[Translate to English:] © kazuend / Unsplash

Protecting nature in the car – and beyond

Living and doing business sustainably is becoming increasingly important – for companies every bit as much as for consumers. Many companies are stepping up to this responsibility. Here are selected projects from some exhibitors at IAA MOBILITY 2021, showing how companies are committing themselves to sustainability and to protecting the environment and species conservation – including going beyond their core business.

When shopping, one in every two of us looks to see whether our purchases are sustainable. If so, we are happy to pay a bit more for it, the Statista report „Sustainable Consumption in Germany 2021“ ("Sustainable Consumption in Germany 2021") reveals. More and more people are appreciating that the goods we use every day tie in with a livable society, climate change and protecting the environment. That point is also clear from the Utopia study, for which over 14,000 people were surveyed in 2019.

In most companies, sustainability has long been part of day-to-day business and production processes. Research is focused on sustainable solutions to challenges, but environmental projects outside the company's core business and value-added are also being supported and implemented. Here are four such initiatives:

Car tires from plastic bottles

1.6 billion car tires are sold worldwide every year. Producing them requires 800,000 tons of PET plastic fibers. PET – polyethylene terephthalate – is an oil-based polymer, and at the same time the raw material for one of the key textile fibers used to reinforce tires. But the virgin PET can be substituted. And that's precisely what tire manufacturer Michelin will now be doing, with its partner Carbios: So around three billion plastic bottles can now become car tires. Carbios has succeeded in recycling used PET Into fibers with the same quality as new PET material. Carbios depolymerizes PET – in other words, it is broken down into its constituents and reassembled into macromolecules. All types of PET waste can be recycled endlessly often in this way. In the collaboration with Michelin, this produces 100 percent sustainable tires. Michelin has announced that by 2050 it will be using 100 percent sustainable materials from renewable or recycled sources.

Plastic bottles can now become car tires © Michellin
Plastic bottles can now become car tires © Michellin

More sustainable leather, and alternatives from old fishing nets

Leather has a long tradition in cars. The very smell of it, wafting over you as you get into the car, is a breath of luxury and exclusivity. But if you are looking to achieve a better climate balance sheet, you really should dispense with it. Ultimately, it's the same here as with eating meat: Cows stand around in vast areas of pasture, producing carbon dioxide and methane.  It's not unknown for forested areas to be cleared for cattle-grazing.

Daimler is one example of a company opposing such practices[CC1] : The supply chains for its products must be free from illegal logging. Fundamentally, suppliers must comply with standards in relation to working conditions, human rights, environmental protection, safety, corporate ethics and compliance. Important aspects are traceability of the leather raw material, animal welfare and also sustainable use of resources, along with CO₂ emissions throughout the production chain.

And alternatives are also being sought: High-quality, luxurious materials, especially when made from recycled or renewable raw materials. In the S-Class, for instance, threads are used from old carpets and fishing nets which once would have polluted the oceans. In other car series, too, leather substitutes are used as seat coverings, roof linings and pillar trims: The E-Class, for example, features the microfiber Dinamica®, a material from recycled polyester and water-based polyurethane with the look and feel of velvet leather. Volkswagen is working on alternative materials sourced e.g. from waste materials left over from producing apple juice.

Threads from old fishing nets which once would have polluted the oceans are used to replace leather © Kristin Snippe / Unsplash
Threads from old fishing nets which once would have polluted the oceans are used to replace leather © Kristin Snippe / Unsplash

Bee colonies alongside production halls

The Volkswagen Group and its employees are active in a large number of projects. Above all, however, it is not just on the production lines where things are buzzing. On the works sites in a number of its locations, bees are busily collecting nectar. At the Porsche site in Leipzig, 1.5 million honey-bees have been sharing the off-road track with Exmoor ponies and aurochs since 2017, and producing around 400 kg of lime-blossom honey. Volkswagen Motorsport in Hanover is similarly home to two bee colonies, each with around 50,000 bees. They are known as "I.Bees" – in a reference to the e-cars in the Volkswagen ID. family. These bees are reportedly producing up to 80 kg of honey. 

And bees are important, above all, for biodiversity: They are responsible for pollinating over 80 percent of domestic crop and wild plant species, thus protecting them against dying out. The Audi manufacturing site in Münchsmünster, near Ingolstadt, has been colonized by around 90 wild bee species. At BMW too, busy bees are buzzing around the production halls in Dingolfing and Leipzig, and at the Munich Research and Innovation Center.

However, the bees are threatened themselves, and many bee populations are dying due to insecticides, mite infestation or lack of suitable habitat in monoculture farmland and residential areas. For that reason, high-tech beehives, providing a home for bees, have been installed at Audi in Münchsmünster and at other sites. They have been equipped with various sensors and are digitally connected with one another. The data obtained is being analyzed at Würzburg University, using Machine Learning. Thus we are learning what influence, for example, weather or traffic have on the bees. After all, the more we know about the behavior of bees and their health, the better they can be protected.

At the Porsche site in Leipzig, honey-bees are sharing the off-road track with Exmoor ponies and aurochs © Volkswagen AG
At the Porsche site in Leipzig, honey-bees are sharing the off-road track with Exmoor ponies and aurochs © Volkswagen AG

Biomass and sun provide energy

At several of its sites, BMW is turning to sustainable energy for production: In Rosslyn (South Africa), 25,000 cattle on a neighboring farm provide the raw material for a biomass power station. As the manure ferments, methane gas is given off, which in turn produces energy via four generators. 30 percent of the energy needs of the BMW Group plant can be covered in this way – with the fermentation residues then being spread on the fields as fertilizer. At the BMW Plant Spartanburg (USA), energy is being produced from methane gas from a landfill site, and in Leipzig four wind turbines supply electricity for production of the BMW i models. And at the Mini production plant in Oxford (UK) the sun supplies energy, via a solar power plant.

In many companies, a change in thinking has occurred. They are moving, on many different levels, towards sustainability, biodiversity, recycling, responsible supply chains and environmental protection. Their commitment clearly demonstrates that the foundations for a future worth living need to be laid today.

Four wind turbines supply electricity for production of the BMW i models at the BMW plant in Leipzig © BMW
Four wind turbines supply electricity for production of the BMW i models at the BMW plant in Leipzig © BMW

IAA MOBILITY is transforming itself from a pure car show to an international mobility platform with four pillars: The Summit, the Conference, the “Blue Lane” and the downtown Munich Open Space. Under the slogan of “What will move us next”, it stands for the digital and climate-neutral mobility of the future. From 7 to 12 September 2021, the car, bike and tech industries come together at IAA MOBILITY in Munich.