Image Credit: Gleb Predko / Shutterstock.com
With climate change becoming an increasingly discussed topic, the general public, governments, businesses, manufacturers and consumers are becoming more conscientious and seeking to make informed choices that have little or no detrimental impact on the environment.
This shift in behavior has seeped into every industry, and while some have been early adopters of green alternatives, others have been slower to embrace eco-friendly alternatives. The automotive industry is one industry that is considered to be lagging behind.
However, that looks set to change as Lenzing teams up with major manufacturers in the automotive industry.
Who is Lenzing?
Lenzing has spent more than 80 years developing alternative, sustainable fibers, using a natural source - cellulose derived from wood. Over the past few decades, they have provided sustainable fibers for various industries, including beauty, fashion, and cleaning.
The company innovates botanic fiber products made from renewable sources and using manufacturing processes that are as carbon neutral as possible. This ensures the entire process has little to no impact on the environment.
Lenzing focuses on using resource-conserving technologies to produce its range of products that they hope will make considerable contributions to the reduction in environmental damage. Globally, companies are adopting Lenzing's alternative fibers over traditional ones, which are often made of non-biodegradable plastics that have huge carbon footprints.
The natural cellulose fibers used in Lenzing’s products are incredibly versatile and are currently used to create protective equipment for firefighters, in clothing for sports and outdoor activities, and even in medical applications. With such diversity, Lenzing is positioned to innovate and develop products for almost any industry.
Switching Synthetic Fibers with Eco-Friendly Ones in the Automotive Industry
Around 100 million tons of fibers are produced each year. Those made from materials such as single-use plastics are unsustainable, and companies and manufacturers are now seeking alternative materials to move away from the reliance on these environmentally harmful substances.
Initiatives set by governments and global bodies worldwide are encouraging businesses to shift to using sustainable, environmentally friendly materials. While many industries have made changes in significant ways, the automotive industry has been slower to adapt.
Although hybrid and electric cars have begun to make their mark in reducing the impact of the automotive industry on climate change, automotive interiors have made little moves to become more sustainable.
Automotive manufacturers have been slower to embrace more sustainable interior materials and processes. Image Credit: moreimages/Shutterstock.com
Given that making a new car generates almost as much carbon pollution as it does to drive it, changing the energy source is only half the picture and the manufacturing processes of the automotive industry must also be updated.
One way to target and reduce carbon emissions associated with these manufacturing processes is to make changes to the textiles used in the interiors of vehicles. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that just 15.2% of textiles produced in the US are recycled, demonstrating the generally low use of eco-friendly textiles, such as those made from sustainable fibers.
The automotive industry is no exception, relying on around 30 kg of non-recyclable synthetic fibers to create the interiors of each car produced.
However, things are changing. Lenzing will now make eco-friendly, sustainable fibers for use in car interiors to help reduce the detrimental impact on the environment caused by the automotive industry.
Learn more about sustainable materials derived from cellulose
Targeting Textiles to Tackle Automotive Industry Emissions
In tackling the carbon emissions related to the automotive industry, much focus has been on developing cars that work on renewable energy, as well as reducing the weight of vehicles by using new designs and materials to decrease the amount of fuel needed to power the car.
Brands in the automotive industry are looking to change the manufacturing processes involved in creating their textiles, helping to reduce carbon emissions by switching to recyclable, sustainable fibers.
Automotive manufacturers have previously investigated materials that can be used as alternatives to conventional materials that often end up in landfills such as leather, cotton, and plastic.
Given the success in teaming up with companies in other industries, such as sports, fashion and lifestyle, the Austria-based producer of sustainable fibers is now focusing on bringing its eco-friendly alternatives to the automotive industry.
Lenzing’s wood-based products are biodegradable, meaning that once a vehicle is scrapped, the textiles will not cause harm to the environment as conventional materials do, and they can be removed and used as compost.
All of Lenzing's products use production processes that have a significantly reduced impact on the environment and release fewer emissions. For example, the company's REFIBRA technology utilizes the concept of a circular economy, constructing sustainable fibers from scrap material obtained from the cotton industry.
Lenzing recognizes that in tackling automotive interiors, the carbon emissions of the entire industry could be lowered, having a significant impact on the role the automotive industry plays in climate change and helping it to meet future emissions objectives. Interiors have not previously been a focal point, so Lenzing has positioned themselves to change this.
Over recent years, consumers have become increasingly aware of the negative impacts of using plastics in textiles and are making informed choices to move away from supporting these manufacturing processes.
Research has shown that customers are increasingly willing to pay more for products that are eco-friendly, demonstrating that these values are gaining importance over product pricing. The combination of global targets to reduce carbon emissions, alongside the increasingly conscious consumer, means that automotive manufacturers should change their processes to ensure their longevity in the industry.
Around 10 years ago, Lenzing introduced the use of sustainable fibers to the automotive industry, however, uptake was limited as manufacturers were not ready to embrace these changes. In light of the increasingly prevalent conversations surrounding climate change, the mood has now shifted, and there is an elevated interest in sustainability.
Lenzing has recently signed contracts with major industry players such as car interiors and seating manufacturers Adient and Tesca, both of which will be using TENCELT branded lyocell fibers in their products. The new Range Rover Evoque also uses these fibers in the interior trim of its premium ‘Eucalyptus Melange’ model.
An Industry Shifting to More Sustainable Practices
As global targets to reduce emissions become imminent, and consumers become more conscious of the environmental impact of their purchases, the automotive industry has started to shift to more sustainable practices.
Until recently, car interiors had not been a focus of this shift to reduce the emissions related to the automotive industry. However, recent partnerships made between Lenzing and major industry players are likely symbolic of a shift in focus.
We can expect increased adoption of sustainable fibers in the coming years, with electric vehicles being those most likely to incorporate eco-friendly materials to further reduce their environmental impact.
References and Further Reading
Holmes, F. (2020) Auto industry turns attention to sustainable interiors. [Online] Automotive World. Available at: https://www.automotiveworld.com/articles/auto-industry-turns-attention-to-sustainable-interiors/ (Accessed on 29 May 2020).
Greenpeace International (2019) Car industry’s 2018 carbon footprint exceeds EU greenhouse gas emissions – Greenpeace. [Online] Greenpeace. Available at: https://www.greenpeace.org/international/press-release/24131/car-industrys-2018-carbon-footprint-exceeds-eu-greenhouse-gas-emissions-greenpeace/ (Accessed on 29 May 2020).
Lenzing. Sustainability: Think and act sustainably: the Lenzing way. [Online] Available at: https://www.lenzing.com/sustainability (Accessed on 29 May 2020).
PWC. The automotive industry and climate change. Available at: https://www.pwc.com/th/en/automotive/assets/co2.pdf (Accessed on 29 May 2020).
Berners-Lee, M., and Clark, D. (2010) What's the carbon footprint of ... a new car? [Online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/green-living-blog/2010/sep/23/carbon-footprint-new-car (Accessed on 29 May 2020).