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The need for sustainability; the need for definition

BY MARTIN KAHL. Challenge Bibendum 2011 tackles the difficult challenge of defining 'sustainability'

“Sustainable mobility” – the holy grail of the automotive and transport-related industries, and one of the many buzzwords and phrases currently setting the agenda for numerous events and reports. The concept of sustainable mobility is linked to some key general assumptions, of which the following three are mere examples:

  • 60% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2020 (Frost & Sullivan), and 70-75% by 2050 (IBM, Shell)
  • 110 million internal combustion engines (ICEs) are currently produced each year, 60 million of which are for passenger vehicles (Scuderi)
  • The global vehicle parc is set to rise from 900 million to 2 billion vehicles by 2050 (Shell, citing International Energy Agency (IEA))

Many other “mega-trends” are set to shape our understanding or interpretation of the future of mobility, including the emergence of “mega cities” and “mega corridors”, the rise of “e-mobility” and “intelligent transport” in every shape and form, and the acceleration of connectivity. These and other concepts are increasingly being linked to “mobility” – itself a word with new-found significance.

Furthermore, interesting and previously unexpected alliances are developing between many of the key players – like Shell and IBM – as they strive to meet the targets set by regional regulators to achieve healthy environments whilst also maintaining healthy business environments.

Whilst the need for sustainable mobility is widely recognised, it is difficult to define what it really is, or entails. Definition is needed, and several major events and countless reports are attempting to do just that. One such event is Michelin’s Challenge Bibendum. The eleventh and latest leg of this continent-hopping event was held recently at Berlin’s now-disused Tempelhof Airport. The “Michelin Man”, by the way, is also known as “Bibendum”.

The mix of companies and organisations that attended and displayed at the event highlights the fact that every party related to the automotive and transportation industries – right out to the furthest ends of the supply base – are involved, and need to be involved, in sustainable mobility: OEMs, suppliers, fuel and lubricant manufacturers, service providers, IT companies and regulators all have a key role to play. Naturally, consumers do too. Furthermore, interesting and previously unexpected alliances are developing between many of the key players – like Shell and IBM – as they strive to meet the targets set by regional regulators to achieve healthy environments whilst also maintaining healthy business environments.

There is no event like Challenge Bibendum, but ask those who attended to define the event, and each person is likely to give a different answer: a green motor show; a safety conference; a trade fair; an eco-rally; an EV driving day; a series of industry debates.

The terms and topics surrounding sustainability currently appear to lack focus, but they need debating, and such events go a considerable way to generating interest, participation and collaboration from every angle.

In fact, it’s all of these and more. The event appears to lacks focus; the name gives little indication of what it represents; and it brings together a staggering and unlikely array of industries and individuals, including world leaders (Ban Ki Moon by video link), national government representatives, celebrities (Michelle Yeoh as Ambassador High Level Commission for Road Safety), academics, and senior executives of global vehicle manufacturers, suppliers and fuel and energy providers. As well as featuring displays and demonstrations, the event addresses through often stimulating debates some of the topics which are widely accepted as key to sustainable mobility, including safety, efficiency and legislation.

Despite all this, attendees come away perhaps more aware yet no closer to defining “sustainability”. This is not to criticise the efforts of Challenge Bibendum or other events. Perhaps this apparently disparate and all-encompassing collaboration is in fact the key to sustainability. The terms and topics surrounding sustainability currently appear to lack focus, but they need debating, and such events go a considerable way to generating interest, participation and collaboration from every angle.

Martin Kahl

The AutomotiveWorld.com Expert Opinion column is open to automotive industry decision makers and influencers. If you would like to contribute an Expert Opinion piece, please contact editorial@automotiveworld.com

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