Recycled TiresThere is no doubt that environmental damage is one of the main problems currently facing the auto industry.

The CO2 and other greenhouse gases released by vehicles themselves is one thing, but there is also a huge amount of environmental damage caused simply through continued vehicle production.

Already some enterprising companies are beginning to come up with ways finally make using of the millions of old cars sitting around in junkyards and car lots around the country, and this recent boost in auto recycling is undoubtedly one way to begin cutting down on waste and ensuring that valuable resources aren’t depleted in order to meet the world’s growing car demands.

However, it finally seems that the auto manufacturers themselves are also starting to wizen up and are beginning to take steps to protect the planet’s precious resources. One of the most obvious examples of this is GM’s recent announcement that the company is making a commitment to buy only sustainably harvested rubber.

The Story Behind GM’s Sustainable Rubber Initiative

As part of its new initiative, GM stated that it would soon put certain purchasing requirements in place to ensure that the more than 49 million tires it buys each year are all made from sustainably harvested natural rubber. However, the company was quick to point out that this initiative wasn’t being done with the goal of improving the company’s image by making it seem more ‘green’ or environmentally friendly.

Instead, GM’s initiative was, like most business decisions, driven in major part by financial reasons. The company noted that ensuring the long-term availability of rubber was important in protecting its future profits. Unfortunately, unsustainable rubber practices have resulted in major deforestation, which in turn directly threatens the long-term viability of the rubber industry itself. By insisting on sustainably harvested rubber, GM is attempting to do its part to ensure it doesn’t contribute to further deforestation and the company is encouraging other auto manufacturers to follow suit.

Currently, GM executives plan on sitting down with stakeholders soon in order to hammer out the specific buying criteria and how to ensure that all suppliers actually meet these criteria. Still, by the end of the year the company hopes to have created a ‘road map’ that other auto manufacturers can use in the hopes that this buying practice becomes standard across the industry. This is important since GM can’t do it alone. No matter its size, one company won’t be able to have a big enough impact. However, the future would suddenly start looking a lot brighter for the rubber industry if the entire auto industry suddenly got on board.

Supporting Local Communities

The term sustainably harvested doesn’t only refer to preventing deforestation. In order to qualify under the new GM initiative, the rubber also has to have been grown and harvested in a way that directly to local economic development. This is important as much of the unsustainable rubber harvesting is being undertaken by larger corporations that give little, if anything, back to the local communities. In this way, GM is also directly providing support to small rubber farmers and helping to ensure compliance with labor and human rights laws.

The Cost of Sustainably Harvested Rubber

Currently, no one knows exactly what the costs of switching over to sustainably harvested rubber will be, at least in the long-term. In the short term, the move is surely going to cost quite a bit more per tire. However, there is hope that protecting the world’s rubber resources through more sustainable harvesting practices could eventually result in increase yields and thus lower prices.

Ultimately, the fact that increased deforestation could eventually become a serious threat to the rubber industry means that attempting to protect this resource is important no matter what the costs. For all the advancements that have been made in synthetics—Bridgestone, Michelin, Goodyear and the other tire manufacturers working with GM on its new initiative have admitted that technology isn’t yet to a point where synthetics can fully replace natural rubber. Therefore, the companies basically have no choice except to do whatever they can to protect these natural rubber resources.

Of course, rubber is just one of the many different natural resources used when manufacturing a car and it would take a combination of recycling and numerous other programs to fully minimize the amount of damage caused by the auto industry. Nonetheless, the new GM initiative at least shows that some auto manufacturers are finally starting to take their environmental responsibilities more seriously.