Think Blue. Factory.
Committed to conserving resources
By 2018, we aim to cut resource consumption at all Volkswagen brand production plants by 25% compared to 2010. This is the philosophy behind the “Think Blue. Factory.” program, part of our holistic attitude to environmental responsibility across the Group. The plant at Emden in Germany is a fine example.
The new bodywork plant at Emden commands an elevated position. Because it is located in an area of former marshland, the architects decided to build the foundations on raised piles. In this eco-friendly design, more than half of the 5,500 piles enclose plastic pipes that run deep into the ground. The idea is to use the earth’s low temperature to cool the water running through the pipes to 10 °C. The water is then used to supply the bodywork production machinery. Currently the largest shallow geothermal system in the world, this is just one aspect of the Emden plant’s commitment to the use of renewable energies.
The site has hosted a wind farm (owned by the public utility Stadtwerke Emden) since 1994, and is now home to a total of eleven turbines. Meanwhile, the largest photovoltaic system in Lower Saxony covers 3,000 m2 of the factory’s roof space. Inspired by these successful projects, the installation of a further solar system financed and operated by a workers’ cooperative is imminent. Almost 80% of the heating for the plant’s buildings and production halls is carbon-neutral district heating from a nearby biomass power plant, fueled in part by poplars and willows from the plant’s own energy forest. These environmental commitments have earned the Emden plant a reputation as the “blue factory by the sea”.
Blue is the color of efficiency for Volkswagen, as expounded in its “Think Blue.” concept. Launched in 2005 as a scheme to highlight the Group’s most fuel-efficient car models (BlueMotion), since 2010 it has evolved into a holistic philosophy on environmental responsibility. Since late 2011, “Think Blue. Factory.” has broadened the concept to include production operations, and set an ambitious target for the Volkswagen factories: by 2018, the aim is to reduce the environmental impact per vehicle and component by 25% compared with 2010 levels. Attention focuses on five key environmental factors: energy, water, waste, CO2 and solvent emissions, so that progress can be transparently measured. Volkswagen has also established a global standard to ensure uniform interpretation of the respective indicators.
A total of 27 of the 43 Volkswagen brand plants on four continents are currently taking part in the environmental program. By the end of September 2013, they had together identified resource-saving potential worth €114.3 million. More than one quarter of these measures are already up and running. In line with the Group’s declared aim of becoming the world’s most eco-friendly automobile manufacturer by 2018, this holistic, award-winning efficiency program will be successively rolled out to additional Group brands. ŠKODA has already adopted the entire system and is pursuing the 25% reduction target as part of its “Green Future” brand strategy.
The corporate program “Think Blue. Factory.” was devised in collaboration with the Volkswagen plants. The status quo (baseline) was calculated for each plant, and binding targets were set for 2018. A catalog of 140 measures has been created to aid implementation. This is a concise compilation of best practices, pilot projects and technical innovations, and includes technical details, environmental impacts and contact details to encourage knowledge-sharing between sites. From this catalog, the plants select the most appropriate measures for their purposes and arrange them on what is called a “migration path” of their own toward more eco-friendly production. “We have always been passionate about environmental issues. ‘Think Blue. Factory.’ allows us to channel this passion in a more focused way”, says Thomas Laaken, Head of Environmental and Energy Management at the Emden plant and local “Think Blue. Factory.” officer.
The new ventilation system in the Emden assembly hall has attracted a great deal of interest from colleagues in other plants. Sensors and state-of-the-art control technology have reduced the system’s electricity consumption by 80%, and it is also significantly quieter. “We have invested around €1.4 million, but this has translated into savings of approximately €850,000 per annum”, says Laaken. The recently renovated administration building is likely to be a further talking point, as it has succeeded in reducing heat consumption by 80% and electricity consumption by 50%, thanks to high-performance insulation, LED lighting and heating/climate-control ceilings throughout, plus four high-efficiency mini combined heat and power plants in the cellar.
3,400 resource-saving measures are being implemented at Volkswagen sites worldwide in the context of “Think Blue. Factory.”
“Think Blue. Factory.” is thriving, mainly because the individual plants take inspiration from one another – and the systematic involvement of the employees, who have a hands-on knowledge of the best potential resource savings in the production sector. Consequently, “Think Blue. Factory” is closely interlinked with Volkswagen’s ideas management system. In order to sensitize employees to the environmental program and reduction targets, specially trained ambassadors from the various trades have been tasked with spreading the word and acting as expert points of contact.
One thing is clear: achieving a 25% reduction will prove challenging for everyone, particularly those sites that have already worked hard to maximize efficiency in the past. “Nevertheless, we are very confident”, says Laaken, who is even hoping to beat the CO2 emissions target, and achieve carbon-neutral production as early as 2018. Planning is already well underway to install four wind turbines at the plant.
1 – The collection and distribution center with heat pump puts the geothermal energy to good use.
2 – Thomas Laaken, Head of Environmental and Energy Management at the Emden plant.
3 – The largest photovoltaic system in Lower Saxony on the roof of the Emden plant.