As sustainable as Volvo


Did you know that around 15% of your car is plastic, and that only 5% of that is recycled material? Volvo Cars knows – and it’s challenging the auto industry to do much, much better. Their new recycled plastics vision is part of the solution.

The plague of waste plastic is impacting all areas of our lives, including transport. Your car probably contains around 200 kg of plastic, which makes it lighter and results in less fuel, emissions and corrosion. However, this plastic must be recycled for reuse, to avoid it becoming an environmental hazard when the car is scrapped.

Europe’s auto industry is pretty efficient with regard to recycling, with cars being one of the most recycled consumer products. This is partly driven by compliance with the European Union’s End-of-Life Vehicle (ELV) Directive, which requires vehicles to be designed for 85% reuse or recovery.

Another major factor is sustainability-focused car manufacturers that ensure resources like iron and steel, which account for about 60 percent of a passenger vehicle, do not become waste.

Safety – and sustainability – first!

Volvo Cars – an icon of car safety innovation – is fast becoming a champion of auto-industry sustainability, including recycling. Around 36,000 Volvos a year are dissembled and recycled for second use at Sweden’s Stena plant in Halmstad alone, in line with strict company standards.

As Stuart Templar, Volvo’s Director of Sustainability, explains, “Volvo started recycling vehicle parts in the late 1940s and we now take a complete lifecycle perspective of our vehicles – from where materials originate to how old parts are being reused or recycled.” Today, the company has a keen focus on designing components, including EV batteries, for easy recycling and reuse. Volvo remanufactures around 15% of its parts and is working to increase this.

Plastic: problem or resource?

The growing amount of plastics used in cars is one of the auto recycling industry’s critical challenges. Auto industry plastic waste is often multi-component injection moulded parts or reinforced plastics that can contain fillers such as glass fibre, carbon fibre and glass beads or plastic blends.

Well aware of this, Volvo Cars has decided to raise the industry bar on plastic recycling and reuse. Their two-pronged challenge went out to both car manufacturers and suppliers.

Firstly, Volvo committed to 25% of all plastics in their cars launched after 2025 being recycled material. The industry average is now around 5%. Secondly, Volvo urged auto industry suppliers to work closely with carmakers to develop sustainable next generation components containing more recycled plastics.

“We already work with some great, forward-thinking suppliers when it comes to sustainability,” said Martina Buchhauser, Volvo Cars Senior VP Global Procurement. “However, we do need increased availability of recycled plastics if we are to make our ambition a reality. That is why we call on even more suppliers and new partners to join us in investing in recycled plastics and to help us realise our ambition.”

The response was exceptional says Stuart Templar, “No less than 50 suppliers want to collaborate and join us on this journey. We hope that our demand for the material has helped stimulate supply.”

Volvo’s ambitions were also applauded by Erik Solheim, Head of the UN Environment Programme: “Volvo’s move to integrate plastic waste into the design of their next fleet of cars sets a new benchmark that we hope others in the car industry will follow. This is proof that this problem can be solved by design and innovation.”

And while on the subject of plastic waste, Volvo has also committed to remove single use plastic from its restaurants, offices and global events by 2020 – around 20 million items per year (equivalent to 500 per employee)

Dream it, prototype it, do it!

In June 2018, to showcase the viability of their vision, Volvo unveiled a demonstrator vehicle – an XC60 T8 plug-in hybrid SUV with 170 parts (around 60kg) containing recycled plastics. The tunnel console is made from renewable fibres and plastics from discarded fishing nets and maritime ropes, the carpet contains fibres from PET plastic bottles and a recycled cotton mix from clothing manufacturers’ offcuts, and the sound-absorbing material under the bonnet comes from used Volvo car seats.

“We will use this vehicle to help shape our future use of recycled plastic,” says Stuart Templar explaining how three of the parts from the demonstrator vehicle have already gone into vehicle production.. “We won’t just focus on ocean plastics and post-consumer waste, but also integrate more post-industry waste into the vehicles,” Templar adds, “The ‘promised land’ for our circular economic journey is to ensure that as much first-life waste as possible is recycled and repurposed for our own production.”

The effect of Volvo’s ambitions on the auto and recycling industries can be considerable. According to the company’s senior sustainable material expert Andreas Andersson, when all Volvos are produced with 25% of their plastic from recycled materials this will create a recycled plastic demand of 10,000-30,000 tonnes in 2025, and a stable long-term demand beyond 2025 of up to 50,000 tonnes worldwide.

A White Knight

In an industry still suffering from emissions-cheating scandals, Volvo’s determined sustainability drive makes it stand out as something of a White Knight. That its Sustainability Director is a former British diplomat engaged in UN human rights reporting and anti-corruption work is one indication of this. In a neat twist of kismet, he also happens to share a surname with the heroic Simon Templar who drove an iconic Volvo P1800 in the 1960s British TV series “The Saint”.

