Subaru celebrates 10 years of zero landfill manufacturing

Subaru of Indiana (Subaru of America)
© SIA

Sure, everyone's doing it nowadays, but Subaru's been building cars in zero landfill plants for a decade, and now teaches other companies how to do it as well.

Subaru doesn't make electric cars, and it only has a single entry in the hybrid market, so it's a stretch to say that the company is a green car maker. However, thanks to its long-time sustainability initiatives, and its willingness to teach other companies how to clean up their operations, Subaru of America is a leader in green manufacturing, with 10 years of experience building its cars in zero landfill plants.

In the quest to build more sustainability into businesses, many companies are taking a long hard look at their waste streams these days, and the idea of a manufacturer going "zero landfill" at its plants isn't something that only applies to outliers and early adopters. But it wasn't very long ago that car makers and other large industrial manufacturers considered waste to be just another cost of doing business, and while it might be better overall to produce less waste, that wasn't enough to spend the time and money to design and implement plant-wide waste reduction initiatives.

Today, however, many big car companies are actively pursuing zero landfill policies at their plants, and along with a number of other businesses, are following the lead of Subaru, which was the first auto assembly plant in North America to throw the full weight of its organization behind the push to go zero landfill.

Since 2004, Subaru's plant in Lafayette, Indiana (Subaru of Indiana), has been turning out hundreds of thousands of cars each year with only a minimal amount of waste.

"In 2004, Subaru of Indiana became the first manufacturing facility in the United States to reach zero-landfill status and all Subaru vehicles are built in zero-landfill plants, where 100% of manufacturing waste is either recycled or turned into electricity. This means that since May 2004, Subaru's manufacturing plants have not sent any waste to landfills."

The way to zero landfill for Subaru hasn't been a simple one, as there is no single 'silver bullet' approach that got the company to where it is now, but is rather "1000 great ideas" put into place as part of the kaizen (continuous improvement) philosophy behind everything Subaru does. And most of those thousand great ideas aren't necessarily coming from the top down, but are instead generated by empowering its employees to come up with solutions, because listening to the people doing the job is another part of the company's philosophy.

One of the methods that Subaru uses to manage its waste is through meticulously tracking its waste, almost in real-time, with bar-coded containers that are tied to specific locations within the plant, which are weighed and tabulated to keep a running tab on the amount of waste coming from each assembly station. Certain items, such as the packaging for the engines that come from Subaru's other plant in Japan, are sent back to be reused multiple times, which ends up not only saving on material waste, but also saving millions of dollars as well. In fact, reuse is a big part of getting to zero landfill, and while the old style of thinking in manufacturing was to look at reusing little bits and pieces as not being worth the time when running a huge industrial plant, Subaru has made it an integral part of its operations.

While it would be great to think that Subaru's zero landfill policies (which define zero landfill as being the reuse or recycling of 98% of all potential waste) are just for the sake of the environment, the fact is that for any business, waste means money, and by radically reducing waste, it positively affects the company's bottom line as well. Subaru of Indiana estimates that while it may cost about $7.5 million each year to manage its zero landfill program, the company derives some $11.5 million in financial benefits, so it's clearly a win/win situation for the car maker.

Subaru of Indiana isn't satisfied with just keeping its own operations lean, clean, and green, but is also a leader in teaching other companies how to get to zero landfill in their businesses, with companies such as Whole Foods, Raytheon, and others taking advantage of Subaru's B2B zero landfill training (which it supplies at no charge!). If your business wants to learn more about zero landfill best practices from Subaru, one place to start is by reaching out to Denise Coogan, who is the plant's Manager of Safety and Environmental Compliance.

In addition to being a progressive auto assembly plant on the inside, Subaru of America is also quite responsible on the outside, as it's the only plant in the U.S. to be designated a Backyard Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. The facility's 800 acre plot is home to a variety of wildlife, including deer, bald eagles, beavers, blue heron, Canadian geese, coyotes, and more.

Tags: Zero Waste

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