12/06/2012 01:31 pm ET Updated Feb 05, 2013

You Could Be Driving an Oil Spill

It would be a good thing, too -- and reduce both your gas bill and your pollution footprint. It turns out that one of the key parts in the GM Volt -- air-deflecting baffles that make the care more fuel efficient -- are made of a combination of recycled tires and recycled straw oil booms soaked with oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

I heard this story recently at the Right Stuff Awards given by the Blue-Green Alliance, where GM vice president for sustainability, Mike Robinson, was telling the story of how GM decided to prevent the air pollution which was resulting from burning the straw booms by finding use for them in its manufacturing process for the Volt. As a result, 227 miles of oil-soaked booms were turned into air baffles, and kept out of the air.

Recycling oil spills was not the only example Robinson gave of the new GM commitment to sustainability -- the company has more than 100 facilities with zero -- yes, zero -- landfill impact. everything that comes out of the factory is either reused or recycled.

And the Volt, in particular at the lease price GM was offering this fall -- $159/month -- is a huge saving on driving costs, particularly if you use your car mainly for urban commuting and errands.

GM also played a large part in brokering the agreement to improve auto performance by doubling fuel economy and halving carbon pollution by 2035 -- because, Robinson said, "we wanted to get beyond the argument about standards and focus on making better cars more sustainably."

In the end of the election debate about the auto rescue engineered by the Obama administration, the environmental benefits were largely drowned out -- but the reality is that, as Robinson said, "staring bankruptcy in the face helped shake us up and make us open to new ideas." Now it's up to the rest of us to create an economy and a culture that welcome more sustainable vehicles and a more innovative auto industry. (Detroit, incidentally, was the capital of green energy patents last year -- far outpacing Silicon Valley.)

A veteran leader in the environmental movement, Carl Pope is the former executive director and chairman of the Sierra Club. Mr. Pope is co-author -- along with Paul Rauber -- of Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress, which the New York Review of Books called "a splendidly fierce book."