Natural rubber.

Businesses, environmentalists and human rights organisations sent an important message in Vancouver: they addressed the sustainable cultivation of natural rubber, which is used in the manufacture of tyres.           

Every three years, the FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council), an international non-profit, invites more than 1,000 companies, environmentalists and human rights organisations to meet for five days and debate current challenges in sustainable forestry. Their joint aim is to preserve the world’s forests. In Vancouver, the FSC initiated the first debate on the sustainable cultivation of natural rubber, which is primarily used in the manufacture of tyres. 

Niels Angel and Vanessa Buchberger, who are responsible for sustainability in the BMW Group’s supplier network, took part in the Vancouver meeting and actively support the initiative. They both agreed: a start has been made.

Why do you care about natural rubber, of all things?

Niels Angel: Natural rubber is a material that is used in the manufacture of tyres, so it falls under our responsibility - as do all other materials in our vehicles. The cultivation of natural rubber is somewhat critical in terms of its sustainability. There are indications that plantations may be violating environmental and social standards, an issue we take very seriously.

As we know, certificates can be meaningless. Why put so much emphasis on having rubber plantations certified by the FSC?

Niels Angel: Environmental organisations like WWF and the Rainforest Alliance attended the Vancouver meeting, as well as companies like Ikea, Apple, Tetra Pak and the BMW Group. Our common aim is saving the rainforest. Everyone takes it very seriously, that was clearly noticeable.

Vanessa Buchberger: We have been working with the FSC for several years. For the interior of the BMW i3, for example, we were the first car manufacturer to launch an FSC-certified eucalyptus wood, which comes from 100 percent certified forestry. Our vision is to achieve a similar standard for rubber plantations as well.

Evidently, not an easy task. Why is that?

Niels Angel: International supply chains are extremely long and opaque.

This starts with the fact that more than 80 percent of rubber is cultivated on very small farms. From there, it is a long, non-transparent path to tyre production, which makes measuring sustainability extremely difficult.

But isn’t sustainable natural rubber really an issue for the tyre industry?

Vanessa Buchberger: That may be the case, but in the end, it is the automotive industry that causes the demand. Each car requires about eight kilos of natural rubber - and this only covers the original fitting, not counting winter tyres or spares. In effect, the tyre industry is responsible for 70 percent of the total demand for natural rubber. As a premium manufacturer, we therefore want to establish a transparent and sustainable supply chain for the benefit of our customers.

Niels Angel: In the last couple of years, we have already used our influence as a tyre industry customer. Now, we actively demand that companies meet their duty of care and minimise risks in their supply chains. That is the first step. The next step will be to set international standards for the suppliers, in cooperation with the FSC as well as other companies and organisations. If we can manage that, we will have achieved much.