Every year on April 22, Earth Day serves as a reminder of our responsibilities to the planet—both as individuals and as a society. This year, the theme is End Plastic Pollution, a movement to reduce our dependency on plastics that harm the environment. Climate change has played a major role in spurring movements to reduce greenhouse gases, and today, even major cities are jumping on board. New York City, for example, is working toward a goal of 80% reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2050. For-profit companies need to be a part of the larger goal to reduce environmental impact, which could mean some changes in the manufacturing process.
Although there are many ways manufacturers can pitch in and help preserve and clean up the planet, manufacturing in the transportation and auto industries have the potential to make the greatest impact. Rising populations and ever-increasing globalization have created a pressing need for manufacturers to step in and help improve the health and sustainability of the environment.
The High Environmental Cost of Urbanization
Commuters haven’t been imagining it: traffic has been getting worse in urban centers all around the world. 50% of the world’s population now lives in cities, and many of those people are not using public transit. 73% of air pollution in cities come from private cars. These issues show that cleaner transit options and increased emphasis on public transportation will be essential as urbanization progresses. Public transit could reduce carbon emissions by 37 metric tons every year while also reducing fuel consumption and saving commuters both time and money. However, the infrastructure needs to improve in order for transit to provide these benefits.
Manufacturing: A History of Environmental Harm—and the Potential Solution
Up until a few years ago, industrialization was the largest contributing factor in environmental harm. Since the Industrial Revolution, air quality in urban areas has been an ongoing issue. More recently climate change has forced the manufacturing industry to examine its role in consumer culture and the processes that are doing the most damage. Although many common manufacturing processes contributed to greenhouse gases long before they were discovered as harmful, policies and ethical manufacturers are working to reverse these damages. Today, it’s important for manufacturers to step up and be proactive in order to help ensure a sustainable planet for future generations. For transportation and automotive companies, that means focusing on clean technologies and processes, and supporting efforts for better public transportation systems.
Manufacturing Innovations for Sustainability
Some transportation and automotive companies have been adopting sustainability initiatives for years. Instead of using fossil fuels, companies like BMW have switched much of their manufacturing over to renewable energy sources. Two of BMW’s car models are made using 100% renewable energy, and the company has strategically begun producing carbon fiber using hydroelectric power. These and other changes in manufacturing processes help to reduce toxins and environmental stress the industry contributes.
Changes to the cars themselves have also been a major environmental focus for automakers. Many of the biggest companies have gotten into the electric vehicle market, recognizing that our dependency on oil is both environmentally harmful and unsustainable long-term. Startup Lightyear One is even working on prototype vehicles that can run on solar power—a challenge that has so far eluded top innovators.
Benefits of Manufacturing the Future of Transportation
Manufacturing companies that choose to participate in the environmental movement gain several advantages. First, they “future-proof” themselves to a certain extent from policies that could be implemented. Companies that don’t change their process could be forced to when new legislation is passed, while the companies that have stayed up to date with environmental best practices won’t have to scramble. They also build up brand reputation and trust that can fuel the business for long-term growth and success.
How Expensive is Clean Transit?
Obviously, cost is a major concern for manufacturers in switching their focus to environmental friendliness. Despite the common perception that sustainable manufacturing is inescapably more expensive than traditional manufacturing, changing processes and energy sources can actually save companies money over time. What’s more, a large number of Americans are beginning to direct their spending to companies that focus on environmental or social good—both categories that sustainable transit falls into. For Earth day this year, let’s all think a little bit harder about how the ways we travel affect the planet—and what individuals and companies can do to make things cleaner.
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