Thought Leadership

3 ways automotive companies can embrace sustainability

By Victoria Carlos

The automotive and transportation industry is always evolving and pushing the boundaries of innovation and technology. In the current era, reducing environmental impact is essential for businesses, driving the industry to channel their ingenuity into creating sustainable products and strategies.

On the latest episode of the Future Car Podcast, Eryn Devola, Head of Sustainability at Siemens Digital Industries, and Nand Kochhar, VP of Automotive and Transportation at Siemens Digital Industries Software, discuss what automotive companies can do to achieve sustainability faster. In this blog, we’ll cover 3 key approaches the automotive industry can adopt to ensure a sustainable future.

1.    Future-forward product design

The ongoing discourse on sustainability reveals its profound influence on the various stages of the automotive lifecycle—especially the design phase. In fact, a staggering 80 percent of all environmental impacts are determined during the design phase. The decisions made in this stage significantly shape the product’s fate, both in terms of its impact on the environment and its end-of-life considerations. There exists a significant opportunity for automotive companies to embed sustainability into products from inception rather than attempting to adapt pre-existing designs to meet exacting sustainability requirements.

One advantage that comes with accounting for sustainability during the conceptual phase is the ability to extend a product’s lifespan. By creating products that are built to last, less waste is produced, yielding cost savings and improved environmental impact.

Moreover, by adopting an eco-conscious mindset from the get-go, engineers can develop a gameplan for what to do when a product finally reaches the end of its service life. With this forward-thinking approach, engineers can design vehicles that can be easily disassembled, ensuring product components can be re-used elsewhere. This level of foresight is necessary to ensuring the development of sustainable vehicles.

2.    Supply chain transparency and material management

The second way automotive companies can improve their sustainability efforts is by cultivating a deep understanding of their products journey at every phase of the supply chain, a concept known as supply chain transparency. By gaining data insights into the components of their products, decision-makers can pinpoint where sustainability can be enhanced. Furthermore, in today’s eco-friendly consumer landscape, buyers want to know where the materials that make up their products are coming from and if they were sourced and produced sustainably.

The absence of transparency creates a significant blind spot for companies, adversely affecting their relationship with customers and concealing potential areas of improvement. However, untangling these complex networks is a group effort and it requires constant improvement and cooperation. All available data needs to be shared between engineers, manufacturers and distributors so they can work to discover where sustainability can be improved and refine their processes over time.

Another facet of supply chain transparency is the growing demand for environmentally suitable secondary plastics and secondary materials in case of disruptions within the supply chain. Once transparency is achieved, the focus can shift to ensuring the availability of these materials. Diversifying sources and conducting performance tests on alternative substances becomes critical to navigating production. It’s clear that the move towards supply chain transparency isn’t just about traceability; it’s also about adaptability and preparedness for unexpected scenarios.

3.    Improved battery recycling 

As the market for electric vehicles (EVs) continues to grow, there is a considerable uptick in the demand for batteries. While EVs provide a positive environmental impact, historically, battery production has often resulted in a high percentage of waste and other externalities, and recovering materials has been incredibly difficult. To tackle this challenge, companies are employing these strategies and digital tools:

  • Digital twin technology: By employing the digital twin, companies can digitally replicate their battery production facilities. With this, manufacturers can better understand the critical factors leading to fallout and improve the quality of the production process.
  • On-site recycling processes: Several new battery factories are incorporating recycling processes directly within or next to the manufacturing plant. This means they can immediately recycle materials on-site, reducing the need for transporting waste elsewhere.
  • Battery passports: In the UK, a new regulatory requirement will hold manufacturers accountable for keeping track of where their batteries end up. These battery passports aim to address the challenge of knowing the whereabouts of batteries, making them easier to locate for reuse and recycling.

As the push for environmentally friendly practices gains momentum, the automotive and transportation industry must embrace innovative approaches to ensure a sustainable future. By prioritizing future-forward product design, welcoming supply chain transparency and improving the battery lifecycle, companies can not only reduce their environmental footprint but also attain lasting success.

Xcelerator business platform. Siemens’ software and the comprehensive digital twin enable companies to optimize their design, engineering and manufacturing processes to turn today’s ideas into the sustainable products of the future. From chips to entire systems, from product to process, across all industries. Siemens Digital Industries Software – Accelerating transformation.

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