GM’s Outreach Manager Believes Sustainability Stems from Collaboration
Over Mary Alice Kurtz’s 34-year career at General Motors, she has channeled her education and background in mechanical engineering and facility operations into a new passion: sustainability.
Mary Alice followed in her father’s footsteps by coming to GM, but it was her mother’s business network that led to her interview at the Argonaut building, where GM’s research teams were once housed.
“I’ve always had an interest in discovering how things work from my dad who worked as a designer and draftsman for Chevrolet for 37 years,” said Mary Alice. “Between shadowing him while he re-built and raced everything, I couldn’t help but be influenced and inspired. I was also heavily influenced by a long history of strong, independent women that runs deep in my family tree.”
It’s that drive that led her to accept an international assignment in Europe as a director of facility operations across seven countries in GM’s Opel Vauxhall division. Before that, Mary Alice oversaw energy and water conservation and national utility contract management. Mary Alice was also part of the team that developed the business case for bringing landfill gas to Orion Assembly as a source of renewable energy and has helped get hundreds of electric vehicle charging stations installed at multiple GM facilities and dealerships.
When she returned from Europe, Mary Alice was tapped to join a new team focused on sustainability – thanks in part to her background in conservation – and was tasked with formalizing the company’s outreach programs. Mary Alice coordinates the relationship with Earth Force and the GREEN program, developed the Green Dealer certification and is growing GM’s work with schools exponentially through a program with the National Wildlife Federation.
Backed by this experience, Mary Alice was accepted to Corporate Eco Forum’s Sustainability Leadership Development Challenge and participated in a trip to Cody, Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park. Together with eight other sustainability leaders, Mary Alice explored the connections and necessary synergies between wildlife, conservation, social development and sustainable business impact.
For Mary Alice, a theme emerged from the trip: learning to exist together. Researchers at Yellowstone have studied the migratory patterns of local wildlife, how the park structures to define and protect it and surrounding neighbors, and how each can work together to create positive impact. As a result, improvements were identified to better protect native animals, while also helping locals and tourists enjoy the park. The participants related this process to their own work: collaborating across departments to tear down “silos” and create collective progress.
When she’s not developing outreach programs, Mary Alice is outside interacting with nature – a hobby she developed as a child.
“My parents and grandparents instilled in us a deep respect and appreciation for nature and wildlife,” she said. “Weekends were spent on my grandparents’ farms, riding the tractor, running through the creek, picking strawberries or fishing. We had many adventures climbing the Sleeping Bear Dunes, swimming, and even driving across the country one summer in our Chevy station wagon to go to Disney Land and back.
“This combination with the outdoors and my relationship with GM since childhood just all came together to influence and impact what I’m doing now. These things don’t just land in your lap, you have to take initiative and accept opportunities when they’re offered, and succeed by bringing a passion to it.”
Mary Alice believes the success of the sustainability team is largely due to the personal passion for the environment each person brings to their job. From outreach to renewable energy to waste reduction and wildlife habitats, everyone on the team is driving progress.
“I think in many ways, GM leads in integrating sustainability into our daily operations. But we need to stay ahead by getting everyone involved…make sustainability a part of everyone’s job. When we understand how each of us can make an impact and establish a more collaborative way to live, work and play that protects the world and allows everyone to succeed, that’s when the world will become truly sustainable.”