The General Motors Renaissance Center – the six-tower office complex that dominates Detroit’s skyline and has its own ZIP code – now recycles, reuses or converts all its daily waste to energy, diverting 5 million pounds of trash annually from landfill. That is the equivalent of 200,000 full garbage bags.
The drive to make the Renaissance Center, home of GM’s Global Headquarters, landfill-free took more than two years. The process included coordination with GM employees, recycling partners, business tenants and their employees, the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center and property management company, CBRE.
“This is a significant achievement considering all the waste from workers, shoppers, diners and hotel guests — ranging from half-eaten hamburgers to used mattresses — that will not end up in a landfill,” said Mike Robinson, GM vice president of Sustainability and Global Regulatory Affairs. “By working together, we reduce our footprint while helping build a greener economy and a greener Detroit.”
The Renaissance Center is the most complex among GM’s 110 landfill-free sites to reach the milestone. It’s the company’s only facility open to the public. Covering 5.5 million square feet, the building houses the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center, 11 other businesses, 20 restaurants and 27 retailers. It accommodates 12,000 office workers and 3,000 visitors daily. The Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center, is the tallest all-hotel skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere, and features the largest rooftop restaurant. It has been the tallest building in Michigan since it was built in 1977.
The first phase, designed by John Portman, consists of a five tower rosette rising from a common base. Four 39-story office towers surround the 73-story hotel rising from a square-shaped podium. Two additional 21-story office towers opened in 1981.
The journey toward landfill-free began with a dumpster dive, searching through trash to identify reuse and recycling opportunities. Combining that insight with the building’s historical waste data, GM teamed with all the business tenants, environmental staffs and CBRE to engage people in increasing paper, plastic, and battery recycling. Educating how and where to recycle, as well as making it convenient to do so, changed behavior.A number of partners make landfill-free possible. GM worked closely with Waste Management, an international leader in recycling, to coordinate its needs with partners around the region to meet the goal. Royal Oak Recycling bales and ships paper to mills across the country where it is turned into items like cereal boxes and tissue paper. A Detroit nonprofit receives all returnable bottles and cans as a donation for youth outreach programs. Waste Management’s Detroit Recycling Center recycles cardboard and plastic, and Veolia Environmental Services ensures batteries are properly recycled.
GM’s abundance of recyclable waste contributed to the economic growth of a new business called Hamtramck Recycling. The company sorts the Renaissance Center’s mixed packaging material and odd-shaped and bulky items. The company’s bulk shredder helps GM and other companies in Southeast Michigan manage their waste streams and increase recycling.
The Renaissance Center now recycles 49 percent of its total waste, an improvement of 127 percent since the drive to landfill-free began in 2011. The remaining waste, including food scraps and used containers, is converted to energy through a facility located a few blocks away; creating renewable energy that powers other Detroit businesses.
Even with auto industry leadership in landfill-free facilities, GM and its partners are continually seeking better ways to manage waste.
GM published a downloadable blueprint, “The Business Case for Zero Waste”, to help companies of all sizes and industries reduce waste and create efficiencies. For more information on the company’s environmental commitment, visit its sustainability report and environmental blog.