Tire Manufacturers Collaborate to Accelerate Progress on the SDGs
Words by Maggie Kohn
Following on the heels of the forest, chemical, electric utilities, and oil and gas industries, the tire sector is the latest to come together under the auspices of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) to develop a roadmap for how it can work to support the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
With only eight years left to achieve the global goals, sector leaders say time is of the essence to accelerate actions and make meaningful contributions.
Launched in May 2021, the Tire Sector SDG Roadmap was developed by the Tire Industry Project (TIP), a voluntary CEO-led collaboration under the umbrella of the WBCSD. The group’s membership is currently comprised of 10 major global tire companies and co-led by Bridgestone, Goodyear and Michelin.
TIP member companies account for more than 60 percent of the global tire industry, which produces 1.7 billion tires each year and employs more than 950,000 workers worldwide. Through TIP, the industry has already made important steps to proactively identify and study the potential human health and environmental impacts associated with the life cycle of tires. One example is the Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR), launched in October 2018 to bring rubber industry stakeholders together to ensure sustainable production and supply.
The Roadmap is TIP’s latest and perhaps most formidable project yet. It took 18 months develop and included consultation with numerous stakeholders — some of whom, such as WWF, the International Federation for Human Rights and the Rainforest Alliance, have in the past encouraged the sector to do more. TIP also engaged tire trade associations and customers through the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents leading automakers such as Honda, BMW and Ford. The voice of suppliers was also represented through consultation with various groups including the Houston-based International Institute of Synthetic Rubber Producers.
The end result is a 49-page document that zeroes in on the eight SDGs where the sector can have the greatest impact, with SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) mapping against industry actions most frequently. While critics might be tempted to chalk the report up to a tick-the-box exercise, Anne-Cecile Remont, director of TIP at WBCSD, expressed loftier hopes during the Roadmap’s virtual launch.
“The Roadmap is not meant to be a static document but to be brought to life through actions of both member companies and the wider sector, as well as through collaboration with customers, suppliers and other stakeholders,” Remont said. “It sets out to show what tire manufacturers can achieve as an industry, what companies should manage independently, and what requires action across the value chain.”
Driving change through measurable actions that support the SDGs
The Roadmap identifies opportunities in seven areas across three main themes: supply chain, operations, and products and services. For example, it calls for the implementation of sustainable procurement practices and the establishment of environmental, social and governance (ESG) responsibilities throughout tire industry supply chains, including the promotion of transparency and traceability.
Traceability within the supply chain in particular is an area where stakeholders agree more action is needed for alignment with the SDGs. Amongst several company examples, this year Pirelli produced the world’s first Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified tires, with natural rubber and rayon traced and certified along the whole supply chain.
Continental Tires has been engaged in a project since 2018 with the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development to pilot an electronic traceability initiative within its natural rubber supply chain in Indonesia. As part of the pilot, Continental was able for the first time to seamlessly trace a rubber supply chain from cultivation and further processing to its tire plant in Germany. Recently, both partners agreed on a significant extension of their successful project. The aim is to expand the number of smallholders involved in the program to 4,000 by 2024. Continental plans to gradually expand electronic traceability globally within its natural rubber supply chains. By 2030 the company is committed to source 100 percent natural rubber from sustainable origins.
Another call to action in the Roadmap is ensuring sustainable management of end-of-life tires (known in the industry as ELT). Globally, an estimated one billion tires reach the end of their useful lives every year, according to TIP. Disposing of them in an environmentally sound and productive way continues to be a challenge, although examples of progress exist. To accelerate progress, the Roadmap calls on tire manufacturers to develop tools, exchange best practices, improve access to information, monitor progress on ELT collection and recycling, and use this information to engage stakeholders (including end-users and regulators in countries where ELT infrastructure is less developed) to promote circularity.
Tire and road wear particles (TRWP), those tiny particles generated by tire and road surface when driving, are also given important coverage in the Roadmap, with a stakeholder call-to-action for evidence-based solutions. TIP has published numerous studies since its beginning in 2005 relating to TRWP.
Potential for impact
Amy Smith, WWF’s director of forests, is at the forefront of her organization’s efforts to address the threats to global forests and support human well-being. A key part of WWF’s strategy is to eliminate one of the largest drivers of deforestation: the irresponsible expansion of agricultural operations. This includes unsustainable practices related to the harvesting of natural rubber.
Smith, who participated in the development and launch of the Roadmap, sees the potential for meaningful impact by the sector through the tire industry-spearheaded Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR).
“Implementing on this Roadmap would mean the sector could make a real contribution to ending deforestation, increasing forest cover, creating decent jobs, establishing sustainable production and consumption systems, and sustaining a healthy ecosystem for generations to come,” she said. “The next step, of course, is to focus on goals, targets and KPIs. Companies will need to show they are making progress against their commitments — that will be critical.”
TIP agrees, promising to share indicators to measure progress against Roadmap targets by 2023, and launching a website to host the Roadmap and progress updates.
This article series is sponsored by the Tire Industry Project and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team. Members of the Tire Industry Project (in alphabetical order) are Bridgestone, Continental, Goodyear, Hankook, Kumho Tire, Michelin, Pirelli, Sumitomo Rubber, Toyo Tires, and Yokohama Rubber.
Image credit: Sakosshu Taro/Adobe Stock