Stuart Templar – who admits his first car was a much less glamorous Volvo 340 GL – says he was attracted by “a company that really cares about safety, people and innovation, and wants to address its environmental impact.”

This is borne out by Volvo’s solid corporate credentials and heritage. They invented the three-point seat belt (1959) estimated to have saved over a million lives, as well as the world’s first catalytic converter for petrol-engine vehicles (1976). Volvo Sweden is also a founding member of the UN Global Compact and ranks among the 45 most engaged “LEAD” partners from 9000 signatories.

So what accounts for such a reputation?

Industry-leading electrification strategy

  • 50% of sales to be from fully electric vehicles by 2025
  • Every new vehicle electrified from 2019 (hybrids or fully electric)

Commitment to energy efficiency and use of renewables

  • All European operations supplied by renewable electricity since 2008
  • 80% of global electricity from renewable sources
  • Saved enough energy to power 12,000 homes in 2018

Ambition to achieve climate-neutral manufacturing operations (in terms of CO2) by 2025

  • From 2017 to 2018 Volvo reduced its global manufacturing carbon footprint by 16%
  • In January 2018, the engine plant in, Sweden, became Volvo’s first climate-neutral facility.

The company is also striving to ensure a responsible supply chain: supporting circularity, use of sustainable materials, resource efficiency, business ethics, health and safety and human rights. Templar mentions the example of a recent block chain pilot project focused on cobalt as a way of addressing traceability in the lithium-ion battery supply chain and avoiding human rights abuses. Volvo is committed to securing a responsible and transparent 3TG and Cobalt supply chain by 2020. “We will only use smelters that have been certified by the Responsible Minerals Initiative (RMI), and will work towards full compliance with the OECD Guidelines on Conflict Minerals,” underlines Templar.

Care & Consideration

Underpinning all these commitments and achievements is Volvo’s sustainability program, “Omtanke”. This Swedish word denotes “care and consideration” but also means “to think again”. The program is also closely aligned with 13 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals in order to guide the company’s future.

For anyone still sceptical of so-called “soft values”, take a look at how Volvo’s Omtanke mindset is creating a competitive edge that captures the imagination of industry outsiders such as Stuart Templar and a generation of millenials alike. As an ex-pat Brit residing in Sweden, Templar is positively amazed at Volvo’s recent introduction of six months shared parental leave in its EMEA region, a first in the auto industry and inspired by Sweden’s generous legislation. Templar notes he only had 2 weeks paternity leave when working in the UK. He lists a set of diversity ambitions that are equally impressive: 35% of top 300 managers should be non-Swedish nationals and 35% of leading positions should be held by women by 2020; 50/50 male/female external recruitment for all leadership positions.

Millennials, millennials, millennials…

Stuart Templar explains how sustainability, diversity and inclusion attract talent with the expertise, specialist know-how and personalities vital for building an innovative, ethical global culture and organisation. “Our pulling power on millennials is more evidence of how sustainability is critical for future business,” he says citing a Nilsen survey that states how 75% of Generation Y will take lower pay to work for a genuinely sustainable and ethical business.

“Millennials – who will have more spending power than any other generation in history and are more willing to pay a premium for sustainable products – will be our primary workforce and consumer base by 2025,” Templar emphasizes, noting how “Our recent intake, 53 young people from across the globe and 50% women, really grill us about our sustainability work and what more we could do. This really matters to them.”

The importance of a company’s success in attracting and engaging with this generation cannot be overstated. As one of Volvo’s Generation Y recruits recently put it, “Volvo’s targets on sustainability are the main reason why I was attracted to the company. Working in the car industry should not mean simply making cars, but having an impact on the future of our planet and coming generations.”

Revolutionizing the way people are traveling

The vision for the future of autonomous travel that Volvo Cars are presenting in it’s new concept, can be seen as a holistic view of future travels that is autonomous, electric, connected and safe.

“The 360c concept could open up new growth markets for Volvo Cars – for example in the multi-billion dollar domestic air travel industry,” says Trosby.

Under the hood of the 360c, there is a fully autonomous, fully electric car without a human driver – without pedals or a steering wheel. Experts are talking about this car’s abilities as the fifth out of five levels of autonomous driving.

The fifth level is also the last. This level of autonomous driving requires absolutely no human attention, and the autonomous vehicle system controls all critical tasks, monitoring of the environment and identification of unique driving conditions such as traffic jams.

Today’s development of all the five autonomous levels is today on level two. Last year, a few car producers have released cars with autonomous driving level three – in other words, we will have to wait some years before fully autonomous vehicles are fully entering the mass market.

The 360c represents a new era of transportation where flexibility is one of the
most important factors that lays within this concept - either if you are looking for a sleeping environment, mobile office, living room and entertainment space. All of them are reimagining the way people are traveling.

“The car business will change in the coming years and Volvo wants to lead that change,” said Håkan Samuelsson, president and CEO of Volvo Cars. “Autonomous drive has the potential to allow us to take the next step in safety but also open up exciting new business models and allow consumers to spend time in the car doing what they want to do.”

