SURF Framework as it Applies to the Automotive Industry

With more and more businesses fulfilling the demand for consumer goods, higher standards are expected of all of them. Consumers want cheaper products that are higher quality while still being environmentally friendly. Aside from the environmental aspect, these principles of business are still the same expectations consumers had 1,000’s of years ago. Mass production has helped manufacturers keep up with economic growth and has ensured sustainability of their products, but at what cost to the environment? Now, more than ever, today’s manufacturers are expected to meet the rigorous demands of consumers while being subjected to terms such as fair trade, carbon footprint and sustainable development. This brings into play two very different, yet decidedly equal concepts. First, that theoretical literature has its own ideas for sustainable development and sustainability. And second, manufacturers have access to a wide range of tools that can help them make better use of sustainable development decision-making ideas.

The automotive industry can successfully merge these two concepts using the SURF Framework and become one of the biggest parts of today’s new green economy.

The SURF framework: Supply chain, User, Relations and Future, utilizes a systems-level approach which results in a systems-level impact. This framework can effect decisions made throughout the manufacturing process and can benefit the automotive industry on a variety of different levels. From the manufacture of separate parts, to the final assembly of the vehicle, SURF can create a more sustainable solution for the development and manufacturing process. The SURF Framework was configured based on an extensive analysis of available definitions, understandings and methods for implementing sustainable development on a concrete level. SURF moves beyond the triple-bottom-line approach to sustainable development to place emphasis on the quadruple bottom line: social, environmental, economic, and intergenerational equity results.

Let’s take a look at how the SURF framework can apply to the automotive industry. One of the biggest challenges today’s automotive industry faces is transformation for sustainability. There are a variety of metrics automotive manufacturers can evaluate their sustainability performance, but many say that one key component of the sustainability paradigm is missing. This is where the SURF Framework comes in; it can replace that missing component by way of providing automakers with tools designed to address the specific aspects of the sustainability model. For our example, we will focus on the products used in automobile interiors, specifically textiles.

We will being our example with “S”, which stands for the supply chain and all of the aspects it includes. The textiles that go into a car’s interior must go through a supply chain first and the materials are measured based on greenhouse gases, water use, energy use, land use, transportation, waste, pollutants, labor, working conditions as well as long-term profit. As you can see, this is the most challenging issue to address for any manufacturer. You will have many argue that there is no way sustainability objectives can be met with this many variables but with the SURF framework, they can.

While many industry leaders are not present in the manufacturing facilities or anywhere along the supply chain, using the SURF framework will enable them to address the supply chain and ensure the textiles coming in are meeting the sustainability criteria created for every supplier involved. That can include everyone from the raw material source and fiber manufacturer, to the cloth manufacturers and final design team. Everyone along the supply chain has a responsibility to ask for sustainability information as the supply chain has to be economically and ecologically viable.

Now we move on to “U” which stands for user. What does the end user do with the textile used in the automotive interior? In some industries, the product is quickly disposed of or used for a very short time and then thrown away to collect in landfills. The automotive interior is used for many years before being disposed of. This is where sustainability is lacking if a recycling program is not in place. The users plays an important role in the automaker’s sustainability system as it makes it more difficult to “green” a product if users are not educated about the appropriate life cycle systems of the products they are using.

Automotive interiors have a longer life cycle than most products but when the automobile is scrapped, the interior is as well. Recycling efforts are changing in the way these materials are disposed of but not fast enough for consumer demand of new vehicles.

Internal and external “R”elations are next. This focuses on the company itself and the way it relates to its employees and the global audience. Are the employees treated well? Do stakeholders participate in corporate decisions? It makes sense for any company to focus on these factors as they help offer insight into a company’s ability to create and maintain positive relationships which can contribute to the sustainability their products.

By ensuring the textile makers and automobile interior assembly line workers are paid a fair wage, the manufacturer can be assured they are contributing positively to their communities. In short, satisfied workers are motivated workers and motivated workers strive to ensure the company is sustainable and has the ability to grow.

Finally, we have “F”, which stands for future. Today’s automakers are responsible for future generations and the impact their operations cause today could be harmful tomorrow. This has often been addressed using the “triple-bottom-line” principle to convert sustainable development into practical decisions. Recently however, studies have shown a need for a more intergenerational equity based idea. This is the quadruple bottom line approach which offers more sustainable development practices. To put this into better perspective using our automaker as an example, long term thinking must come into play and new materials will be needed for the automobile interiors is we are to take into account social and environmental considerations.

This is highly industry specific and this will dictate how far ahead an automaker should look. Today’s automakers are looking 20 years into the future to decide what customers will want and how they can best respond to those needs. The SURF Framework will make it possible for automakers to take their development to the next level and decide what they need to do to remain sustainable. Could it be creating a new material that is cheaper to produce, environmentally friendly and offers users the ability to recycle it?

As you can see, the SURF Framework can be applied to any industry and the automotive interior industry is just a small part of what their manufacturing facilities produce. The SURF Framework not only saves manufacturers money, it can also help them create a sustainable future for the employees, users and everyone on the planet.

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