Sustainability - from theory to practice

Sustainability focus has become a natural element of the automotive industry, but how to go from theory to practice, where to start and how to achieve a valuable approach? 

When Carco started our sustainability journey, knowledge gathering was the most crucial point – to understand the current and upcoming demands and the direction of future science, but above all what possibilities and innovations will be accessible tomorrow? To advance to the next level, we wanted inspiration and collaboration outside our own organization. Being located in Gothenburg we had the benefit to attract students from Chalmers University of Technology for an exciting project. 

In this second part of our series of articles, we have interviewed our Sustainability Champion Linda Lindgren, CEO Per Sjöberg and Chalmers graduates Julia Land and Caroline Andersson about their thoughts and reflections on their cooperation around a graduation thesis. 

How did you come to the conclusion that collaboration with Chalmers was the best way forward for Carco, turning sustainability theory into a practical approach?

“Sustainability is a huge area and to be able to be precise and relevant, we think that all companies need to narrow the scope and really focus on the parts where they can make a difference”, Linda Lindgren says. “In our work to find the focus points for Carco we used the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) as a base. We engaged all our colleagues for a workshop to define which SDG’s to focus on and which initiatives would make the greatest impact both internally and when guiding our principals. In the workshop we identified seven SDG’s, to which we will link our future business activities and decision-making. As strategic advisors to multinational automotive component manufacturers, we are able to influence their sustainability strategies and performance significantly, why this is Carco’s top sustainability priority”, Linda explains. “There are a lot of sustainability protocols, tools and guidelines available, but what does actually our customers target and what is the mindset of the Academy? We wanted to run a highly focused project during a short period of time with influences from outside the automotive industry. The project would define how we together with principals can offer customers attractive business cases in regard to sustainability. To make this possible we decided to engage Julia Land and Caroline Andersson for a graduate thesis – Evaluation Model of Supplier Arrangement.” 

What do you think have been the major take aways doing your thesis in cooperation with a company?

We asked Julia and Caroline to share their reflections on our collaboration. “We have learned a lot from this project, and it is really interesting how the theoretical knowledge we have acquired during our university studies can be applied in practice. It is also inspiring to see that the results from this kind of collaboration becomes so important as it actually adds value to a company, which our normal schoolwork doesn't. The collaboration has also enabled us to get access to stakeholders within other companies and organizations, which has been very useful and given more depth and perspectives to our research.”

The subject for your graduate thesis was sustainability and especially focusing on a model for choosing the best manufacturing setup in regard to each specific business case. How has the in-depth studies of this subject changed your view and interest for sustainability?

“Our research started with identifying the most important sustainability indicators in terms of the view of the OEMs and trends on the market”, Julia and Caroline explain. “Essential parameters are for example where to produce, logistic alternatives, alternatives for recycled content, use of renewable energy in production etc. What we found to be the most interesting part of the work has been to investigate the CO2 emissions in different logistic setups and the energy consumption connected to that”, says Julia and Caroline. “The result was very exciting and gave us much deeper understanding of how big the impact actually is on CO2 emission, when choosing the optimal alternative for transportation.”

 

       

 

They continue, “The general perception of sustainability in society is that it is all about CO2 emissions and recycling, but there are so many other aspects. The OEMs that we target consider ethical and responsible business in a wider scope as crucial and vital for suppliers to even become a potential partner. Of course, the technical aspects like material characteristics and process optimizations as well as localization are vital in terms of sustainability. The results of our research sometimes surprised us as the most obvious alternative at a first glance, was in fact not always the most sustainable option. It is therefore important to be able to actually analyze the impact of different alternatives available in an easy way. Together with Carco we have been able to develop some tools to simplify this process, something that we will embrace and keep in mind in our future professions”, Julia and Caroline state.

Linda and Per, how did this collaboration add value to Carco?

“For us as a small company it was a bit of challenge to manage being the supervisor of a graduate thesis, but it was definitely worth it, and we are already now discussing what the next subject for a thesis could be. To get some fresh eyes on a subject that we are struggling with on a daily basis is really inspiring and boosts the creativity. We are currently using the result of the thesis as a base to develop a more advanced sustainability tool for guiding our principals towards optimal solutions”, Linda says. 

   

 

Per elaborates, “Our vision is to always look for a win-win-win situation, where our principals, the OEMs and Carco create good business together. In this case however, we are actually able to add another win, the students. They get the opportunity to experience working with a more practical approach as complement to their theoretical studies and to start creating a business network. Win-win-win-win! This was a really fun and value adding project and I really encourage other small companies to take the opportunity to assign graduates for isolated and focused projects where you need to get new perspectives."