It is hard to go far these days without encountering the S word. Sustainability is the obsessive mantra of 2019, and rightly so if we are to avoid sinking beneath a global blanket of plastic waste, or having our oceans forever polluted by its detritus.
Even Glastonbury, the youthful mecca of music, succumbed to paying homage to sustainability, with 93 year old Sir David Attenborough as the iconic on-stage cheerleader for the crusade.
So where is the motoring world in the midst of all this sustainability angst? Take a bow, Volkswagen Group, for its recent very timely announcement that as of the first of this month, it has introduced a worldwide sustainability rating for its suppliers, saying that sustainability is fast becoming a decisive business factor. Amen to that, so long as it proves to be more than mere lip service to the cause. Glastonbury has been a siren call for good intentions inadequately implemented.
“We are convinced that a sustainable supplier network is a guarantee of long-term corporate success.” So says VW Group board member Dr Stefan Sommer, whose responsibility is components and procurement. The timing coincides with the group’s new ‘Code of Conduct for Business Partners’, which is binding for all companies supplying parts, raw materials and services, with termination threatened for any who fail to comply.
The message from VW is that the new sustainability S-rating will enable the company to ‘assess the sustainability conduct of its business partners in its supply chain.’ Take heed, suppliers servicing the manufacturing needs of VW, Audi, Seat, Skoda, Bentley, Porsche, Bugatti and Lamborghini. Wolfsburg is on the case.
Of course, the Volkswagen Group has good reason to be a trailblazer in wanting to be squeaky clean about sustainability. Its stark warning that any misconduct in the area of environment will lead to exclusion from the award of contracts, comes in the wake of VW’s own very well publicised environmental misconduct forever known as dieselgate. The stable door has now clanked very firmly shut.
This may well be just the beginning for VW’s new crusade towards a more environment-friendly business. The group’s announcement that it expects its business partners to commit themselves to sustainability is also likely to have long-term repercussions for its dealer network.
Of course, the relationship between a manufacturer and its suppliers differs from a more partnership association between the company and dealers selling its products. But in these eco-conscious times, there is a clear awareness that they all need to sing from a similar songsheet.
This will certainly be necessary if the proposal for countries to commit to a target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, supported by 18 EU nations and including Britain, is to prove successful. Recent surveys across Europe, and here in the UK, have shown climate change to be rocketing up the political agenda.
Volkswagen’s UK spokesman Mike Orford says that both suppliers and dealers are very well aware of the VW Group’s commitment to being carbon neutral worldwide by 2050. He acknowledges that the recent history of ‘dieselgate’ is a driving force behind the group’s determination to set a greener agenda.
“We’re very aware that Volkswagen has to be above reproach these days. There has been no dictat as such with regard to the dealers, but we are encouraging them to be aware of their CO2 footprint, through introducing fast chargers for electric cars and installing solar panels. A handful of dealers already have those and more will do so going forward. It makes sense for our partners to have a green awareness, companies can see the zeitgeist of all this.”
The ID.3 in particular is being hailed as an electric car to redefine the brand’s identity. Meanwhile the group’s ambitious plans to floor the throttle on an electric future run alongside a timely determination to hone a greening of its corporate image. Spraying more of a green hue over the supply chain, and coaxing more greenness from the dealer network, is all part of a grand scheme. One that the group clearly hopes will lighten the dark shadow left behind by the D word – dieselgate.
Written by Sue Baker for Motor Trader.