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Organizational Change
GM's Renaissance Center Not Resting on Its Landfill-Free Laurels

General Motors’ Global Headquarters, a multi-office tower complex that the automaker announced in December had achieved zero-waste status, now composts food scraps from its various Renaissance Center restaurant kitchens for use in urban farming initiatives throughout the city.

Local composting startup Detroit Dirt collects coffee grounds and fruit and vegetable pieces and mixes them with herbivore manure, some of which ends up in a rooftop garden at the complex.

According to GM Global Manager of Waste Reduction John Bradburn, “landfill-free” isn’t a finish line. There are always ways — like composting — to improve a facility’s environmental impact.

The composting initiative started with 280-seat Italian restaurant Andiamo Riverfront, which has generated 12,000 pounds of food scraps since April — about the weight of an elephant. The initiative expanded in July to include Joe Muer Seafood, Presto Gourmet Deli, Coach Insignia, Coffee Beanery and Potbelly Sandwich Works. Restaurants in the building’s main food court are expected to join the movement in the fall. Approximately 51,000 tons is expected to be collected by year’s end.

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“Our tenants believed in our mission to make the Renaissance Center landfill-free and continue to support ongoing sustainability efforts,” said Claudia Killeen, GM manager of Renaissance Center development.

Now, when Andiamo chefs peel and chop onions, carrots and potatoes in the morning, they scrape the scraps into a special container that Detroit Dirt picks up.

“Our collection bin is on rollers, so our chefs can easily move it to our various prep stations,” said Brad Schmidt, executive chef at Andiamo. “You don’t realize how much waste you generate. We thought we’d fill one container a week, but we’ve been averaging two a day.”

GM collaborated with CBRE, the building’s property manager, to add 16 raised garden beds on the adjacent Beaubien parking garage rooftop. The beds — reused shipping crates from GM’s Orion Assembly plant — will be tended by building staff. The compost will help filter pollutants, absorb water and provide essential nutrients for healthy herbs and vegetables.

“Detroit Dirt has partnered with GM for the last couple of years on facility composting initiatives that feed projects like Cadillac Urban Gardens in southwest Detroit,” said Detroit Dirt founder Pashon Murray, who was recently named one of 13 women entrepreneurs to bet on by Newsweek. “Companies like GM are getting their hands dirty and demonstrating a sustainability mindset. These urban gardens contribute to Detroit’s renewal and help revitalize our neighborhoods.”

Leftover food waste from diners is converted to energy at a facility a few blocks away, creating renewable energy that powers other Detroit businesses.

The Renaissance Center remains the most complex of GM’s 111 landfill-free sites as it’s the only one open to the public. Covering 5.5 million square feet, the building houses the Western Hemisphere’s tallest all-hotel skyscraper, 11 other businesses, 20 restaurants and 27 retailers. It accommodates 12,000 office workers and 3,000 visitors daily.

Thanks to the efforts of numerous startups and incubators, as well as hometown heavy-hitters such as GM and the Detroit Lions, Detroit has become ground zero for sustainability innovations as it works its way back from economic collapse. In November, GM announced that Detroit Renewable Energy is turning solid municipal waste from the City into process steam that is being used to heat and cool portions of the automaker’s Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant. And earlier this month, the Lions jumped onboard as the first NFL team to join REPREVE’s #TurnItGreen program, which supports stadium-based recycling efforts and a consumer education campaign to encourage fans to recycle bottles during games.


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