How sustainable is the future of the automotive sector?

While fuel-powered road travel is becoming a thing of the past, what else will change in the automotive industry as businesses become more sustainable?

Historically the automotive industry has been quite wasteful. When we think of automotive waste, most of us imagine cars piled on top of each other in designated scrappage sites and the amounting tyres that come as a result. While this issue requires imminent attention, automotive firms seem to be responding well with innovative ideas and also incorporating circular economy into their vehicle designs. 

The World Economic Forum (WEF) explains that a survey was previously conducted with supply chain professionals, of which over 50% expect to see more emphasis on the circular economy over the next two years. 

Designing sustainable vehicles to improve material use

The WEF describes a circular economy as ‘an economic system that aims to eliminate waste throughout an entire value chain — including throughout manufacturing, production and use’. Ultimately, the way that 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. 

While the automotive industry has been fairly reliable when it comes to recycling parts and metals, there is still a lot more innovation to take place and more resources to be considered. 

Creating a circular tyre economy

Previously we delved into the initiatives of companies like Continental and Hankook. These companies have shared great examples of circular economy as they utilise materials more effectively. Continental has been working on a new formulation for its tyres to make use of 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 fibre specialist, Oriental Industries (Suzhou) Ltd (OTIZ), which is experimenting with the use of recycled PET bottles for its tyre construction and aims to reprocess the materials while avoiding any chemical steps. 

How can businesses ensure circular compliance? 

A coalition among more than 60 carmakers, known as the Circular Car Initiative (CCI) is a great step towards eliminating waste in the industry. The group also consists of suppliers, researchers and non-government and international organisations, which will affect the entire value chain. Three framework reports were derived from the CCI, including The Road Ahead: 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 circular automotive economy, and Forging Ahead: A materials roadmap for the 'zero-carbon car', a report led by McKinsey & Company. 

Is it possible to create a fully circular vehicle? 

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

For more sustainability insights, check out the latest issue of Sustainability Magazine.


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