Focus on Culture, Collaboration and Creativity to Drive Corporate Sustainability

GM's environmental manager shares her role in GM’s sustainability journey
Jun 8, 2017 1:30 PM ET

For Bridget Burnell, GM’s manager of environmental sustainability initiatives, sustainability is more than just her job – it’s personal.

She spent much of her childhood on her grandfather’s 60-acre tree farm, going for walks around the property as her “Grandad” called out to birds and pointed out animal tracks. He passed down a love and respect for the environment that Burnell channels in her job today.

Burnell leads the teams pursuing GM’s renewable energy, waste reduction, water conservation, habitat preservation and other environmental commitments.

She uses her education in environmental science and policy, and background in manufacturing and sustainability leadership, to align the priorities of each team toward a common purpose that drives business value at GM.

“There is a global conscientiousness that is growing and younger generations are making it clear that ‘business as usual’ is unacceptable,” said Burnell. “I see creativity and innovation driving the future of sustainability.” 

Early in her career at GM, a centralized environmental organization was formed to leverage the expertise across the company to achieve environmental goals. After an internship at a GM foundry, Burnell started full-time at GM in a relatively new environmental group, giving her the opportunity to learn, educate others and create positive change.

“The vision and leadership of this team, along with the excitement of being part of GM’s environmental movement, has empowered me to drive change throughout the company,” she said. “There is a culture shift occurring in our company. Our CEO Mary Barra recognizes the business value and societal needs in pursuing sustainable business practices. For GM to thrive, our communities must thrive.”

Employees from across GM are developing ideas to support the company’s sustainability mission and new talent is joining GM because they want to work for a company that is doing good. Getting everyone involved drives the future of sustainability.

“I encourage all our team members to keep an open mind and consider things not always as they are, but as they could be,” she said. “Creativity and collaboration are key to drive this culture change, which will deliver value back to our customers.”

“We can leverage the scale of our company to make a real difference in the environment,” she said. “I want our great-grandchildren to one day be able to walk safely through the woods with their grandparents breathing fresh, clean air; peering into a clean river to see fish and frogs thriving; listening to the wind in the trees; and calling to the birds.”