March 3, 2011

John and the Discovery Channel

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As I mentioned in the last post, The Discovery Channel is doing a series on the good citizens of the Motor City.  The People of Detroit project is being featured as part of that series. As a consequence, I've had the opportunity to photograph some of the other people featured in the series… all while the Discovery Channel films me.

It's all very meta.

So, any series about Motown and its people would be remiss without featuring some of the people who work in the industry that gave birth to the city. An aversion to being remiss led the Discovery Channel crew up I-75 to the General Motors' Weld Tool Center(1) in Grand Blanc - a small town about 1 hour outside of GM headquarters in downtown Detroit.

That's were I had the opportunity to meet John.

John is a long-time GM employee. John's father is/was also a long time employee. I say "is/was" because I'm not sure if he is still with GM. I had the pleasure to meet John's father, and even in his 70s he seemed more than capable of  being actively employed.

John is working on a project focused on making the GM production process more environmentally friendly.

From what I could gather in the 20 minutes I had to arrive at the facility, meet John, scout a location, set up lights, and make a couple of frames before the Discovery Channel crew and myself had to exit the facility before the evening shift brought the giant, car-building robots in the background of this photo back online (it was hectic, high pressure and high stakes - a combination of conditions that I strangely enjoy), the production process is made more green by recycling production materials that would otherwise be sent to landfills.

Seems noble enough. Which is noteworthy. I imagine there are few corporate charters that mandate nobility. Rather, I imagine that in the aftermath of the Wall Street and auto industry bailouts, many Americans conceive of the corporation as a wholly self-serving entity.

I asked John if a corporation can reconcile its profit motive with the desire to serve the greater good.

He explained that corporations have to.  Being an environmentally responsible corporate citizen is integral to a healthy bottom-line, he said.

Which makes sense. I imagine it is exponentially more difficult to sell cars to people with mutant club feet…

He added that sustainable business practices not only benefit the greater good, they also make financial sense. He explained that the recycling program he works on makes the production process more efficient and therefore more profitable.

John may be onto something.

I've heard economists argue that the only way that not only corporations but individuals will embrace sustainable practices is when embracing those practices feeds their pocketbook as much as it does their sense of nobility. That explains why sales of fuel efficient small cars spike along with gas prices.

So, if people are motivated by profit, and people like John are working to make being green profitable, there may yet be hope for humanity... and Detroit.
1. A Weld Tool is one of those giant mechanical robot arms that, well, welds. They are pictured here behind John. 

*Mac users: The default color space for the internet is sRBG. That is not the default color space for Macs for some inexplicable reason. To view the photos on my stream (and on the internet in general) with their proper colors, please go to System Preferences => Displays => Color => sRBG.

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