Environment and Climate

Environmental protection in production

The German automotive industry is aware of its responsibility throughout the entire cycle of a car’s production and use: from the selection of materials, via production in Germany and fuel-efficient operation to closing the materials cycle at the end of the life cycle.

Car production and sustainability

The automotive industry works on aligning its production more closely to the principles of sustainability. Emphasis is placed on anchoring economic, ecological and social objectives vertically, that is, across all value-adding levels. The responsibility for sustainable economies should be borne jointly by companies, government and society. The German automotive industry is doing its part. Manufacturers and suppliers actively embrace their responsibility along the entire cycle of production and use: from the selection of materials to production in Germany, from fuel-saving operation to closing the material cycle at the end of the product life cycle. Over the past two decades, German automakers have achieved great success in protecting resources in manufacturing. Drinking water consumption, for example, dropped by 60 percent. Over 80 percent of production waste is now recycled. German automakers have also made great improvement in air-quality preservation: Since 1990, emissions of solvents from painting vehicles in series production have fallen by 65 percent. Today, they are at the lowest level in international comparison. The responsibility for people and the environment no longer ends at the factory door; rather, it must be anchored throughout the entire supply chain. One important instrument here is the questionnaire for surveying suppliers uniformly with respect to aspects of sustainability. The questionnaire was developed by an international network of automobile manufacturers and is currently being introduced at suppliers and sub-suppliers. In addition, companies are holding local training sessions to bring sustainability into practice in everyday life.

Back in 2014, preparations began for the European process of reviewing and adapting so-called best available technologies (BVT) for painting vehicles in series production. The focus is on strengthening climate protection by reducing emissions of highly volatile hydrocarbons (VOC, volatile organic compounds). Currently, not even 1 percent of total VOC emissions in Europe come from vehicle painting in series production. Nevertheless, the process is still significant to the automotive industry, because emissions limits are to be derived from the best available technology. The German automotive industry leads in an international comparison of environmentally friendly vehicle painting. For this reason, the emissions limits determined and defined at the EU level should not be further tightened when implemented in German law.

In the European Union, formaldehyde has been classified as a carcinogen since the beginning of 2016. Formaldehyde is a substance that occurs naturally in the environment. Among the characteristics of formaldehyde is that it breaks down quickly in soil, in the air and in water. The additional pollution in the outside air due to process-related emissions breaks down within a few hours, making it irrelevant in terms of pollution control. Nevertheless, as a result of the reclassification of formaldehyde at the European level, German laws and regulations also need to be amended, particularly the Technical Instructions on Air Quality Control (TA Luft) and the 31st implementation regulation on the Federal Pollution Control Act (BImSchG). Within the automotive industry, this affects vehicle painting systems for series production, power plants and
engine test stands. The VDA therefore supports realistic, workable emission limits for formaldehyde in Germany. Competitive disadvantages for the German automotive industry due to tightening of emissions limits relative to European requirements should be avoided. This also applies in full to the TA Luft regulation, which the Federal Environment Ministry plans to update. German industry considers a fundamental revision of the regulatory structure to be unnecessary. Instead, adaptations to technical advances will be sufficient.

In addition, regulations on the storage of hazardous materials have been revised in Europe. The Seveso III directive on controlling risks of major accidents with hazardous materials must now be implemented in German law. The German automotive industry is affected by the regulations, because things like refrigerants, fuels, solvents and paints are stored at many locations. Requirements on minimum distances between operational facilities and protected areas, especially residential areas, are particularly relevant. The Seveso III directive and drafting for implementation in German law currently leave various points unclarified. The German automotive industry advocates for a practical one-to-one implementation of the European requirements in German law as well as a grandfather clause.

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