Tailpipe emissions are at the very bottom of the sustainability funnel, and those car brands that think they can appeal to a woke, green, eco-conscious or responsible buyer – depending on how you view the whole topic – by talking purely about electrification are mistaken. The conversation begins with the manufacture and ends with the second-life usage of cars, batteries and parts. Somewhere, along the way, and becoming almost incidental to the story, is the method of propulsion. It’s the old well-to-wheel conversation, now called cradle to grave in the absence of a well. The Carbon Trust is developing metrics to evaluate this journey, which takes in the whole shebang, from extracting the raw materials from the earth, to the manufacture, distribution, use and disposal of the product, but a wholesale labelling system within automotive is not around the corner yet.
The ethical behaviour of the brand is paramount to younger consumers, and therefore increasingly their parents too. Where are brands sourcing their rare-earth elements, their minerals and metals? How are they then transporting them to their factories? How are the tier one, tier two and tier three suppliers getting their parts to the plants? By truck? How is that truck powered? Everyone will tell you that picking apart the entire supply chain involved in the manufacture of one car is very tricky. It makes the notion of consumer labelling on products a real challenge: everyone wants to see the sort of colour-coded, easy-to-understand labels that you see now on white goods and properties now applied to cars, but it’s not that simple. Estate agents can evaluate the energy efficiency of a house and that’s enough for property buyers, because they don’t normally switch homes every three years. They also tend not to worry about the carbon footprint of their house’s build because a) it might have been built hundreds of years ago when the planet looked a little different, and b) there aren’t currently 40-odd home builders each churning out a new home every 13 seconds on a production line in the Midlands and then exporting them round the world. Clearly we should all be more responsible about our car purchases. So where to look in the meantime, while the industry works out consumer labelling to help us?