VOLKSWAGEN South Africa is arguably one of the biggest players in the vehicle manufacturing landscape with a factory based in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, which builds both the new Polo and Polo Vivo ranges that are sales leaders in their segments.
Profitability is one thing, but sustainability and the ultimate goal of constant reduction in waste emissions is another, and it remains at the forefront of manufacturer’s minds.
In its quest to achieve this somewhat elusive objective, what with water and electricity remaining at the core of the factory’s resources, the company has adopted its Think Blue strategy, which encompasses three pillars in the form of BlueFactory, BlueMotion and BlueEnvironment.
In the instance of the BlueFactory, the company has placed emphasis on reducing the plant’s waste, water, energy, carbon and solvent emissions by as much as 25% by 2018.
BlueMotion, meanwhile, is mainly based on vehicle technology that includes stop/start function, low roll resistance tyres, aerodynamic efficiency and gear shift indicators as seen on the Golf and Polo BlueMotion models to further improve on their overall efficiency.
VWSA MD David Powels says the holistic view of the Think Blue strategy was chosen over the generic green colour as blue symbolises innovation, future and, of course, the company’s corporate logo.
He also reiterated the words of the company’s chairman, Martin Winterkorn, that the company accepts environmental responsibility and as such will strive to become the most energy and environmentally efficient company by 2018.
One of the factory’s most prominent changes includes a new press shop replete with wavelength technology where excess energy from one pressing operation is recuperated and utilised to power another operation in sequence, which allows for an up to 30% saving in energy compared to its predecessor.
"Nothing is too large or too small to escape the attention of the Think Blue initiative," says Nico Serfontein, Think Blue Project Leader at VWSA. "The wavelength technology is like perpetual motion; imagine waves washing up on a beach, with little going to waste."
The company is also involved in nature conservation projects including the South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre (SAMREC), the Dyer Island Trust and the Wilderness Foundation.
Collectively these include preservation of healthy breeding numbers of the African Penguins, education and the rehabilitation of Great White Sharks, which are said to have received unwarranted coverage for attacking humans — when the contrary is in fact the case — and anti-rhino poaching.
While I personally appreciate these giant sea predators, being subjected to Steven Spielberg’s 1975 Jaws movie as a child, I thoroughly comprehend why the public is terrified of these predators.
So then the education about these animals should go a long way to address such perceptions.
Nevertheless, there are some interesting facts regarding the animals, such as the great white shark that swam from the east coast of South Africa to the west coast of Australia, a distance of 22,000km in 110 days, and back again the next year was truly mind boggling.
"Environmental awareness has been a topical issue in Europe for many years, but it is only in the last few years that it has become such an important topic in South Africa.
With Think Blue, VW aims to inspire people and heighten their awareness to engage in environmentally-friendly and sustainable actions. We will initiate an open, understandable dialogue, inviting people to share ideas about Think Blue.
We want to show people that ecologically sustainable behaviour is not only possible, but fun too," says Mike Glendinning, sales and marketing director at VWSA.
To further demonstrate the company’s BlueMotion technology, we drove various models of its range under this banner, including the Golf and Polo BlueMotion models, the CC, the Tiguan and the Touareg.
With two teams comprising of 20 couples and 10 vehicles, we embarked on an eco-challenge that involved driving from the company’s plant in Port Elizabeth to Gansbaai in the Western Cape, with an overnight stop in George.
Our team managed to achieve a figure of 7.8l /100km in the Touareg, while both the Golf and Polo BlueMotion models beamed a figure of 5.8l /100km and 6.0l /100km respectively over the 600km-odd trip.
Once in Gansbaai, scores were tallied and our team of five vehicles averaged a fleet total fuel consumption of 7.8l /100km, which is impressive considering the various drivers involved and their different driving styles.
In the greater scheme of things, VW says it is its holistic approach to overall efficiency in the factory that includes various technological advancements as the new press shop, the reduction in the base paint load, to energy marshals that constantly monitor and record the utilisation of energy within the factory.
The company’s Think Blue strategy certainly proves that profitability need not be at the expense of the very environment that provides our resources.