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BMW Chair: “We Will Be Taking Sustainability To A Whole New Level”

BMW wants to take sustainability to “a whole new level,” Oliver Zipse, Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG, said this week in an interview/press release. The interview is presented Q&A style in a BMW corporate press release and notes that major corporations have a key role to play when it comes to sustainability.

BMW wants to take sustainability to “a whole new level,” Oliver Zipse, Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG, said this week in an interview/press release. The interview is presented Q&A style in a BMW corporate press release and notes that major corporations have a key role to play when it comes to sustainability. In the interview, Zipse shares what BMW plans to do and which aspects of sustainability will be “the key focal points in the future.”

Oliver Zipse, Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG (05/2020). Image courtesy BMW.

The first question addressed the coronavirus and wanted to know how much room this left BMW for sustainability. Zipse admitted that the pandemic affected BMW to the point where there had to be cutbacks on several projects, but he also made this point clear: “There can be no compromise when it comes to climate and environmental protection. It is a decisive topic for the future of our society.” He also emphasized the importance of setting the right course now — during the challenges of the pandemic — and says that BMW will be “stepping up the pace.”

The BMW Group set targets for emissions reductions by 2020 and the follow-up question to the above answer was, “What does that mean exactly?” Zipse pointed out that those targets were for resource consumption and the emissions BMW generates directly as a company, such as from production.

“We were very successful: We lowered energy consumption per vehicle produced by more than 40% and were even able to reduce waste and CO2 emissions by over 70%.” Zipse also said that it wasn’t a coincidence that BMW’s CO2 emissions per vehicle produced are much lower than for the rest of the German auto industry. “We met nearly all our targets last year already. So, we were able to start developing a completely new sustainability strategy for the future earlier than expected.”

When asked what this looked like, Zipse didn’t want to reveal all of the details. “I can tell you that the approach is radically holistic,” he said, adding that they will be taking the topic of sustainability “to a whole new level.” One would think this might mean much more ambitious electrification plans — BMW has been slow in recent years to embrace 100% electric vehicles — but it’s not clear if this is what the company has in mind. Zipse emphasized that BMW is focused on having a real and transparent impact. “That’s why we will once again be setting ourselves clear and measurable goals — but, this time, they will extend far beyond our direct sphere of influence.”

When asked for a concrete example, Zipse shared that BMW needs to improve its products’ overall environmental balance from resources to recycling. He brings up e-mobility and how it’s gaining more traction. “Up to 40% of a fully-electric vehicle’s CO2 emissions come from the battery cell production alone. Depending on where they are produced and the electricity mix used there, about a third of these emissions come from power consumption directly at the cell manufacturer. This is a major and very effective lever for reducing CO2 — so that is precisely where we are focusing our efforts.”

Photo by Kyle Field, CleanTechnica.

Even though BMW doesn’t produce battery cells, Zipse stated that, “As a leader in sustainability, what we say carries a lot of weight with our suppliers — and we can then leverage this reputation.” He spoke of BMW’s contractual agreement with its cell manufacturers, and part of this is that they will only use “green power” to produce BMW’s 5th generation battery cells. Zipse also announced that BMW plans to launch this technology with the BMW iX3 and then roll it out across its product lineup. This will include the BMW iNEXT and BMW i4 next year.

When asked about CO2 reductions and whether or not they will only come from suppliers, Zipse explained that this works best when manufacturers and suppliers work together:

“The only way we can motivate our partners to take these kinds of steps is by continuing to lead by example. This is what we are very clearly doing with our new strategy. The successes we are having — here and now — underline how important this topic is to us: In addition to reducing resource consumption and emissions significantly, we are also fully on track to meet our CO2 fleet targets in the EU. This will also be the first year all plants operated by the BMW Group, as well as our BBA joint venture in China, will obtain their electricity exclusively from renewable energy sources. Our partners know we aren’t satisfied with just making announcements for the distant future. We deliver and will continue to do so.”

Photo by Kyle Field, CleanTechnica.

My Thoughts

There was a lot of positive talk but not much detail here. How exactly is BMW taking sustainability to “a whole new level,” or how is it “stepping up the pace?” Those questions weren’t answered, and few facts or stats were provided. Regarding the topic of Covid-19, what exactly did BMW learn from this crisis? There were some vague comments about learning from the pandemic, but nothing very concrete or clear.

Setting goals that will “extend far beyond our direct sphere of influence” is a vague description of something that is “radically holistic.” The question that formed in my mind while reading that was, “What detail can you share with us as to how this approach is holistic in a radical way? As in, how is BMW taking sustainability to a whole new level?” If you are ready to share details of new, greener plans, great! Put out a press release about them. But if you are not ready and can only really publish vague comments with feel-good language, why publish anything?

The concrete example Zipse gave centered around battery cell manufacturing, and he did share that this is where BMW is focusing its efforts. Perhaps this his how BMW will take its sustainability to a whole new level? And how is this radically holistic? How is it different from what other companies are doing?

It’s great to see BMW addressing the issue of sustainability and sharing a few facts and generic plans, but it is not going to inspire or move customers very much if you just scatter a few concrete points in the middle of a large volume of vague corporate puffery and self-praise.

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