Assessing Sustainability Performance Within a Vehicle Life Cycle

Life Cycle Assessment of a Car

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is recognized as a scientifically valid method for assessing the environmental performance of a product and it is the only life cycle technique which has been standardized so far (ISO 2006b: ISO 14040).

The LCA according to the ISO 14040/44 (ISO 2006a: ISO 14040, ISO 2006b: ISO 14044) is currently used at BMW Group as a supporting decision-making tool in the development process of the car to orient designers and engineers towards developing a car with a better environmental performance. The LCA is also used as monitoring tool to check the product concept and its relative environmental impacts in each phase of the development process.

Reduction targets for each environmental impact category can be established according to the company and national strategy, and the relative improvements of a car compared with its previous model can consequently be assessed and confirmed. The main focus of the automotive sector is still on global warming potential (GWP) (IPCC 2001) for the reduction of greenhouse gases along the entire life cycle of the vehicle, but the other impact categories are monitored as well. Realizing a car with a better LCA balance than its previous model is only possible by acting on the use phase as well as in the manufacturing one. Examples of measures used at BMW Group to reach a higher environmental performance are: use of more secondary source of materials such as metals and thermoplastics, promotion of less energyintensive materials, components produced with renewable energy sources, and improvement of the recyclability of the car's components at the end of life (EoL).

According to the ISO 14040/44 (2006) you can carry out an LCA on a car and obtain different results. This happens because the ISO 14040 and ISO 14044 (ISO 2006a: ISO 14040, ISO 2006b: ISO 14044) leave a lot of freedom and flexibility in the implementation of the method; several parameters, such as system boundaries, allocation criteria, data sources and database used can be established differently case by case and can strongly affect the results. The important element for making the LCA study valid is its transparency and the reproducibility of its implementation. Most LCA studies at BMW Group are used to support internal decision-making processes and they contain confidential information that cannot be easily published. In order to conform to the ISO 14044 regarding the reproducibility of the implementation, and to be able to use part of the LCA results in the company's communication, it is necessary to ensure that the entire process, the data, the results and the related communication material are validated and proofed by a third party certification office. This procedure is commonly used in the German automotive sector, and the proliferation of different “certificates” has increased in the last few years. BMW Group reports its LCA results in the Sustainability Value Report (BMW Group 2013), and with the Environmental Certification validated by TÜV SÜD (BMW Group 2014).

Considering this, what are the further levers to improve the environmental performance of a vehicle?

If it is true that a reasonable improvement has been reached and is still ongoing in the use phase, it is also true that more efforts have to be made to improve it by considering the manufacturing phase. The manufacturing phase of a car includes all phases from extraction of raw materials throughout the components' production to the assembly and manufacture of the car itself. The last part is normally directly under the control of the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer), whereas the rest is carried out by the upstream supply chain. The necessity to find new levers and new potentials in the supply chain has led to a push towards a more direct cooperation with our suppliers for a more sustainable production. This is clearly a big challenge in the automotive sector where the supply chain is long and complex and involves a large number of actors. The approach used in this case can be very different company to company and from car to car. A proliferation of activities in sectors strongly related with the automotive industry has started to improve the environmental and/ or sustainability performances and to harmonize the methodologies used. An example of these initiatives is the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative.

The Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI) was launched in 2012 to foster greater sustainability and transparency throughout the aluminium industry. It involves several key industry players in the aluminium supply chain such as BMW Group, Rio Tinto, Novelis, to name just a few (Aluminium Stewardship Initiative 2014). The main target of this initiative is to develop an Aluminium Stewardship Initiative Standard to address the environmental, social and governance aspects of the aluminium value chain. The ASI aims, by mobilising a broad base of stakeholders, to establish and promote responsible environmental, social and governance practices across the aluminium value chain. Throughout this standard it will be possible to further support the closed-loop recycling process in the aluminium production system and the inventory data retrieval for a transparent LCA.

At BMW, the LCA is also often used as an assessment method to compare different mobility concepts: conventional and electro-mobility, public transportation, car sharing. It is used to understand the potential impact of the development of one of these concepts on a large scale or to compare concepts among one another towards a more sustainable choice.

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