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Trending: The Future of Mobility Is Circular

Image credit: Goodyear

Discussion around the future of mobility is dominated by discourse around the shift away from fossil fuels, but this is only one small part of a more complex conversation. Even clean energy vehicles have impacts on environmental and human health. China’s industry ministry, General Motors and Goodyear are taking these often-overlooked impacts into account by focusing on waste recovery and prevention approaches that seek to establish closed-loop systems.

This week, at the Geneva International Motor Show, Goodyear debuted a unique concept tire that is putting a new spin on sustainable urban mobility. Dubbed Oxygene, the tire is lined with living moss that allows it to effectively act as an air filter.

The tire’s open structure and smart tread design absorb and circulate moisture and water from the road surface, allowing photosynthesis to occur, thereby releasing oxygen into the air. If deployed on a large scale, the tire could help reduce air pollution. In a city similar in size to greater Paris, with roughly 2.5 million vehicles, Goodyear estimates that Oxygene tires could generate nearly 3,000 tons of oxygen and absorb more than 4,000 tons of CO2 per year. See CNET's video below:

“With more than two-thirds of the world population expected to live in cities by 2050, the demands on transport networks in urban environments will increase substantially,” said Chris Delaney, President of Goodyear Europe, Middle East and Africa. “Smarter, greener infrastructure and transport will be crucial in addressing the most pressing challenges of urban mobility and development.”

The concept tire was designed with the principles of the circular economy in mind, with emphasis on reducing material waste, emissions and energy loss. The tire is 3D-printed with rubber powder from recycled tires and features a lightweight, shock-absorbing structure that is durable and puncture-free, thereby extending the life of the tire and minimizing service issues.

The energy Oxygene harvests during photosynthesis is used to power the tire’s embedded electronics, including onboard sensors, an artificial intelligence processing unit and a customizable light strip in the tire’s sidewall that switches colors, warning both road users and pedestrians of upcoming maneuvers, such as lane changes or braking.

The concept tire also uses a visible light communications system (LiFi) for high-capacity mobile connectivity. LiFi equips the tire with Internet of Things capabilities, allowing vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure data exchange, a critical component of smart mobility management systems.

“Oxygene is meant to challenge our thinking and help drive the debate around smart, safe and sustainable future mobility,” Delaney added. “By contributing in this way to cleaner air generation, the tire could help enhance quality of life and health for city dwellers.”

Over in China, extended producer responsibility is now the official standard in the auto industry, where manufacturers of electric vehicles (EVs) are being charged with the task of creating facilities to collect and recycle spent batteries. According to Reuters, the country’s industry ministry issued the ruling in an attempt to address the sector’s mounting waste problem.

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Nearly a decade ago, the Chinese government began promoting EVs as a way to simultaneously reduce vehicle emissions and seize upon a promising economic opportunity. As a result, lithium battery production has skyrocketed to meet growing demand — and so has corresponding e-waste, which is expected to reach 170,000 metric tons in 2018 if left unchecked.

Under the new ruling, carmakers will be required to recover batteries in new energy vehicles and transfer them to specialist recyclers. To further reduce impact, government is also holding companies accountable for creating opportunities for consumers to repair or exchange their old batteries, effectively fostering a culture of repair. The ministry has recommended companies adopt measures that promote positive consumer behaviors, including subsidies and battery repurchase pacts.

Car manufacturers weren’t the only ones affected by the changes; government is also requiring battery makers to do their bit by providing technical training to automakers to dismantle and store old batteries and adopt standardized designs that can easily be disassembled.

The ruling also targeted transparency in the sector and called on battery and car manufacturers to work together to establish a traceability system that allows the owners of discarded batteries to be identified.

While the impact of the new regulations is yet to be determined, they represent an important step forward in addressing some of the main issues presented by the transition to new energy vehicles. If successful, they could be replicated on a larger scale, where there is potential for massive impact.

Meanwhile, General Motors (GM) is continuing on its path towards a zero-waste future, expanding its landfill-free program to all of its manufacturing plants in Canada, Mexico and South America. Across the 27 newly certified facilities, all waste from daily operations is now recycled, reused or converted to energy.

“We aspire to be a zero-waste company with all manufacturing plants achieving landfill-free status. That zero mindset is driven by our local teams and their efforts to find innovative and sustainable solutions that improve the communities where we live and work,” said Dane Parker, VP of Sustainable Workplaces at GM.

Examples of the work being done to reduce waste across GM’s plants include using old concrete to create walkways, washing oil-soaked cloths used in paint processes instead of throwing them away and installing new waste, compost and recycling container systems in high-traffic areas. At General Motors’ São Caetano do Sul plant in Brazil, waste cans throughout the facility are lined with plastic bags originally used by a local supplier for parts shipment, and mixed container recycling at the Oshawa Assembly Plant and Canadian Technical Center has improved from 45 to 80 percent since 2016.

The company’s 79 landfill-free manufacturing operations on average reuse, recycle or compost approximately 96 percent of their waste from daily operations and convert four percent to energy. By 2020, GM aims to have 150 landfill-free sites around the world.

As part of its strategy to scale impact through collaboration and best practice sharing among its global operations, GM co-championed the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Materials Marketplace, an online database for companies that matches traditional and nontraditional industrial waste streams with new product and revenue opportunities. In addition to sharing its landfill-free blueprint, the company also mentors approximately 25 businesses each year on how to best manage complex waste streams.

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