We talk about the Nissan LEAF quite a bit here on CleanTechnica, featuring its newly extended range, price, and the exciting concepts that Nissan has developed that hint at what we might see in a future version of the LEAF, but one thing we don’t talk about much is how sustainably it’s built. The LEAF isn’t just an environmentally friendly car because it’s an EV and doesn’t burn petrol, but it also walks the talk with the way many of the components are sourced and assembled.
LEAF Chief Vehicle Engineer Hidetoshi Kadota summarized their approach to the car as a whole: “It’s zero emission, but if too much CO2 is emitted during the vehicle’s production, we cannot call it a sustainable car.” That sounds noble, and in the same vein as Tesla’s approach to building cars. Nissan’s ultimate goal with the LEAF is to go beyond just producing a zero-emissions car to develop a full lineup of “environmentally neutral” cars.
“To preserve the planet and create a car that is sustainable and eco-friendly, we set ourselves a goal to use recycled materials to build LEAFs.” Many materials in the LEAF are currently produced from recycled materials, including steel, copper, aluminum, plastics and others
Of course, this may seem like Nissan is trying to sell the car at a lower quality, but that’s not the case. As with many commodities, using recycled materials can be done at the same high-quality standards as with using virgin materials – if not better. Recycled materials have already been refined once for their original use, which in itself raises the quality over a virgin material. From there, recycled materials are run through the same processing as new materials, resulting in products that are generally comparable to buying new, and Nissan is confident it can maintain its high-quality standards.
Using recycled materials is becoming more and more common as manufacturers seek to reduce their environmental footprint while at the same time generating cost savings, as recycled materials are often cheaper than virgin products. The cloth seat fabric is another area Nissan has innovated to make the LEAF more sustainable. The fabric is made with at least 30% post-consumer recycled content.
Nissan is not just recycling — it is tackling the full “Reduce-Reuse-Recycle” approach, integrating new and creative solutions to do so. For example, the sound insulation in the Nissan LEAF is made from repurposed clothes that are blended up and reconstituted in the necessary form factor for the insulation. Additionally, some of the plastics in the car are made from repurposed waste electrical appliances. Nissan worked with supplier UBE to source the plastic pellets from this creative waste stream, and it makes sense — as long as they are the same chemistries, they can be melted down and blended in with raw product for use in the car. So… if you see someone from Nissan down at your local second-hand store looking for clothes or a new freezer, it’s possible that they are preparing for the next production run of Nissan LEAFs. 😉
In addition to the materials used to manufacture its cars, Nissan is working to reduce its corporate CO2 emissions. In June of 2015, it announced that it has cut its corporate CO2 emissions by 22.6% while at the same time increasing vehicle production. Corporate carbon footprints are typically not as large as for manufacturing plants, but still worth working on as a MWh is a MWh regardless of where it is consumed. Many corporations are taking a similar approach to sustainability, as it often makes sense solely from a financial standpoint with returns on investments that are competitive with traditional corporate investments.