WASHINGTON—In May 2017, General Motors Co. unveiled a program to promote environmentally sound, sustainable rubber production.
Representatives of the world's largest tire manufacturers—Bridgestone Americas, Michelin North America Inc., Goodyear and Continental Tire the Americas L.L.C.—appeared with GM officials at the news conference announcing the sustainability program. They pledged their support and collaboration in helping the auto maker develop its plan.
Since that time, GM has worked to both map out the NR supply for greater transparency and traceability and to enlist as many stakeholders as possible in that effort.
Meanwhile, tire makers are supporting the GM effort and following their own plans to achieve NR sustainability.
"In May, GM committed to source sustainable natural rubber for all of its tires in the future," said Nick Richards, GM product development/purchasing and supply chain communications manager.
"While we stated that we will develop a set of purchasing requirements, our intent was that the entire automotive industry will join in the movement and together help transform the rubber supply chain."
Since May, tire makers, non-government organizations and other auto makers have shown enthusiasm for the project, according to Richards.
"As such, we are continuing our work with all of these partners to ensure that the road map we develop is one that all parties support and execute," he said.
November 2017 saw a major milestone for the GM program at a meeting of the Tire Industry Project, an organization that has operated since 2005 through the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, according to Richards.
At the event, CEOs of 11 tire makers agreed to identify appropriate governance structures and potential platforms for sustainable natural rubber, he said.
In addition to TIP, GM is coordinating efforts with its European partners, CSR Europe and Drive Sustainability, which have made rubber a top priority in sustainability, according to Richards.
Also, GM had a closed-door meeting in Washington Jan. 24, in conjunction with the Washington Auto Show, he said.
At that meeting, GM held discussions with 14 other parties, including NGOs, original equipment manufacturers, industry associations and tire manufacturers, to further align the map to NR sustainability, according to Richards.
"As that work unfolds and we ensure alignment amongst any stakeholders in the natural rubber value chain, we will see more rapid advancements in transparency, traceability and other sustainability and corporate benefits," he said.
Bridgestone Americas applauds GM's contributions toward a sustainable natural rubber value chain, according to Jim DeMouy, Bridgestone Americas vice president of environmental, health, safety and sustainability.
"Bridgestone takes a broad view of sustainable natural rubber, which includes not only deforestation, but also labor rights, land conservation and rights, water use and quality, and many other critical elements," DeMouy said. Bridgestone Americas' parent company, Bridgestone Corp., was a co-founder of TIP, he said.
"We are finalizing our work on a new set of standards for sustainable procurement and will share more details very soon," DeMouy said. The objectives of those standards, he said, will be:
- Promoting sustainable practices;
- Identifying and evaluating potential suppliers; and
- Serving as a communications/improvement tool for the industry.
Among Bridgestone's activities in achieving a sustainable rubber system in intensive research and development into alternative sources of natural rubber, such as guayule and dandelions, according to DeMouy.
In September 2017, Bridgestone Americas received a five-year, $15 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue the development of guayule as a domestic source of NR, he said.
In June 2017, one month after GM announced its sustainability program, Michelin invited GM officials to deliver presentations on the program at Movin'On, Michelin's advanced mobility conference in Montreal.
"Michelin and GM are totally aligned in their approach regarding the natural rubber supply chain," said Tom Sullivan, director, consumer public relations at Michelin North America.
In 2016, Michelin adopted a sustainable natural rubber policy that fulfills GM's expectations regarding its tire suppliers, according to Sullivan.
Michelin's approach to sustainable NR, according to Sullivan, is based on three pillars:
- Establishment of the sustainable NR policy as a template for Michelin's suppliers;
- Using tools to ensure compliance, including Rubberway, a mobile application dedicated to best practices for collecting latex, transforming the product industrially and transporting it, using data from smallholders, large farms, intermediaries and raw material processing plants; and
- Projects such as an experimental plantation in Bahia, Brazil, to conduct research in improving yield and production quality.
Goodyear is working holistically across the NR supply chain, with GM, TIP and others, to address important issues such as deforestation, labor rights and land rights, said Troy Scully, Goodyear communications director, global operations & technology.
"In parallel, Goodyear is also reinforcing its own procurement policy with support from civil society to enhance our efforts toward sustainable natural rubber," Scully said.
Continental welcomes GM's sustainable NR initiative, according to Juan Botero, vice president—key account management business unit, original equipment passenger and light truck for Continental Tire the Americas.
"GM's commitment and new requirements help push the tire industry to establish best practices with respect to reducing deforestation and labor rights abuses," Botero said. "We look forward to working together with all stakeholders that aim for a sustainable natural rubber program."
Besides working with GM, TIP and others, Conti is pursuing its own sustainability project, according to Botero. One of those projects is to improve the working and living conditions of smallholders in Pontianak, Indonesia, he said.
"This project aims for a real traceability system within a very complex and fragmented supply chain that relies on millions of smallholder farmers," he said.
Another major part of Conti's sustainability program is its Taraxagum project, which aims to achieve commercialization of rubber from the Russian dandelion, according to Botero.
In November 2017, the company broke ground on its Taraxagum Lab Anklam, representing about a $43 million investment in a research and test facility in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Germany. The facility is scheduled to become operational in the autumn of 2018, Botero said.
"Given a positive outcome of the tests, Continental is planning to use the raw material in its future series production operations to meet an increasing proportion of its natural rubber requirements from the dandelion," he said.