilot project, implying there may be more to come.  After all, there is still a lot of roof-top available at the plant. 

With their record of sustainability, it is no wonder that the BMW Group has been named the world's most sustainable automobile manufacturer for seven years' running by the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes, the only automobile manufacturer to do so. 

"We are a well-run company with great products and great people.  Our cars are selling well, even during the recession.  We will continue to invest in our company and in this community," said Steve Wilson, Corporate Communications Specialist at BMW Manufacturing.

BMW's Solar Panel program was featured in a recent "Go Green - Save Green" segment with Justin Cooper on WSPA-TV, 7 On Your Side.

Jean Calvert is a freelance writer as well as jazz and blues singer living in beautiful Greenville, South Carolina. She has written lifestyle articles for the Greenville Journal, covered regional artists for the Greenville News, written for print magazines, created web content and published articles in online magazines. Combining her music and writing skills, she has also crafted award-winning jingles and songs. If she's not writing, Jean is singing! Contact her at