GM's rooftop solar array in Baltimore, Md., reflects its commitment to the environment.

General Motors has become the first automaker among 40 major U.S. companies to sign a “Climate Declaration” collectively asserting that responding to climate change is good business.

The campaign is organized by sustainable business advocacy group Ceres, a long-time critic of GM’s environmental positions over the years, and its Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy, or BICEP, coalition.

Signers of the declaration, such as GM, are calling for policymakers to address climate change by promoting clean energy, boosting efficiency and limiting carbon emissions.

“We want to be a change agent in the auto industry,” said Mike Robinson, GM vice president of Sustainability and Global Regulatory Affairs. “As our world faces issues like congestion and climate change, we are at the forefront in transforming the way we move, from building more efficient vehicles to partnering with car-sharing startup Relay Rides.”

In March, GM CEO Dan Akerson called on President Barack Obama to appoint a Blue Ribbon Commission to develop a 30-year policy framework for energy security.

Polls done Gallup and Yale University polls indicate a majority of Americans believe climate change is happening and that corporations need address the issue.

By signing the declaration, GM joins Volkswagen AG in the effort to reach out of environmental organizations in a bid to bolster their “green.”

Companies as different in outlook and management style as Nissan and GM have sunk a sizable fortune into vehicle electrification as part of as-yet unsuccessful bids to win the environmental crown from Toyota, which has been praised by environmentalists for its commitment to hybrids. Toyota’s leadership is viewed as valuable winning over fickle younger buyers, who haven’t really committed to any automotive brand.

Volkswagen Group has unveiled a broad effort to reduce the fuel consumption of its new vehicle fleet to a greater extent than had previously been intended.

Martin Winterkorn, chairman of the VW management board, also publicized he recent meeting with Greenpeace Chief Executive Brigitte Behrens. The meeting with the ultra-militant environmental group focused on a discussion of the Volkswagen Group’s climate protection efforts. Winterkorn emphasized the company would reach the emission target set by EU legislation of an average of 95 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) per kilometer by 2020.

“I guarantee that we will do everything in our power to reach carbon dioxide emissions of 95 grams without any reservations. However, this will only be possible if customers accept our advanced alternative powertrains. This is of course our objective,” Winterkorn said.

The Greenpeace-VW summit was preceded by nearly two years of preliminary discussions.

(Click Here to see the Top 10 Green Cars in the U.S.)

“Volkswagen and Greenpeace have been engaging in a constructive and in some cases also confrontational dialog concerning the reduction of the CO2 emissions of the entire Volkswagen fleet to an average of 95 grams by 2020. In connection with this calculation, criticisms have been raised, especially as regards “supercredits”, which allow manufacturers to count electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles as low-emission vehicles several times over. Independently from each other, Volkswagen and Greenpeace are convinced that the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions in road traffic is a key factor in climate protection,” VW said in a statement after the meeting.

Worldwide, GM is dedicated to energy efficiency and is working toward a goal of reducing energy intensity from its facilities 20% by 2020. GM has 54 facilities that meet the voluntary Energy Star Challenge for Industry, which requires facilities to reduce energy intensity by 10% within five years. The GM facilities cut energy intensity by an average of 26% within just two to three years, saving the company $90 million in energy costs.

(Hybrid and Battery vehicle sales gaining steam. Click Here to read about it.)

It also is the leading automotive user of solar power in the United States and hosts two of the five largest rooftop solar arrays in the world. GM’s goal is to promote the use of 125 megawatts of renewable energy by 2020.

Beyond building more fuel-efficient vehicles, GM is investing up to $40 million in the Chevrolet Carbon Reduction Initiative, in which Chevy helps financially in community-based carbon-reduction projects throughout the United States with a goal of reducing up to 8 million metric tons of CO2 emissions.

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