Delivering sustainability along the automotive value chain: why collaboration is integral for success

The automotive industry is a major industrial and economic global force. However, it’s also responsible for 7.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, with its detrimental impact on the environment impossible to ignore.

The industry is responding at last, with sustainability finally a key strategic priority and many automotive manufacturers adopting electric vehicles in efforts to achieve carbon neutrality. However, a lot of work is still needed if strategies are going to achieve their critical environmental targets.

One problem is that execution is often not holistic and therefore can be fragmented and less effective. If we are to achieve planet-saving sustainability, the whole industry needs to come together to review and adapt the entire automotive value chain: from material development and engineering all the way to manufacturing and operations. 

It’s why there needs to be another priority alongside sustainability: collaboration.

Collaboration and sustainability 

Currently, 20% of a vehicle’s overall carbon footprint has already been created before the parts even get to the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEMs). Therefore, for automotive OEMs to reduce their carbon footprint, they need every other player in the value chain to reduce theirs. That can be a lot of companies. A single car has around 30,000 parts, with each of those using different raw materials, manufacturing processes, services and tools. Yet, if OEMS prioritized collaborating with sustainably-focused partners, that’s already half the battle won.

Car makers and their partners then need to adopt a new, sharing attitude to collaborate on sustainability targets such as:

• Reducing supply chain carbon emissions 

• Increasing sustainable packaging 

• Ensuring long-term water security

• Implementing renewable energy 

• Reducing waste 

Success will further require:

• Industry-wide alignment of goals and milestones

• Increased visibility and transparency 

• Digital support systems for companies to view supply chain information 

• New agreed industry practices and norms 

• A transition from a linear economy to a circular economy

Collaborative solutions

By sharing intentions and targets, manufacturing partners are also able to adapt their own products to develop sustainable solutions. Some Henkel examples include:

• The development of Teroson liquid-applied sound deadeners (LASD) grades based on renewable oils for use in automotive paint and body shop departments.

• Our Next Generation Metal pretreatment process BONDERITE Thin Film for automotive metal corrosion and protection eliminates the use of heavy metal phosphates, shortening the processing line, reducing water use and operating at an ambient temperature to reduce energy consumption.

• In response to the rapid rise of EVs, Henkel developed Bergquist Gap Filler TGF 3010 APS, a unique, thermal gap filler solution for the manufacturing of lithium-ion battery packs supplied in reusable drums to maximize filling volume and reduce transport numbers.

Building a circular economy

Supporting a circular economy can help the automotive industry reduce the lifecycle carbon emissions per passenger km by up to 75% by 2030. It requires designing out waste from the value chain by reducing or fully eliminating the use of fossil fuels and toxic chemicals.

And instead using sustainable resources such as:

• Renewable energy

• Biodegradable materials

• Reusable and recyclable materials

While circular systems are already being deployed by 52% of organizations to enhance reuse, sharing, repair, remanufacturing, recycling and end-of-life practices with positive results, these initiatives need to be better applied collaboratively across the entire value chain and given equal importance at every stage.

Here’s an overview of where sustainable practices could be implemented:


• Greener designs / product development, such as lighter, zero emission or electric vehicles

• Optimized use of natural, recyclable resources. Henkel, for example, uses renewable thermostats in paint shop sealants and coatings

• Optimizing use of biodegradable components, such as bioplastics


• Environmentally responsible sourcing of metals, materials and products

• Implementing mobility and digital sustainability services

• Lowering emissions 

• Reducing transportation: moving from road to rail 


• Maintenance, quality and production processes to reduce waste and improve recyclability and reuse of materials

• Renewable energy procurement

• Using recyclable packaging

• Implementing waste recycling, easy returns and responsible end of life disposal

• Collaborative eco production methods. For example, Henkel have created a number of low cure structural adhesives that reduce the manufacturing carbon impact. However, to be successful, the entire production chain needs to support lower temperature processes.


• Take back vehicle schemes for refurbishment and reuse

Making sustainable manufacturing a reality

Mobility is the lifeline of a modern economy. However, as natural resources become scarcer and climate change more impactful, the urgency for the automotive industry to make good on sustainability goals has never been greater.

Collaboration is the key to that effort. The time for being protective about innovation, even with competitors, is over. Sharing information, being transparent and working together to develop, improve and implement sustainable solutions – while emphasizing the need for pragmatic, cost-effective approaches – is the only way we can – together – develop sustainable manufacturing and a healthier planet for all. 

Henkel pioneers the development of new solutions to support our partner’s sustainability goals. 

About The Author

Juliane Hefel is Corporate Vice President, Automotive OEMs Americas, responsible for Henkel Corporation’s automotive operations throughout the Americas. Hefel’s direct responsibilities include overseeing sales, operations, and management teams to achieve financial growth targets of the business unit. Hefel has served the company in several international business, marketing and purchasing roles - including positions in Europe, Asia and the US - since joining the company in 2006. 


If you’re interested in collaborating across the value chain, please contact me via LinkedIn or email


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