In the Postscript section of the Jan/Feb edition of European Rubber Journal magazine, editor Patrick Raleigh asks which topic will most encourage the spirit of change and innovation in the rubber industry in 2019?
If I had to forecast what will be the main buzzword for the tire & rubber sector during 2019, it would have to be – yes, you’ve guessed it – ‘sustainability’.
For manufacturers, this concept is essentially about meeting market needs in a way that has a neutral or beneficial impact on people and the environment.
That this idea is now driving real changes in our industries can be seen, for instance, by Continental’s drive to develop dandelion rubber.
Working in innovative partnerships with crop scientists and farmers, Conti’s goal is to establish a home-grown alternative to rubber sourced from hevea tree plantations in the Far East.
While still many years away from commercialisation, the initiative is today significant as an example of how traditional rubber manufacturers – not regulators – can set the sustainability agenda.
Sustainability also covers impacts on people and communities, particularly those whose livelihoods are interlinked with the success or otherwise of major manufacturing sites.
This issue was highlighted recently by Michelin’s decision to shut its Dundee tire plant by mid-2020 with the loss of 845 jobs – a huge blow for the Scottish town.
However, under a pioneering deal with the Scottish government, the French tire maker has now agreed to work with local and national agencies and others to give the site a new lease of life.
All going to plan, Michelin will have a role – unique for a tire maker – in transforming the site into a location for manufacturing, remanufacturing, recycling and low-carbon transport.
While regretting the jobs being lost through the closure of the tire plant, union officials have welcomed the joint plan to retain a significant manufacturing base in Dundee.
“There are some exciting proposals which will ensure the site retains a manufacturing base and well-paid jobs will be created based on future technologies,” said Bob MacGregor, Unite regional industrial officer.
But perhaps the most significant sign of change concerns a collaboration between tire makers and NGOs in establishing the new Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR).
Set up by Bridgestone, Continental, Cooper Tire, Goodyear, Hankook, Kumho, Michelin, Pirelli, Sumitomo, Toyo and Yokohama, GPSNR aims to drive up sustainability standards throughout the natural-rubber supply chain.
However, the participation of NGOs, such as Mighty Earth, WWF and the Rainforest Alliance, has been in doubt due to concerns about the degree of control retained by the tire industry in the platform.
But as we report on p31, tire makers are now close to agreeing a deal to give NGOs an equal role in the main decision-making body and divide voting rights more equitably among stakeholders.
Assuming the plan is agreed, this willingness to share control shows real commitment among tire companies to adopting highly ambitious sustainability standards across the industry.