Heritage | 06 November 2013

Chrono 115, episode 6: factories and environment, the impossible union ?

by Claude Viret

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In the 1990s, the automobile, symbolising freedom, social status and enjoyment, also became associated with environmental issues. Very quickly, Renault understood that its future depended on its ability to incorporate environmental protection into its strategy. As of 1995, the Group decided to implement an environmental policy, whose first focus was factories.

Renault’s approach was a holistic one: how credible could ‘green’ cars be, if they were produced in plants that disregarded environmental factors? The policy developed in the mid-1990s therefore encompassed three areas of focus: factories, vehicles (during use and end-of-life management) and changes in modes of transport.

The Group chose to tackle factories first. For many years, industrial waste and waste management were not being measured, so they could not be controlled. The first thing to do was to analyse existing situations. Mapping materials flows made it possible to identify the source of pollutants and track their migration. Using information obtained from interviews with retired employees and with the help of plans and maps, it was possible to trace production plant histories and identify long-forgotten sources of pollution. The clean-up undertaken at Billancourt, where Renault’s manufacturing presence is a century old, provides a telling example: some of the heavy metals that were dug up dated from the 19th century, when leather was still tanned on the banks of the Seine.

Starting in 1995, Renault began to apply a new global environmental management policy, implemented by a network of highly motivated and passionate people. A need for skills new to manufacturing, provided by biologists and geologists, emerged. Using common sense, a pragmatic approach and creative thinking, these teams gradually reduced daily consumption and waste. At every production facility, small or large, in France or abroad, environmental effects quickly diminished.

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Reducing the impact of factories on their direct environment to a strict minimum meant transforming these sites little by little, changing ‘ways and customs’ and inventing sustainable solutions. Each factory served as a laboratory for testing new technologies and environmental management techniques: rainwater recovery at Maubeuge, new industrial processes and treatment of air emissions from the foundry at Le Mans, initiatives at Flins to reflect the sensitivity of the site due to its closeness to Paris, treatment of cutting oils at Cléon, alternative energy production at Palencia, biodiversity at Curitiba, rainwater recycling and herbicide-free green spaces at the Technocentre in Guyancourt, soil pollution clean-up at Pitesti, the inauguration of water-based paint use at Douai, and so on. The results of these pilot tests were shared and applied to other sites.

In 1998, Sandouville became the first Group site to obtain ISO 14001 certification, an international standard for environmental management. In the three years that followed, every one of Renault’s sites achieved certification. Plants built abroad since then all apply the same or better methods.

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The Tangiers plant concretely demonstrates Renault’s know-how acquired over the years by its global environmental network: compared to an equivalent site, the plant’s CO2 emissions are reduced by 98% through the use of renewable energies, while water consumption for industrial use is reduced by 70%. This performance is recognized by the United Nations under the Kyoto protocol and Sustainable Development Mechanisms (SDM) programme.

Progress backed by numbers:
From 1998, the year that we began to collect environmental data, to 2012, the Group significantly reduced the environmental impacts of its production facilities:
– Water consumption per vehicle: down 65%
– Energy consumption per vehicle: down 31%
– Release of toxic metals in water per vehicle: down 60%
– Generation of hazardous waste per vehicle: down 70%
– Atmospheric emissions of VOCs per vehicle: down 41%


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