Previous Editions
  • The reality check on SDGs and the auto industry

The term “sustainable development” is interpreted in diverse meanings, it refers to a development strategy that aims to strike a balance between many, sometimes conflicting needs and a growing understanding of the environmental, social, and economic constraints. Sustainable development is a development that satisfies current demands while maintaining future generations’ capacity to fulfill their demands. It is observed that more than 95% of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere originate from natural processes including fires, volcanic eruptions, and biological decomposition. But while photosynthesis and other natural processes absorb and balance 95% of emissions, the remaining 5% which are created by human activities and for which our ecosystem is not dimensioned remain the source of concern. The result of “these miserable” five percent is warming, which intensifies the greenhouse effect and raises the temperature of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere.

The term “circular economy” refers to a new approach to economic sustainability that is opposite to the prevailing “linear economy.” The foundation of linear economics is the concept of production, which states that natural resources are first transformed into goods and then into trash through production. Reusing resources to reduce waste and reduce the overall impact of manufacturing on the environment is the goal of circular economy methods. This approach’s basic tenet is that tactics as a whole, rather than their parts, should be optimised so, the circular economy is becoming more and more of a sustainable paradigm.

Economics, sociology, and ecology are the three distinct disciplines that are intertwined with the concepts of sustainability and sustainable development. In the economy, sustainability is seen as impeding the pursuit of goals like efficiency, expansion, and profitability. Ecology is concerned with attaining sustainability through the management of natural resources, whereas sociology sees sustainability as the accomplishment of the objectives of fair resource distribution and poverty reduction. Since various disciplines have varied objectives and demands, sustainability and sustainable growth can only be attained via close collaboration in which each discipline’s uniqueness is valued, and the reason why industries are moving towards sustainable practices not only lies under the concept of good social being and states compulsion but because of high demand from the buyers in almost every industry for environmentally friendly products. The reason for this increase in demand is, among other things, that consumers want to feel better about everything they buy.

In the case of industries, eco-innovation is being recognised as one of the most important mechanisms that allow the transition from a linear to a circular economy in production processes. Like other sectors, the automobile sector was also impacted by the sustainability movement, which allowed for more human mobility and the capacity to travel large distances in a short amount of time. The modern world could not exist without the automobile industry. Today, this particular industry is going through significant changes in its operations as a result of the increased emphasis on environmental preservation and Earth’s sustainable growth. Innovative production techniques and novel, renewable materials are being used to develop new business models in the automobile sector. If we closely look at this industry then we realize the fact that the automobile industry’s connection with the supply of raw materials is fraught with difficulties.

One of the most intricate things that uses a wide range of materials is the automobile. Physical, chemical, and financial constraints, together with safety, environmental, and comfort standards, provide the framework within which this business consistently optimises the responsible and effective use of resources so, there is no doubt in the fact that the automotive industry is facing ongoing challenges to improve the sustainability of its manufacturing processes and vehicle emissions due to economic, environmental, marketability and policy concerns. In the era of globalization which encourages change and innovation, the auto industry is also going through the phase of change at numerous levels of manufacturing. Car makers are under growing pressure from national and international regulatory rules about energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, and safety. These demands stem from a complex socio-political agenda that includes mounting worries about air pollution, climate change, and other negative externalities of the automobile sector, such as congestion in large cities, along with a rising desire to reduce reliance on oil. New car designs are continuously incorporating technological advancements in the domains of electronics, communications, and Internet technologies. To cope with this challenge it is necessary to calculate the environmental cost exerted by this industry.

The car as a product is specific because it is not just about emissions from the exhaust pipes of the car while driving, but the process of pollution is much broader. A car uses energy and generates emissions even before it becomes a vehicle. Therefore, to determine the total harmful impact of a car on the environment, it is necessary to look at its entire life cycle. This is called a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). It all starts with creating the materials that make up a car. Raw ore is taken from the earth and used to make materials that require energy and generate emissions. Then the vehicle is produced, which leads to even more emissions. Only after an individual buys a vehicle and starts driving it does the emissions from the exhaust pipe occur, which is also called the phase of use in its life cycle. Eventually, it takes energy to move the car to waste and recycle it back into materials to make new cars and then the life cycle starts all over again. The carbon footprint of a product is a useful tool for determining its greenhouse gas emissions. It calculates the quantity of carbon dioxide emissions that a product produces. It’s fascinating to see that environmental indicators are proactively including customers in the application of the sustainability idea. For instance, World Auto Steel created the Vehicle Emissions Impact Indicator, a set of metrics to track the emissions of certain auto models. With information about the engine and material a car will be built of, as well as how those details will affect the vehicle’s overall environmental efficiency, this interactive tool assists buyers in making decisions about purchasing a car, fuel usage and life cycle emissions.

It is therefore concluded that, when it comes to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the auto sector, there are a few areas of focus. One important SDG is Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. The auto sector can contribute by developing and promoting electric vehicles, which help reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, Goal#9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure encourages the auto industry to adopt sustainable manufacturing practices and invest in research and development for cleaner and more efficient vehicles. Besides promoting electric vehicles and adopting sustainable manufacturing practices, the auto sector can contribute to the SDGs in Goal#7: Affordable and Clean Energy: The auto sector can invest in renewable energy sources for vehicle production and operations, such as solar or wind power, Goal #13: Climate Action: By developing more fuel-efficient vehicles and reducing carbon emissions, the auto sector can help combat climate change, Goal#12: Responsible Consumption and Production: Encouraging recycling and implementing circular economy principles in vehicle production can reduce waste and promote sustainable resource management, Goal#8: Decent Work and Economic Growth: The auto sector can create employment opportunities and support economic growth by investing in local manufacturing, research, and development and Goal#3: Good Health and Well-being: Developing advanced safety features and technologies in vehicles can help reduce road accidents and improve overall road safety.

It is recommended that the auto sector may improve its sustainable practices through,

  • Transition to electric vehicles: Encouraging the production and adoption of electric vehicles can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on fossil fuels.
  • Enhance fuel efficiency: Developing and promoting more fuel-efficient vehicles can reduce carbon emissions and promote sustainable transportation.
  • Invest in research and development: Continued investment in R&D can lead to advancements in cleaner and more sustainable vehicle technologies, such as hydrogen fuel cells or biofuels.
  • Implement sustainable manufacturing processes: Adopting eco-friendly manufacturing practices, such as using recycled materials, reducing waste, and optimising energy usage, can minimize the environmental impact of vehicle production.
  • Promote recycling and end-of-life management: Encouraging the recycling of vehicle components and responsible disposal of end-of-life vehicles can reduce waste and promote a circular economy.
  • Support public transportation and shared mobility: Encouraging the use of public transportation and shared mobility services can help reduce the number of vehicles on the road and promote more sustainable transportation options.

The author is MD IRP/ Faculty Department of H&SS, Bahria University Karachi.