In recent times from every marketing and PR we hear about car manufacturer xyz has sustainability goals,
how circular they are,
best of the best of the very best.
And it’s not just the automotive. It’s in every segment of our industry.
But somehow… What does it mean? And when?
What will our world look like in 2030, 2040 or even later if the corporations have their way? Well, not just the corporations, also their puppies, the lobbyists and politicians.
We hear a lot about renewables, footprint reduction, climate neutrality, sustainability, circularity, and…
So much more in the bubbles of our industries, especially automotive.
If we look at the companies’ websites, where they refer to the so-called SDGs (The 17 Sustainable Development Goals). Example: Matching the SDG 3 (3.6, 3.9) 8 (8.2, 8.4, 8.5, 8.7, 8.8) 9 (9.4, 9.5) 12 (12.2, 12.5) 13 (13.2) on their website as huge achievements. Wash me but don’t make me wet.
Cherry picking at it’s best.
The SDGswere adopted by all member states of the United Nations in 2015 and therefore apply to all countries in the world and should be achieved by 2030.
Master goal is the elimination of hunger and poverty, available clean water and environmental protection.
So why is the world worse off today?
The main problem is these SDGs are not legally binding for the signatory states. Their implementation is not enforceable under international law.
Means, the companies are also involved voluntarily and in a self-determined manner.
Because profitability is the main imperative, this is contrary to the SDGs.
Only exception, when some of the goals are subsidized.
Also 2015… the voluntary commitment and ethics of the automotive industry.
This shows the auto industry’s unwillingness to let its engineers work on future-oriented innovations, instead creation of cheating software.
The fundamental contradiction between environmental protection and the necessary conservation of resources is not compatible with the growth imperative of our economy.
The biz model is selling new stuff. 2 million useless things this year, 3 million will have to be sold next year. Sales must be increased annually so that shareholders are happy. More than 40 years ago, former BMW boss Eberhard von Kuenheim said: “There may be too many automobiles in the world, but there are still too few BMWs.”
He admitted decades ago that there are too many cars.
And it’s not just BMW that still believes in this.
Reminds me on the mantra of the tobacco industry…
We forget that in addition to quantitative growth (production of more goods) there is also qualitative growth (production of better goods). While quantitative growth is inevitably accompanied by a worse carbon footprint, this does not have to be the case at all with qualitative growth.
For example, the product may also be better because it is more durable and uses energy more efficiently (like switching from incandescent lamps to LEDs).
In a market economy, competition takes place largely on price. As long as CO₂ emissions are cheap, they are only a secondary optimization goal. That would change if the CO₂ price was high.
Relaying on politicians to set the right framework conditions for this, well… it has always failed so far because a higher CO₂ price is unpopular because it makes products more expensive. And mostly reduces profitability.
However, these will subsequently improve and save energy and therefore costs in the future.
We just have to treat the industry like a little nagging child and say NO sometimes.
The economic model of the automotive industry consists precisely of this lack of motivation, based on to launch new generations of its products into the market in certain cycles. We call it advance through technology or the joy of driving. You have more safety, something newer and nicer, more horsepower, blah blah blah.
With each new generation, the previous one becomes obsolete, essentially garbage. For this reason, the most important business product is leasing. For the German premiums that is 70%. Some are already eager to increase the financing and leasing business to 90+% by streamlining the dealers and direct sales.
In principle, this economic model can never be sustainable. No matter what their marketing says.
The future value is on longevity.
Decoupling economic growth and carbon footprint only works if the dirty work is done somewhere else. On a global scale, this is currently mainly China. CO₂ emissions there have increased from 0.5 billion to almost 11 billion tons per year since 1965.
The Western industrial nations can now point the finger at China, but that is where they have their cars, smartphones and electronic components assembled.
We need to internalize the necessity of SDG and to embed circularity not just in businesses, but within society. The employees, customers and regulation already started to question the PR actions and to really force via ESG the companies.
Startups embed eco design and sustainability in their products and production. EU will extend the right to repair from smartphones to cars and other products.
Startups focus on electrification of existing cars, to replace ICEs. A whole ecosystem offering alternatives and shifting bottom up just started.