All in all, Goodyear is leading the way in corporate accountability and action to mitigate its past discrepancies. The company lost points within this review for the current components and practices of its tires but gained points for the swift action being taken and the prospect of sustainability that future tires possess.
Goodyear is ambitiously pursuing and implementing major sustainable changes in product material sourcing and composition, tire manufacturing, product life and end-of-life processing. However, when comparing this company to its competitors, it becomes clear that rather than being a pioneer for sustainability, Goodyear is more a participator in the overall shift towards major change and sustainable action being taken by the tire industry as a whole. All of the members of TIP (tire industry project) are doing an impressive job. As such, I would recommend Goodyear’s tires as a solid option but would not necessarily recommend it over any of the other similarly-produced tires from similarly large corporations.
The one thing I would recommend to the able consumers over any tire option is to find traveling alternatives that are less carbon footprint-heavy, as any tire purchased and used in a personal car is worse than taking that lengthier walk or public transport trip.
Modern tires are all made from the same basic components, regardless of the company. For Goodyear, the composition of a typical tire consists of 19% natural rubber, 24% synthetic polymers, 12% steel, 4% textile, 26% fillers and 14% other. The sustainability of a tire depends on the different types of rubber used as well as the sourcing of each material and the degree of fossil fuel consumption used to produce each item. Currently, a lot of Goodyear’s inputs are suboptimal, although the company is working to discover and implement alternatives to make their tires more sustainable. For example, carbon black is an ingredient used in tires to improve durability and drastically increase tire life. Though the input is necessary, it is also fossil fuel derived, and so Goodyear has been exploring equally-effective alternatives made from vegetable oils/fats.
Given that rubber is a big source of the tire industry’s impact on the world, Goodyear is exploring its different rubber sourcing options. Traditional natural rubber is harmful both in labor practices and deforestation, and synthetic rubber is not much better for emissions or microplastics. One option Goodyear is looking into is Russian dandelions, a sustainably grown alternative that can be used to make synthetic rubber. The company has also developed a carbohydrate monomer named Biolsoprene which can be used to make synthetic rubber without dependence on oil. These alternatives are years away from mass implementation but are a hopeful look into the potential future of the tire industry. While developing alternative options for rubber, Goodyear is also working to enhance the quality of its existing sources through a commitment to sustainable natural rubber. The current issues with natural rubber sourcing include poor working conditions, deforestation and land grabbing within the South Asian rainforests. Still, natural rubber that is sustainably and ethically grown has its merit as a biodegradable and renewable material. Goodyear currently uses both natural and traditional synthetic rubber for its tires, but is working to phase out petroleum-synthetic rubber and unsustainably grown natural rubber in the upcoming years. Still, at the current moment both of these inputs are present and thus make the tire unsustainable.
Goodyear is one of the main companies driving research and technology development within the current sustainable tire revolution. The company is implementing several initiatives for sustainable materials, including soybean oil, rice husk ash silica and Russian dandelion rubber. All three of these inputs are biomass products that are exponentially more sustainable than and are reducing the emissions, pollution and waste of their petroleum-based counterparts. Beyond these alternatives, the company has achieved 22% renewability for the current materials used, with the goal to expand this in the future. With all of these impressive goals, however, it is important to note that such initiatives are paralleled in other top tire companies. Michelin, Bridgestone and Continental, for example, are other companies that have set goals to make their tires out of completely sustainable material. In this case, a purchase of Goodyear’s or any of these companies’ tires would be a push in the positive direction for sustainable materials sourcing.
The first process in making a tire is rubber sourcing, with natural rubber coming from the rainforests of south Asia. Current practices within rubber agriculture are both environmentally and socially harmful, with common instances of deforestation and land grabbing as well as human trafficking, forced labor and child labor among the poor worker practices. Goodyear is one of the companies in the Tire Industry Project that have set out to address these issues through a natural rubber procurement policy. This policy emphasizes protection of worker rights as well as the land and the rainforest where the rubber is sourced. The company is also pushing for traceability of rubber throughout the supply chain, responsible processing and regenerative harvesting techniques. Though it is encouraging that Goodyear is pushing to address and eliminate all of these issues in the next few years, this is still an indication that such unsustainable actions exist in its current rubber supply chain. Furthermore, though Goodyear is implementing programs to train its suppliers on labor practices and human rights, the company could definitely do more to support the local communities and help propel them to a position of financial security and social welfare.
