Volvo changing everything with sustainability commitment

ATHENS, GREECE - 2021/05/05: General view of a Volvo sign seen in Athens. (Photo by Nikolas Joao Kokovlis/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - 2021/05/05: General view of a Volvo sign seen in Athens. (Photo by Nikolas Joao Kokovlis/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) /

Volvo Cars produces vehicles with a reputation for safety, luxury, and reliability, but the company wants consumers to think sustainability. So the corporation is committing to building cars using 100 percent recycled, bio-based materials and pledging to surge production of electric vehicles.

In a report titled, Rise of Conscious Design, Volvo details its goal to be a fully circular business by 2040. To accomplish that daunting objective, the company would have to use and produce 100 percent renewable, recyclable and biodegradable products.

Volvo Cars director of global sustainability, Stuart Templar, said getting circular is essential but admits it will be difficult. “It requires a fundamental change from the way we’ve produced cars for nearly 100 years, and that’s going to be a massive challenge, but one we must rise to.”

The car manufacturer needs to find an environmental solution for more than 30,000 parts and pieces used per car built to avoid the linear business. But, Volvo’s head of design, Robin Page, said, “the next challenge is to change what we do with these materials, whether that’s making car parts that last forever, re-enter the circular economy or go back into the earth.”

"Conscious design is showing a way forward and could transform the world in the process. – Martin Raymond, co-founder of The Future Laboratory, producer of Volvo report."

Volvo is starting with a smaller goal for cars to be 25 percent bio-degradable in three years and leather-free by 2030. Leather-free, also known as vegan leather, has been in Elon Musk’s cars since 2019. Tesla cut out the cow hid because the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization reported that 9 percent of emissions are from cattle. That represents 4.7 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year, nearly 1 billion cars driven annually.

Besides vegan leather, Volvo created a new interior material called Nordico. It’s made from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, raw material from sustainable forests in Sweden and Finland, and wine bottle corks.

The report suggests that there will be considerable demand for sustainable material, causing a transformational impact across multiple sectors. The new opulence will be the best substitute. A contributor to the report, Wen Zhau, the CEO of 3.1 Phillip Lim, said, “to me, finding materials that don’t harm the planet or its people is the ultimate luxury.”

Volvo’s commitment will reduce its carbon footprint, and it will also put some green into the company. The news release detailing the leather-free decision doesn’t hide that this is a profit-making move. The lead is not about emissions; the first words are: Two-thirds of consumers consider a brand’s environmental policies as a critical factor when purchasing luxury products.

Sustainable products have been a moneymaker for a few years. This trend has shown up in the auto industry as consumers are paying out big bucks for Teslas, considered the most environmentally friendly set of wheels out there.

Volvo has a front-row seat to the latest environmental fight. Sweden’s own, Greta Thunberg, is leading the worldwide charge in the battle for climate justice. As a result, many young people and a new generation referred to as Regenizens (people focused on reducing consumption) will be escalating their demands for sustainable products, including vehicles.

We’ve lived in a linear production world in cars and several other sectors for so long that it may sound impossible for the automotive industry to become circular. However, the report cites information from ING that nearly two-thirds of companies in the U.S. plan to become circular. Furthermore, 16 percent already are operating with circular economy principles.

The company has given itself 17 years to get outside of the box and become fully circular. Given the rapid technological advancements, it’s hard to imagine the automotive industry by 2040. But Volvo may be leading the way.