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‘Carbon neutral’ next year – but does Bosch goal make material change?

Joseph Flaig

(Credit: Shutterstock)
(Credit: Shutterstock)

Bosch could become the first ‘carbon neutral’ major industrial company next year thanks to a programme of in-house improvements to energy use and efficiency.

The German engineering and manufacturing multinational trumpeted its seemingly ambitious project yesterday (9 May), pledging to neutralise 3.3m tonnes of carbon emissions per year thanks to initial increases in the purchase of green electricity and carbon offsetting. The company also plans to start generating more renewable energy to use at its plants around the world, and to invest €1bn in efficiency.

“We see climate action as our responsibility, and believe we have to act now,” said CEO Dr Volkmar Denner.

The initiative must go “a lot further” if it ignores imports of unsustainable materials however, according to an expert in sustainable manufacturing. 

Despite detailing various efficiency methods including Industry 4.0 cloud-managed machine power consumption, heat recovery, renovation and introduction of greenery, the five-page announcement includes no mention of materials or imports. The company has more than 400 locations worldwide. 

“If they want to become 100% [carbon neutral], to understand what their carbon footprint is, they need to understand the actual carbon footprint of the materials that they use,” said Mark Jolly, professor of sustainable manufacturing at Cranfield University.

Speaking to Professional Engineering, he gave the example of hand tools built in Germany with aluminium imported from Russia. Extraction processes are notoriously unsustainable, he said.

As a result, he claimed, the announcement “looks good” but does not address a key issue. “You have got to look through the whole lifecycle of materials. Unless they have got a whole carbon footprint for all their materials… they have got to a lot further.”

The announcement also does not appear to include emissions from devices manufactured by Bosch, which is the world’s biggest automotive supplier.

‘The cheapest energy is zero energy’

Steve Evans is director of research at the Centre for Industrial Sustainability, University of Cambridge. He told Professional Engineering that it is “wonderful to see [Bosch] raise the bar, and to do it with urgency.”

Unlike the announcement, which pledges efficiency investments up to 2030, the expert said he “would like to see energy efficiency first – the cheapest energy to buy/ offset is zero energy.”

He also said a 2018 reduction in power consumption of 1.5% was “very safe” considering the amount of money being invested. “1% is the background rate of improvement across industry. I advocate for, and have evidence to support that 8% per annum is achievable year after year. I would like to see them aim for 4% energy reduction per added value – not per product or per turnover.”

The final countdown

Despite criticisms, the Bosch announcement could encourage other industrial giants to reconsider their approach to climate emissions and to act faster. The company expects to increase its installed energy capacity 10-times thanks to solar and wind projects, and will also sign exclusive contracts with new renewable farms around the world. It aims to save 1.7TW/h per year by 2030 – one-fifth of its current consumption, comparable to the private households of Cologne.

“We are not starting from scratch. We have consistently exceeded our targets for the relative reduction of carbon emissions. Now the time has come for absolute targets. Let the final countdown begin,” said Dr Denner.

Professional Engineering has contacted Bosch for comment on its approach to carbon neutral material imports.


Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
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