Bridgestone SA: Sustainability is The Strategy

Tyre manufacturers, and the automotive industry as a whole, are focusing on a number of initiatives, we focus on four in our discussion today in the quest to achieve greater sustainability.

By Jacques Rikhotso, Director of Operations, Bridgestone South Africa

Manufacturers, and particularly those in the automotive sector, are fundamental pillars of modern society. Given the global concern about climate change, automotive manufacturers are leading the charge to become sustainable.

But, as noted, our industry plays a critical role in the global economy—all supply chains depend on our products, and thousands of jobs (direct and indirect) are involved. It’s thus critical that our strategies for becoming more sustainable are themselves… sustainable and are implemented in a way that is both effective and responsible.

Sustainability is a very broad concept, but four key considerations underpin the way Bridgestone, as a leading provider of mobility solutions and a tyre manufacturer, is addressing this burning issue:

People. All business ultimately comes down to the people involved in it: how motivated they are and what their skills are. To make the profound changes needed to become a sustainable company, one has to invest hugely in one’s people. Training becomes critical and also acts as a significant retention lever—people respond positively when they feel their skills are being upgraded. It is also important to ensure that people are doing work that is meaningful to them and that they are working in areas that suit their skills and inclinations.

Carbon neutrality. As is well accepted, we are reaching dangerously high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The automotive industry has been and has its contributions here, and thus must play a major role in overcoming this challenge. At Bridgestone, we understand the pressing need to contain as much carbon dioxide as we release, getting to carbon neutrality. Using 2017 as a base year, we have set ourselves a target of reducing our carbon emissions by 50% by 2027.

One way we are achieving this ambitious goal is by producing tires that improves the fuel efficiency of vehicles. Another is to rethink our actual manufacturing processes so that we discharge less carbon. In our case, a move away from synthetic to natural rubber is one initiative—and the trees themselves contribute by absorbing carbon.

We also use standards like I-REC to monitor and offset the energy that we use in manufacturing and across our supply chain.

I am happy to say that we are on target to achieve our 2027 goal.

Circularity. Businesses consume limited natural resources to make their products.  The concept of circularity is gaining traction because it encourages us to think laterally about ways to reduce our consumption of finite resources Circularity relies heavily on reuse, which necessitates a complete paradigm shift.

Firstly, we are focusing on producing tyres that last longer and so need less frequent replacement; we are also working on tyres with strong carcasses that can be re-treaded.

Secondly, we are working with 3rd parties to develop the use of used tires I secondary rubber applications such as the use of rubber crumb obtained from old tires in the construction of artificial sports fields and general paving.

A third goal is to invest in manufacturing technologies and materials that allow us to recover and reuse the components that go into a tyre, such as the oils, carbon black, and steel cords. What we produce must increasingly be reusable in new products.

These principles of circularity are also applied to those who supply us—we are using our leverage to drive circularity down our supply chain.

Social compact. A key part of becoming sustainable is to renew and improve one’s “social license to operate”. Part of that is tied up in our efforts to reduce our impact on the environment on which we all depend. But, on the ground, it’s perhaps even more important that we play a positive role in the communities in which we operate. This is particularly so in South Africa because of the high levels of inequality we have. Prosperous companies and their employees do not exist in isolation, and have to be seen as genuine partners in helping their fellow community members to have a shot at the descent living.

 Of course, how companies do this will vary; for us, it means first and foremost employing as many locals as possible; and vigorously participating in initiatives to upskill and employ unemployed people, particularly the youth. Every person in a local community who has a job with us, or who feels we are helping increase their chances of employment, becomes an ambassador for us and for business in general, and a force for social stability.

We also spend a significant amount of resources in training locals in areas with we operate as well as partner with education institutions at local level.

For us, and for any responsible company, sustainability has become much more than something we would like to do, or feel obliged to do. It’s at the heart of our strategy, and is simply becoming the way we do business. Our very existence and future depends on it.