Automotive sector

How sustainable is the future of the automotive sector?

Historically, the auto industry has been quite wasteful. When we think of automotive waste, most of us imagine cars piled on top of each other in designated disposal sites and the resulting amount of tires. Although this problem needs immediate attention, car manufacturers seem to be responding well with innovative ideas and also integrating the circular economy into their vehicle design.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) explains that a survey has already been conducted among supply chain professionals, of whom more than 50% expect to see more emphasis on the circular economy in the next two years.

Designing sustainable vehicles to improve the use of materials

The WEF describes a circular economy as “an economic system that aims to eliminate waste throughout the value chain, including throughout manufacturing, production and use”. Ultimately, how materials are handled in all processes must be considered to ensure that products are designed and manufactured without ever resulting in materials being sent to landfills.

Although the automotive industry has been quite reliable when it comes to recycling parts and metals, there is still a lot of innovation to put in place and more resources to consider.

Create a circular tire economy

Previously, we looked at initiatives from companies like Continental and Hankook. These companies shared great examples of circular economy as they use materials more efficiently. Continental has worked on a new formulation for its tires in order to use natural materials without compromising on quality. Meanwhile, Hankook demonstrates a waste management procedure that takes care of the current abundance of rubber, resulting from the increasing number of cars on the road.

Continental is also working with a fiber specialist, Oriental Industries (Suzhou) Ltd (OTIZ), which is experimenting with the use of recycled PET bottles for the construction of its tires and aims to reprocess the materials by avoiding any chemical step.

How can companies ensure circular compliance?

A coalition of more than 60 car manufacturers, known as the Circular Car Initiative (CCI), is a big step towards eliminating waste in the industry. The group is also made up of suppliers, researchers and non-governmental and international organizations, which will affect the entire value chain. Three framework reports have been derived from the CCI, including The Way Forward: A Policy Research Agenda for Automotive Circularity—led by WBCSD and Systemiq, a report led by Accenture called Raising Ambitions: A new roadmap for the automotive circular economy, and Moving Forward: A Materials Roadmap for the “Zero Carbon Car”a report led by McKinsey & Company.

Is it possible to create a completely circular vehicle?

With so many electric vehicles entering the market, the next phase of sustainability that will allow automakers to differentiate themselves from their competitors is waste management and circular design. Organizations like Renault and BMW have already shown their intentions for circular car designs, with BMW boasting a circular design for its latest electric vehicle (EV). Renault also showed not only its commitment to electric vehicles, but also the general cause of waste management. In early January 2020, the company released numbers that represent how far the company has come, with 95% of its vehicles recovered at end of life and 85% of them were successfully recycled.

For more information on sustainability, see the latest issue of Sustainability Magazine.