Why production is the key to sustainability
By 2050, Europe's economy should be climate-neutral. The example of the car industry shows: The share of the total amount of pollutants in the production itself is small. However, this is exactly where the screws are located that can substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Ursula von der Leyen, President-elect of the EU Commission, was quick to draw attention to ambitious goals: by 2050, the European economy should be climate neutral. As early as 2030, greenhouse gas emissions are to be halved compared with 1990 levels. So far, the EU countries have not been able to agree on the binding target of climate neutrality by 2050. And: by 2030, the EU is aiming for a reduction of 40 percent.
Energy sector causes most greenhouse gas emissions
Within the EU, the energy sector accounts for by far the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions. According to data from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from 2015, this sector is responsible for 78 percent of emissions. Agriculture emits slightly more than a tenth of EU-wide greenhouse gas emissions. Industrial production and the use of products account for a further 8.7 percent, with waste management accounting for 3.2 percent. At first glance, therefore, it does not seem so effective to start with the production companies in order to reduce pollutant emissions.
Car manufacturers have a key role to play in the fight against climate change
But the automotive industry shows why this is exactly where the levers are sometimes longest. It has a key role to play in the fight against climate change, because it can not only reduce greenhouse gases in the production of vehicles. Their finished products and services ultimately give society the opportunity to reduce the pollutant emissions caused by mobility. This key role is illustrated by an invention from Germany:
Munich startup develops CO2-neutral car
The young company Sono Motors from Munich shows with the Sion that the climate-neutral production of automobiles is in principle possible. However, this is only possible by offsetting the CO2 emissions generated during production. The company invests in climate protection projects that reduce CO2 emissions to the extent of the emissions caused. These costs are already included in the Sion purchase price (from approx. 26,000 euros). Production of the vehicle is scheduled to start in Sweden in 2020.
Climate friendliness depends on the country in which the e-car drives
How climate-neutral the Sion actually is in operation then depends heavily on the user: the installed solar cells are to supply the energy for up to 30 kilometers. Anything that goes beyond this must come from the socket. And how "green" this energy actually is depends on the electricity mix. In 2016, electricity generation from renewable energy sources accounted for almost 30 percent of total gross electricity consumption in the EU. In Germany it was slightly higher at 32.2 percent. Austria, on the other hand, was able to generate almost 73 percent of its electricity from renewable sources in 2016 thanks to hydropower. How sustainable the Sion will actually be depends very much on the country in which it is used. However, Sono Motors has already booked more than 10,000 advance orders for the Sion. This alone shows that more and more consumers are placing value on "sustainability" in both the operation and production of automobiles.
Car industry wants to improve image and prevent penalties
This is now also clear to the major German car manufacturers. Thanks to the diesel scandal and the innovation-inhibiting agreements on exhaust purification technologies, manufacturers do not enjoy a particularly "green" reputation with consumers. They naturally want to get rid of their image as environmental sinners as quickly as possible. But the EU targets for more climate-friendly cars by 2030 are far more difficult to meet. If these targets are not met, fines will be imposed. According to a study, many manufacturers in Europe will not be able to meet these targets from today's perspective.
A VW car blows 44 tons of CO2 into the air
In March 2019, the VW Group presented the entire CO2 balance of its cars and thus attempted to shed more light on the discussion about harmful substances. According to the study, an average VW Group vehicle emits almost 44 tonnes of CO2 during its entire service life. This is divided as follows: The raw materials and intermediate products provided by the suppliers cause 5.7 tonnes of this. Only 800,000 kilograms of CO2 are generated during production itself. The use of the vehicle causes 35 tons - 6 tons for the provision of the fuel and 29 tons for the fuel itself. Recycling the vehicle is then responsible for the emission of a further 2.7 tonnes of CO2.
There is little that can be done in production alone
So if the VW Group wants to contribute to CO2 emissions, it can only do so to a limited extent - especially since production itself accounts for by far the smallest proportion of total CO2 emissions. VW can indeed make its direct suppliers responsible. But the further away a supplier is in the supply chain, the less pressure VW can exert on them to emit as little CO2 as possible. The largest share of pollutants is caused by a car in operation. Here, too, VW has little influence: the company cannot tell the customer which drive it wants its car to have and how energy-efficiently it will move it. VW can only make an impact here by developing an attractive range of cars with low CO2 emissions.
Production of batteries causes a lot of CO2
The Group has also published a study on the subject: while a current Golf has a mileage of 200,000 kilometers and carbon dioxide emissions average 140 grams per kilometer, the E-Golf only emits 119 grams. This is based on the current electricity mix within the EU. What is interesting here is the phase of the entire life cycle in which the carbon dioxide is produced: the production of the diesel Golf produces only 29 grams per kilometer, while the E-Golf requires 57 grams per kilometer. The production of the battery is responsible for this high value.
VW expands horizon to sustainable mobility
Many large manufacturers are pursuing the topic of sustainability in production with increasing seriousness. VW wants to establish itself as a pioneer of sustainable mobility. The company recently announced an automobile that is to be CO2-neutral over its entire service life. Production of the new ID. is scheduled to start at the Zwickau plant at the end of 2019. This production facility is already using eco-electricity: the production of the ID. can save far more than one million tons of CO2 per year. The batteries will be produced in Europe. The energy required for this is to be supplied by green electricity. VW intends to offset the emissions that cannot be avoided in the manufacturing process by investing in certified climate projects so that the production of the ID. is CO2-neutral when it is launched on the market. The group invests the users of the ID. in the use of energy from renewable sources. The manufacturer has recently started offering these itself via its own subsidiary Elli in Germany under the name "Volkswagen Naturstrom". The VW Group is therefore no longer focusing solely on the manufacture of vehicles, but is evidently focusing on the much broader issue of sustainable mobility.
Of course, VW is not the only manufacturer that has now committed itself to sustainability - also in production: Daimler wants to achieve a CO2-neutral energy supply for all its German plants by 2022. BMW is also trying to be as CO2-neutral as possible in the production of the i3 electric car.
Conclusion: Why production is the key to sustainability
Within the EU, production sites emit only a relatively small proportion of total CO2 emissions. But this is precisely where the levers for a massive reduction in carbon dioxide emissions lie, as the car industry shows. Ultimately, it is their offer that determines how we can all fight climate change.
Image source: Title picture: https://www.pexels.com/photo/round-vehicle-side-mirror-2699833/
Born in Lower Austria. At LEAD Innovation she works as Head of Innovation and focuses on agile innovation management via SCRUM.