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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — University of Tennessee researchers are working with Saturn Corporation suppliers to find cleaner ways to build cars.

Lori Kincaid of UT’s Center for Clean Products and Clean Technologies said small steps by individual suppliers could make a big difference in the 400-member Saturn supply chain.

“Automakers rely on extensive supply chains for parts and materials,” Kincaid said. “Primary suppliers get materials from a second tier of suppliers, who in turn buy from a third tier, and so on.

“Even small environmental gains at one company can be magnified greatly when applied over the entire supply chain.”

For example, the type of coating on parts from one supplier might force another supplier down the line to use a process that harms the environment and so on, Kincaid said.

Suggestions to suppliers might include use of different materials, better communication with other suppliers, sharing solutions to environmental problems, and updated business practices, she said.

Bill Miller, Saturn manager of environmental affairs, said the study will look at how these and other supplier actions could help the environment, cut costs and improve product quality.

“We hope to focus on the most cost-effective methods for reducing the overall environmental footprint associated with making cars,” Miller said.

“By working through the strong partnerships with our supplier community, we will be able to better incorporate environmental decision making into the Saturn automobile.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Design for the Environment Program is also a partner in the supply chain research.

Other projects from the Saturn-UT partnership established in 1987 include planting more than 400 trees on the 2,500-acre Saturn Corp. grounds; Saturn working with UT’s Center for Industrial Services to help train the state’s automotive industry; UT student internships at Saturn; and joint research.