Improving the state of the world, according to the World Economic Forum, is a critical lever for organisations to achieve climate commitments and realise net-zero emissions. The much talked about circular economy in its essence, aims to keep resources in use for as long as possible, forming the crux of intelligent and sustainable business models of the future. Written by Kieran McMullan.

It is a known fact the planet has wrestled with worsening environmental conditions, despite entangling and ofttimes misguided debate. However, the seismic question of economies moving away from the old linear patterns of the past, to greener, circular agendas remains of vital importance worldwide.  

Linear economies are a dead-end, an environmental cul-de-sac, where products are sourced, used, and ultimately disposed. The circular economy aims to cut and reduce waste, it is a rethought manufacturing process, where existing materials are reused and recycled. Not only is the linear economy unattainable environmentally, but non-renewable renewable resources are also finite, and the disposal of products is a revolving problem for the planet. 

In the automotive industry, we have already seen a shift from internal combustion to electric vehicles (EV), though the production of electric cars can create more emissions than the production of petrol cars. Plus, with the increased regulatory and tax burdens on businesses causing higher emissions and landfill waste, mixed with the implications of the Paris Climate Agreement, it increasingly makes more sense economically for the automotive industry to steer toward a circular agenda, by recycling and reusing wherever possible.  

The EU has announced an action plan to move towards circular economies by 2050 in many industries, as part of its action pathway to carbon neutrality and to reduce the loss of biodiversity. The automotive industry is largely seen as the ideal place to test the notion as, under the correct conditions, for example up to 95% of the raw materials in electric car batteries can be recovered. 

There has been some proactiveness towards carbon neutrality in automotive, where Japan, South Korea, India, and several US states’ governments have ratified legislation around the requirements of end-to-life recycling of EV components.  

In harmony with the circularity pathway, the BMW Group has scrutinised the minutiae of its car manufacturing process with its RE:THINK principle,  which aims to re-think and optimise all material cycles for a more circular future with less waste.  

The car maker’s rationale puts innovation as key to reaching a circular economy, exploring all facets of keeping disused vehicles and its components in the resource cycle. Across its entire supply chain, the BMW Group is actively

minimising waste production along the volume chain, along with improving its recycling practices by using secondary materials where possible. BMW Group aims to significantly increase the percentage of secondary material in its vehicles going forward. Other means of sustainability include procuring raw materials in a more responsible way, says BMW Group, which are processed carbon-free, or with low carbon at the very least.  

“Sustainability and economic success go hand in hand at the BMW Group. As a premium manufacturer, we have the ambition to lead the way in the area of sustainability.”  

— Oliver Zipse, Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG  

The BMW Group also states that it is committed to the Paris Climate Agreement and presents the aim of 40% CO2 emissions over its entire value chain. As the first German car manufacturer to join the Business Ambition for 1.5°C of the Science Based Targets Initiative, BMW Group is consciously pursuing the agenda of net zero by 2050, a serious and weighty goal that requires consistent innovation and dedication.  

Humans consume more than 100 billion tonnes of raw materials every year with figures rising, and one which is accelerated by the processing of primary materials. This process is extremely energy-intensive and therefore, carbon-intensive. The guiding principle of the BMW Group is ‘secondary first’ — an assured way of reducing material waste and carbon emissions. 

Using secondary materials will limit the economy’s dependence on critical primary raw materials, which limits our dependence on rising raw material

prices. Furthermore, a vehicle’s carbon footprint can be significantly reduced by using high quality secondary materials.  

The BMW Group has placed the aim of a circular economy as one of its main focus areas, in an effort to design more resource-efficient vehicles. The idea is to keep materials in the manufacturing cycle and prevent the loss of materials for products, ensuring its long use.  

From 2025, the Neue Klasse is set to take another step towards the approach to the concept vehicle BMW i Vision Circular. This new model generation will launch a renewed generation of e-mobility, utilising round battery cells that efficiently match the new architecture, as well as newly developed lithium-ion cells, where energy density will see an improvement of 30 per cent and enhanced charging speeds. But perhaps more positively, BMW Group state that CO2 emissions are reduced by up to 60% in the production of the battery cells.  

It is clear then, that BMW Group’s increased investment for e-mobility and its preparation for global production to further electrification, is at its core, a positive and impactful motif. The result will benefit the benefit with the use of recycled, secondary materials, will limit CO2 emissions, and will be circular in the long term.