Once the materials are sourced, tires are manufactured within a plant. First, up to 30 different kinds of rubbers, fillers and other raw ingredients are mixed in giant blenders to produce a black, gum-like substance. That liquid is milled, or cut into strips and coated in other types of rubber, then built into the general shape of a tire by incorporating other textile elements. The resulting “green tire” is then vulcanized, or heated and compressed into its final shape. Finally, the tires are inspected for quality and are sent out for packaging and delivery. The main environmental impacts during tire manufacturing are energy consumption, emissions and water use, all of which Goodyear is addressing through implementation of ambitious and specific goals, including a 25% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2023, 25% reduction in energy use by 2023 and a 33% reduction in water use by 2020. Based on the current data, Goodyear is already on track to meet these goals. To reduce emissions, the company is implementing renewable energy at a few locations in Malaysia and Luxembourg, with goals to expand this in the future.
Goodyear’s largest source of emissions is surprisingly not from production but from product use, specifically in terms of rolling resistance. The level of tire rolling resistance impacts the efficiency of a car and thus how much the car emits. As such, Goodyear is working to reduce the rolling resistance of its tires as much as possible through constant research and innovation.
Following manufacturing and consumer product use comes end-of-life tire processing. Like the other major tire companies, Goodyear is committed to advancing the recovery, reuse and recycling of post-consumer tires. As a result of a warranty program and enhanced recycling practices, Goodyear’s tire recovery rate has reached around 80%, although the company has set a goal to reach 100% recovery for all tires worldwide in the coming years. Once reclaimed, tires have many post-consumer uses, including being burned as a coal-substitute energy source or being used for construction purposes. Goodyear is beginning to employ all these options, and is also looking to implement a process known as devulcanization which allows for the recycling of tires with an 80% recovery rate.
Goodyear is a major international corporation based in Akron, Ohio that supplies tires to nearly every industry. Despite its size, Goodyear has joined other tire companies and corporations as a leader in sustainability action. The company emphasizes a focus on several SDGs, including advanced mobility, sustainable sourcing, reduced inequalities, cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, life on land and climate action. These SDGs frame all of Goodyear’s sustainable initiatives in every facet of its operations.
In terms of corporate diversity, Goodyear is making headway as a more inclusive workplace. Recently, the company was recognized as a top employer for LGBTQ equality in Ohio, although it is unclear how many in the company actually identify as LGBTQ. Goodyear is not too transparent about its demographics, but the company does acknowledge that most of its higher ups are older males. Despite the current lack of diversity, Goodyear does seem to be making a strong effort to improve, emphasizing recruiting employees from minority organizations and conducting workplace trainings.
Workforce safety and health is emphasized especially at the tire manufacturing level. The company works to protect both its employees and the planet through comprehensive Environmental Health and Safety Programs. There is still an existing rate of serious injuries and fatalities but it is steadily decreasing and the company aims to reduce the total incident frequency from 2,970 (10 being serious injuries) to less than 1 by 2023 and less than 0.5 by 2028. At all levels of the company, Goodyear pushes for a healthy workplace culture, and indeed, employee ratings seem to be high for the company.
And finally, looking at the primary level, as mentioned in the previous section Goodyear’s current labor practices in terms of materials sourcing are poor, but the company is turning away from these practices and working to hold suppliers accountable. Goodyear is taking some action to improve the livelihood of its suppliers as well, providing trainings on farming practices to the suppliers, donating acres of land with replanted trees and providing scholarships to the children of smallholders. Although these efforts are commendable, more could always be done.
Though Goodyear is its own independent company, throughout this review I’ve often spoken of Goodyear’s initiatives along with other top tire companies. This is due to the fact that 11 of these companies formed the Tire Industry Project (TIP), a collective that drives sustainable progress within the industry. Thus, Goodyear is making strides toward end-of-life tire management, reduction of tire and road wear particles and sustainable sourcing of natural rubber, but all in sync with these other companies. Given the level of action and transparency that all the major tire companies in TIP are taking to enhance their sustainability, it is not fair to say that Goodyear is the most sustainable tire company, but rather that it is a leading force in sustainability among larger corporations as a whole.