Sustainability Is Key to Nissan’s Success, Including Selling More EVs and Reducing Waste

by | Oct 11, 2022

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(Credit: Nissan)

Nissan Motor Corporation sells cars globally. It is based in Nish-ku, Yokohama, Japan. It also sells Infiniti cars. In 2013, it became the sixth-largest automaker in the world, although it has been North America’s largest automaker since 2014. It is the world’s biggest electric car maker — even ahead of Tesla, and Nissan sustainability efforts are vast.

Indeed, the company’s focus is on sustainability and reducing CO2 emissions. That’s driving part of its effort to shift from the internal combustion engine to electric vehicles. But it is not just motivated to do so within its four walls. It’s also motivated to ensure its supply chain conforms to its sustainability standards. That’s everyone from those who supply the raw materials to those who assemble the vehicles to those who drive the cars. It means investing in new technologies and using renewable energy to run its operations and manufacturing plants. 

And the need is compelling. The company is not just a party to the Paris climate agreement to keep temperature increases from increasing more than 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. It is also concerned about population growth, specifically in urban areas. To that end, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicts that the global population will exceed 9 billion by 2050, with around 70% of people concentrated in cities. 

“For an automobile company, air pollution stands alongside climate change and congestion as an issue for cities in particular, and one that must be faced in order to contribute to its resolution,” the company says.

How is Nissan Making Sustainable Cars?

While Nissan is praised for its Nissan LEAF— its top-selling electric vehicle — it still makes traditional cars using the internal combustion engine. And it is trying to build those as sustainably as possible. It says it proactively sets strict goals and targets for its design and production. It tries to limit its emissions. How? 

— improvements for cleaner burning fuel

— using catalytic converters to reduce emissions, and 

— finding ways to use evaporate gasoline from fuel tanks.

The efforts won accolades in 2020: the Sentra CA was the first gasoline-powered car in the world to receive ‘Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle certification’ in compliance with the emissions requirements of the California Air Resources Board. And its Bluebird Sylphy, released in Japan in August 2000, was awarded a similar certification from the country’s Ministry of Transport. 

It aims to produce “ultra-low” emissions cars or those producing 75% less nitrogen oxide (NOx) and non-methane hydrocarbon (NMHC) than the level prescribed in the 2000 emission standards. At the same time, Nissan sets strict standards regarding volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — volatile substances at ordinary temperatures.

For example, it tries to increase the recovery of cleaning solvents and other chemicals. It is also using water-based paints, which have fewer VOCs, while increasing the recycling rate for waste paint thinner. It says water-based paint is used in its Aguascalientes Plant in Mexico, the Resende Plant in Brazil, the Smyrna Plant in the United States, and the Huadu Plant in China.

“We have lowered NOx and SOx emissions by introducing low NOx burners in the ovens and boilers that are sources of that heart, and by switching from heavy oil and kerosene to fuels with low SOx emissions for these ovens and boilers,” Nissan says.

Meanwhile, the company’s LEAF is getting cleaner. As of March 2022, the company sold 580,000 of those electric vehicles. Nissan sees itself not just as an environmental leader but — in its words — as a “zero-emissions” enterprise that works closely with national and local governments, electric power companies, and other industries.

This is a promising development. The world’s population will reach 9 billion by 2050. That will increase the demand for minerals and raw materials, especially those that go into electric batteries: nickel, lithium, and cobalt, to name three.  “In working toward the long-term vision of using materials that do not rely on newly mined resources for 70% of the materials used in each vehicle in 2050, we will strive to minimize the use of natural resources and maintain new resource usage at 2010 levels,” the company says.

What is Nissan doing to promote the circular economy and reduce its waste? 

Just as Nissan seeks to make more environmentally-friendly cars, it wants to cut the environmental footprint it leaves at its plants. Therefore, it is fully committed to the circular economy. It promotes the use of recycled materials and recycling end-of-life vehicles. It says it strives to incorporate reusable resources during the design, purchasing, and manufacturing processes. This year’s goal is to ensure that more than 30% (in weight) of a new vehicle is non-new material resources. 

“We are using fewer resources overall, both through the appropriate use of chemical substances and making vehicles more lightweight,” the company says.

As such, it is recycling its electric vehicle batteries. But the value of such devices lies beneath the surface — made up of raw materials that are now trapped in a supply chain maze or come from unfriendly nations. Luckily, the recycling of those raw materials is becoming economically viable. Moreover, the quality of the reprocessed minerals can be as good as “virgin” supplies that are extracted from the Earth. The raw materials are transformed into valuable products and contribute to the circular economy.

What’s the price differential between mining raw materials and recycling those same minerals? For now, there’s a co-dependence. Battery growth is such that mined materials are still essential. But as electric vehicles age, those devices will need to be replaced. And harnessing the raw materials from scrap products will take time. Over time, it will be cheaper to recycle. Think of it this way: lithium-ion batteries use 17 raw materials that do not exist in one place. Each must be mined before it is shipped and placed in a device. Conversely, a battery to be recycled has all of those minerals in one place.

“By using recycled materials, developing biomaterials, conducting recycling activities in-house and at suppliers, and making efforts to reduce car body weight, out of all raw materials used in the production of cars, we are aiming to use 30% of material alternatives that do not depend on newly-extracted resources by 2022,” Nissan says.

Moreover, it aims to reduce 2% of the waste it generates in Japan and 1% overseas compared to “business-as-usual.” For example, it will substitute plastic or resin-based materials used in cars for plant-derived materials.

The efforts are paying off, it says: As of the end of fiscal 2010, it has achieved a 100% recovery rate at all of our production sites in Japan: five manufacturing plants, two operations centers, and five affiliates. In Mexico, the Aguascalientes plant achieved this in 2011. In all cases, it tries to reduce its use of nonrenewable resources. It prefers recycled plastics and renewable biomaterials. The focus is on steel, aluminum, and plastics. 

What are Nissan’s water policies? 

The water demand will increase with the expected rise in the global population. But water supply will remain a pressing concern. Forecasts suggest that the world will face a 40% shortfall in water supplies by 2030, it says — a function of climate change. Therefore, the company takes water management very seriously. 

The agricultural sector is the biggest consumer of water (70%.) It is followed by the industrial sector (20%), and the municipal sector (10%.) But Nissan says the auto sector is not at risk, although reducing the dependence on water resources is critical to sustainability.

To that end, Nissan has created tough protections against water pollution by using water quality sensors at discharge ports at its wastewater treatment facilities in Japan. That automatically stops any discharge if the water quality does not match the standards set. Nissan builds reservoirs to collect rainwater at any site that has been deemed to be “high risk.”

The goal is to reduce water usage at its global production sites by 21% by 2022 compared to 2010.

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