BMW gears up clean cars with ISO standards

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By Elizabeth Gasiorowski Denis
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At last a car that is good for the planet! With its all-electric BMW i3, German car manufacturer BMW has successfully brought to market the world's first premium automobile conceived from the ground up for zero-emission mobility.

The new BMW i3 car took the European market by storm when it hit the roads in 2013, leaving a squeaky clean environmental footprint in its trail.

As a result, the new battery electric vehicle emits 30 % to 50 % less life-cycle greenhouse gases than equivalent conventional vehicles. In fact, the cute little number has since been the proud recipient of several of the motor industry’s most prestigious international awards – especially the World Car Design of the Year Award 2014 and the World Green Car Award 2014 – gleaned at the New York International Auto Show in April in this year.

To fulfil their ambitious green vision, BMW Group opted for a full life-cycle assessment (LCA) of its car-making process, resulting in them implementing two leading LCA standards, ISO 14040 and ISO 14044. ISOfocus caught up with the Product Sustainability Team at BMW responsible for leading the project to find out how the car giant is reinventing mobility.

ISOfocus: BMW i3 is a revolutionary car for city driving. Can you tell us how the BMW i mobility concept was born?

BMW Product Sustainability Team: The BMW i and its BMW i3 car were born out of the inspirational “project i” initiative, a think-tank created to develop sustainable mobility solutions and redefine the manufacturing of cars.

Building a visionary car is a huge undertaking. How did you get started?

To make BMW i3 – the first zero-emissions mass-produced BMW – a reality, we knew we had to take a serious look at our product life cycle. So we carried out a full life cycle assessment (LCA) of the concept car in order to get a clear picture of all environmental aspects. We used ISO 14040 and ISO 14044 to help us monitor and reach our targets.

How did you go about implementing the life-cycle assessment?

The LCA was performed using the product sustainability software GaBi© to help gather valuable life-cycle inventory data and to obtain feedback during the use phase of the vehicle.

What have been the main benefits of LCA on your production process?

The LCA was used as a monitoring and decision-making tool for implementing performance-enhancing measures.

As a result, compared with conventional vehicles of similar size and performance, the BMW i3 that is on the market today has a global warming potential (GWP) along its life cycle at least a third lower if powered with EU electricity mix in the use phase, and over 50 % lower when powered with renewable energy.

Any tips for businesses thinking of performing a life-cycle assessment of their environmental sustainability?

Performing an assessment of a product’s life from cradle to grave is by definition a big project. Work methodically and take time to do things properly. And enlist the help of external consultants to keep you on the right track.

For the full interview, see the upcoming July/August 2014 issue of ISO Focus.

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Elizabeth Gasiorowski-Denis

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