By Eric Tipan
Mad Max, the Mel Gibson-original, is the first thing that pops in my head when the topic of automobiles and their relation to this planet’s dwindling resources comes up. What if we really suck out all the fossil fuel and destroy the planet with our toxic waste? Is that futuristic dystopian society really on the docket for us?
Fortunately, Toyota has wisened up and is leading the way in developing environmentally-friendly ways to manufacture vehicles. Read on as I tell you how they’re simplifying production engineering in order to rethink the way man makes machines.
The model Plant
It makes sense that all this eco-carmaking stuff begins at the plant that makes one of the world’s eco-friendliest vehicle, the Prius. Sitting on 113.3 hectares of land in Toyota City in Aichi Prefecture is the automaker’s ‘greenest’ production facility to-date, the Tsutsumi Plant.
In order to live up to its ‘green’ status, the Tsutsumi plant has been utilizing photovoltaic regeneration since 2008 to reduce its reliance on energy derived from fossil fuel and other artificial means.
Using the largest scale of solar panels the auto industry has ever seen, Tsutsumi gets an extra 2,000 kilowatts of electricity from the sun in order to power the equipment used to manufacture hybrids, thereby reducing its CO2 emissions by as much as 780 tons.
Aside from harnessing solar energy, some 80,000 square meters of the facility uses photocatalytic paint — the largest implementation by any automaker around the world — that constantly purifies the air by removing nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulphur oxide (SOx) to make it safer for the workers and the environment around it.
Daily painting and forging at Tsutsumi requires 5,000 tons of water a day. After use, all that water can become toxic to the environment. Before getting released back into the nearby river, it goes through a purification process that makes it five times cleaner than the actual river water.
Tsutsumi has also made great strides in reducing material waste from the manufacturing process. It has been landfill waste-free since 2007 and has had zero incineration waste since 2008.
People and the Biotope
It doesn’t make sense to be labelled a true ‘green’ facility and have nothing but concrete surrounding the facility. Greenery absorbs the plant’s CO2 emissions, supports biodiversity and water preservation, while also providing renewable resources that can be recycled. That is why in 2007, the automaker adopted the Toyota Eco-forest program with the goal of creating ‘a production plant within a forest’.
In May 2008, Toyota held its first-ever tree planting festival at Tsutsumi and after a quick six months, opened up to the public what it now calls the biotope.
By definition, Wikipedia says that a biotope is ‘an area of uniform environmental conditions providing a living place for a specific assemblage of plants and animals.’
There are currently several biotopes around Tsutsumi and it is now thriving with a collection of more than 80,000 various plants and trees.
Essential to Tsutsumi’s masterplan is to get the plant’s manpower to buy into ‘eco-thinking’. Employees are encouraged to be eco-friendly with ‘eco points’ that they get through participation in environmentally-friendly events like tree-planting, cleanup drives and community eco tours. Accumulated points are earned on a card and with enough points through four cards an employee earns a fifth, which is a gold card. These points can be used by employees in exchange for various goods that the plant offers.
Toyota Environmental Challenge 2050
In October 2015, the Toyota Environmental Challenge 2050 was announced and it included some very bold eco-friendly goals over and above the ‘zero CO2 emissions’ the automaker requires of its automobiles.
By 2050, Toyota expects to have zero CO2 emissions during the course of a manufacturing cycle by improving the technology to shorten the production process and to increase workflow efficiency. It also plans to draw wind power and expand hydrogen energy use to further cut emissions.
To help water preservation, Toyota has also begun to implement rainwater collection to reduce the amount of water it draws from the Earth and then reuses the wastewater after it goes through a stringent filtering and recycling process.
As the model plant, Tsutsumi will be the first to implement all these environmental preservation initiatives before it gets rolled out to each of the four eco-plants in the United Kingdom, Turkey, China, Kentucky and Mississippi in the U.S.A.
With five existing eco-plants around the world, Toyota is showing everyone that ‘zero CO2 emissions’, though exaggerated and seemingly implausible, can be achieved.
‘Green’ automobiles manufactured the Earth-friendly way — that’s auto-making done the Toyota way.