(From the July 11, 2011, issue of Rubber & Plastics News)
AKRON—I never thought I'd sit through a series of speeches by tire company executives talking about their employers' commitment to “sustainability” and actually believe them.
I'm not saying tire company folks dance around the truth—not at all. No, it's just that they are so involved in a Gladiator-type contest with their competitors, they emphasize all the good things their companies are up to, and tend to avoid the not-so-good.
For an industry that until a few decades ago had a spotty—and I'm being kind—history when it came to acting in a green manner, it can be a bit much. However, my skepticism has pretty much dissipated after what I heard and saw at a recent Rubber Association of Canada conference. I came away thinking, well, those tire makers really are serious about this green thing.
Part of the RAC Tire & Rubber Summit was devoted to speeches and a panel discussion by top executives from Goodyear, Pirelli, Bridgestone, Yokohama and Continental. Each presentation laid out the company's green game plan and how it is being achieved.
It was much of what you'd expect: from work on reducing tire rolling resistance to improve fuel economy, to substitution of “greener” materials, to changes in plant operations, from the simple—sorting waste—to reducing and/or eliminating air pollutants.
At one point it seemed the tire company execs were having a contest over who quit landfilling waste first. Every manufacturer had ended that practice at all its plants but one, and the official from that firm assured it wasn't much, only one factory did it and it would end fairly soon.
What I observed was one of those paradigm shifts you always hear about. These tire makers have bought into the idea that green is good, in a big way.
Why? I could be cynical and say the tire makers, like industry in general, never much cared about environmental issues other than the money it might cost them. Or, I could be sanguine and say the folks that run tire companies have to live in this world, too, and accept their own responsibility toward the environment.
There's probably some truth to both sides. Mainly, though, I think tire companies are embracing green because it's good for business.
The public has adopted the concept of sustainability. Americans will continue to fight over aspects of it, particularly the value versus the cost of green initiatives, but consumers generally now embrace green, and buy green.
Tire companies are run by smart people, and they are well aware of the culture change. That translates into a major shift to being environmentally responsible, and developing and marketing products that emphasize their “greenness.”
It doesn't matter if the motivating factor in the tire industry's acceptance of sustainability is financial, outside pressure or the development of a social conscience. The world's a better place because they did.
Noga is the editor of Rubber & Plastics News.