We can’t emphasize it enough. Tires are a fundamentally important element of the automotive equation. They are a make or break component, with the singular ability to achieve or corrupt an intended outcome. That’s especially true in the case of automotive environmentalism.
Tires are integral to the advancement of environmentalism in the auto industry. They can either complement or work against high fuel economy and hybrid engines. Only with suitably low rolling resistance tires are electric vehicles (EVs) made practical and capable of achieving a reasonable range. And since tires rely upon significant organic materials for their construction, sourcing methods can either complement or undermine the environmental and sustainability progress of the automakers.
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From a broad historical perspective, the automotive industry’s track record on environmentalism isn’t great, to say the least. Even today with widely improved fuel economy, and the growth of hybrid and electric vehicles, automobile use is still responsible for an estimated one-fifth of our country’s total global warming pollution.1
The tire industry, and Pirelli in particular, is dedicated to lessening that environmental impact. Here’s a look at some of the environmentally-friendly tire technologies that are paving the way and opening the door to a much greener automotive future.
Tires manufacturing requires significant natural resources – both in the form of raw materials and energy expenditure. The tire industry uses over 3-billion pounds of rubber to produce 250-million tires each year. 2 And so, any environmental movement in the tire industry has to address this initial issue.
Most tire manufacturers do not control or own rubber farms and processing plants but can only insist on working with suppliers that adhere to environmental and sustainability principles. That’s Pirelli’s approach – their “Sustainable Natural Rubber Policy” addresses the sourcing issue head-on:
“With global demand for natural rubber expected to rise, a sustainable natural rubber supply chain is essential in order to preserve forests, biodiversity, and to allow long-lasting development for local communities and economies. Pirelli is committed to promote, develop and implement a sustainable and responsible procurement and use of natural rubber throughout its entire value chain.” – Corporate.Pirelli.com
Pirelli expects supply chain partners to protect and (where possible) restore “ecosystems while avoiding, mitigating or remedying adverse environmental impacts on resources, climate change, ecosystems and relevant flora and fauna.”
More specifically, Pirelli demands that suppliers:
“- develop proper land use plans to prevent the overexploitation of natural resources, to preserve surface water and groundwater resources, to reduce, manage and recover the produced waste;
- comply with laws and regulations concerning the use of chemical products in the industrial sector and to manage chemicals to ensure their safe handling, movement, storage, use, recovery or disposal;
- apply proper processes and technologies to reduce odors produced by rubber milling.”
In addition, Pirelli has a “No Deforestation, No Peat, No Burn” policy that compels suppliers to refrain from rubber production on peat land and to not use fire to prepare the land for new plantings and re-plantings. For details, check out Pirelli’s full sustainability policy..
Pirelli also commits significant research and development to sustainable materials research, to decreasing the average mass of tires, and to improved tire life and rolling resistance.
Pirelli’s goal is to introduce and integrate a growing number of renewable and sustainable materials into tire construction and reduce the reliance on rubber. Recent research and development advancements include:
By 2030, Pirelli expects its new product lines to be composed of:
Responsible rubber sourcing and new, renewable materials move the ball forward, but with 250 million+ tires being manufactured every year and as many coming to the end of their useful life, scrap tire management is a major issue. Pirelli and other tire manufacturers come together in coalitions to help ease this problem. In the US, the tire trade association engages with states and other stakeholders to promote repurposing of scrap tires. In 2017 more than 80% of waste tires in the US were diverted from landfill, used to produce fuel, asphalt and other end uses. Read more about their efforts.
In manufacturing, Pirelli’s “zero waste to landfill” effort has resulted in some stunning progress over the past decade. In 2009 just 24% of manufacturing waste was recovered. As of 2019, that number had grown to 97% and continues to improve annually incrementally.
“Since 2009 we have saved about 160,000 tons of waste recovered (not sent to landfill): equivalent to the municipal solid waste generated by around 330,000 Europeans in one year.” – Pirelli
Pirelli is implementing strategies to improve its environmental standing at its manufacturing facilities, as well.
Key indicators of environmental manufacturing progress so far include:
(2019 vs. 2009 figures.)
And as of 2019, Pirelli’s manufacturing facilities continue to utilize more electricity from renewable sources. 41% of purchased electricity came from renewable sources.
Tire rolling resistance is a core issue in the automotive environmentalism equation. As stated, tires have the ability to corrupt or achieve environmental efforts on the part of the automakers. Tires that require high energy to roll (“high rolling resistance”) require more energy, more fossil fuel usage, and, therefore, create more pollution. Fuel economy progress at the engine level can be completely compromised by high tire rolling resistance. High rolling resistance tires also stymie electric vehicle progress and practicality for the same reasons.
Pirelli has achieved a reduction of 18% in the average rolling resistance of passenger tires since 2009. This improved rolling resistance translates directly to less energy and fuel use.
Pirelli’s business model has increasingly shifted toward “Eco-Safety Performance” tires. As of 2019, 55.8% of all its revenues could be attributed to this tire segment.
You can advance the cause of automotive environmentalism with a choice of tires for your vehicle. Eco-friendly tires have the ability to drastically reduce environmental burden and optimize your fuel economy and tire life as well!
If you’d like us to help you track down a set of Pirelli “Eco-Safety Performance” tires for your ride, or from other manufacturers paving the way to a greener automotive future, give us a call