With climate change, deforestation and water becoming increasingly important issues, assuring natural rubber sustainability has become crucial to every industry that depends on NR. And while it's been less than a year since General Motors pledged to support sustainable rubber production, it's clear that the auto maker has made progress in this laudable goal.
Of course, tackling this issue isn't a short-term goal, and one that can't be done alone. To that end, the Detroit-based automotive giant has worked to gain the support of a wide coalition of allies to the effort. It's encouraging, as well, to see the effort put forth over the past nine months.
Four of the world's top tire producers were there last May when GM made its initial announcement, and the auto maker soon after had a prominent role in delivering presentations at Michelin's advanced mobility conference in Montreal. Then this past November at a meeting of the Tire Industry Project, CEOs of 11 tire makers vowed to take the necessary steps to lead to sustainable NR.
And just a short time ago, during the Washington Auto Show, GM held a closed-door meeting with a group of non-governmental organizations, OEMs, industry associations and tire makers to set the course going forward. GM also has enlisted its European partners in making the issue a top priority.
Stressing labor and human rights—something early rubber barons in the 19th century notoriously did not do—is crucial if the NR industry and NR-producing countries are to survive. GM and its tire industry colleagues have pledged to do this.
The major tire manufacturers clearly are on board with GM's initiative, and also continue with efforts of their own toward sustainable NR, along with ongoing research into alternative sources of the precious commodity.
Bridgestone said it takes a broad view on NR sustainability, with its focus on deforestation, labor rights, land conservation, water use and quality. It promises to soon share detail on its new standards for procurement.
Michelin said it is in alignment with its approach, with its program based on establishing a sustainable NR policy, using tools to ensure compliance and conducting research to improve yield and quality.
Goodyear is working across the NR supply chain to tackle the hurdles needed to make sustainable NR a reality. And Continental said it welcomes GM's efforts to "push the industry to establish best practices."
Of course, there are questions that still need answered. It is unclear how NR sustainability programs will affect the traditional rubber trade, or whether the efforts of governments in the top NR-producing nations to shore up NR prices will impact sustainability programs.
But the progress made in a short time has been impressive. And as one GM official said, as the stakeholders in the NR value chain align their efforts, advancement toward the ultimate goal will move that much quicker.