Volvo has been a frontrunner in developing advanced driver-assistance technology, by many regarded as the first step towards an autonomous and driverless future. Even though autonomous technology as envisioned in the 360c concept isn’t fully developed yet, it’s a first step towards a broad discussion about the potential for autonomous driving technology that has the ability to fundamentally change society in many ways.

“When the Wright brothers took to the skies in 1903, they did not have a clue about what modern air travel would look like,” said Mårten Levenstam. “We do not know what the future of autonomous drive will hold, but it will have a profound impact on how people travel, how we design our cities and how we use infrastructure. We regard the 360c as a conversation starter, with more ideas and answers to come as we learn more."

The future of car safety

Since Volvo invented it’s three-point safety belt in 1959, the Swedish car producer has been a frontrunner within car safety.  

With the 360c, however, this milestone may be exceeded. Autonomous driving and safety are closely linked and the technology has the potential to deliver the most significant improvement in traffic safety since 1959.

A McKinsey-report from 2015, predicts that driverless cars could reduce traffic fatalities by up to 90 percent.

Volvo is picking up the thread exploring how the 360c concept tackles one of the main challenges around the introduction of autonomous technology and calls for a new global standard in how autonomous vehicles safety can communicate with all other road users – with or without built-in technology.

However, driverless technology will not be introduced overnight, but will enter the markets gradually. As a result, fully autonomous cars will be introduced in a mixed traffic situation where driverless cars without a human driver are sharing the road with other road users.

In such a traffic situation, it will no longer be possible to make eye contact with and learn about another driver’s intentions – which is a central element of today’s everyday traffic interaction.

Additionally, the focus was to create a universally applicable standard, so that other road users do not have to consider the make or brand of individual autonomous cars.

The 360c addresses this challenge with a system comprising external sounds, colours, visuals, movements, as well as combinations of these tools, to communicate the vehicle’s intentions to other road users. This means it is at all times clear what the car will do next.

Crucially, while the design of the 360c safety communication technology focuses on making the car indicate its own intentions to other road users, it will never issue directions or instructions to other road users.

“We strongly believe this communication method should be a universal standard, so all road users can communicate easily with any autonomous car, regardless of which maker built it,” said Malin Ekholm, vice president at the Volvo Cars Safety Centre. “But it is also important that we do not instruct others what to do next, in order to avoid potential confusion. Our research shows this is the safest way for fully autonomous cars to communicate with other road users.”


På nivå null utfører sjåføren alle driftsoppgaver av kjøretøyet.

På første nivå kan kjøretøyet bistå med noen funksjoner, men sjåføren utfører alle driftsoppgavene som styring, akselerasjon, bremsing og overvåking av omgivelsene. Det kan eksempelvis være en bil som bremser litt ekstra for deg om du kommer for nærme en annen bil på motorveien.

På nivå to kan kjøretøyet bistå med styrings- eller akselerasjonsfunksjoner og tillate at sjåføren gir slipp på noen av oppgavene sine. De fleste bilprodusenter utvikler for øyeblikket dette nivået. På dette nivået må likevel føreren må alltid være klar til å ta kontroll over kjøretøyet og er fortsatt ansvarlig for de fleste sikkerhetskritiske situasjoner og all miljøovervåkning.

Det største steget fra nivå to og oppover, er at selve kjøretøyet kontrollerer all miljøovervåking ved hjelp av sensorer. Sjåførens oppmerksomhet er fremdeles kritisk på dette nivået, men vedkommende kan frigjøre seg fra «sikkerhetskritiske» funksjoner som bremsing og la teknologien ta kontrollen når forholdene er trygge.

Mange nåværende nivå tre-kjøretøy krever ingen menneskelig oppmerksomhet til veien ved hastigheter under 60 kilometer i timen.

På nivå fire og fem er kjøretøyet i stand til å styre, bremse, akselerere, overvåke kjøretøyet og kjørebanen, samt svare på hendelser, bestemme når du skal bytte felt, svinge og bruke signaler.

På nivå fire vil det autonome kjøresystemet gi beskjed til førerer når forholdene er trygge, og først da må sjåføren selv sette bilen i denne modusen. Denne graden av automasjon kan ikke avgjøre mer dynamiske kjøreforhold som trafikkork eller fletting på motorveien.

Nivå fem er autonomi. Dette nivået av autonom kjøring krever absolutt ingen menneskelig oppmerksomhet og det er ikke behov for pedaler, bremser eller ratt. Det autonome kjøretøyet styrer alle de kritiske oppgavene, overvåkning av miljøet rundt bilen og identifisering av unike kjøreforhold som eksempelvis trafikkork.








Denne artikkelen er produsert i 

Text: Kevin Reeder

Photo: Volvo

Layout & Graphics: Lars Erik Fjøsne