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For sustainable mobility in the future

Prof. Dr. Hubert Weiger, Chairman of Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND), spoke to Audi about the aspects of a car manufacturer’s responsibility for sustainable mobility. In an interview, he talked about goals and possible solutions for sustainability, and also about new approaches to vehicle use.

Professor Hubert Weiger: Für eine nachhaltige Zukunft der Mobilität

Mr. Weiger, if you had to define sustainability in two sentences, what would you say?
The popular idea of the “three-pillar sustainability model” gives equal importance to three focal points that have to be considered in everything we do – Society, Environment and Economy. However, experience shows that the environment is frequently “disregarded.” It is therefore better to speak of a target sustainability triangle, where Environment forms the base of the triangle and must remain a priority – because if we do not give adequate consideration to the environment, the eco system will be destroyed and it will be impossible to make any further contribution to the economy or society.

What do you consider to be the most important or most critical global sustainability issues for the future?
The energy turnaround, to combat climate change, and the phasing out of uncontrollable nuclear power as well as land consumption and man’s intensive use of ecosystems - one of the main threats to biodiversity.

Let’s talk about the car: What does a sustainable future for mobility look like to you? What are the most important levers?
The most important aspect is the paradigm shift in our approach to “mobility”: the key question is how to fulfil mobility needs – shopping, social activities, recreation or work, for example – as efficiently as possible in order to conserve resources. In future we should think much more about short-range mobility, about compact, mixed-function cities with short distances. With regard to freight transport, something has to be done about the ever-increasing volume of transit traffic by actively promoting regional business and transportation cycles as well as sustainable logistics. Within the current political paradigm, distances travelled in particular have been rising for years and no action has been taken from a general perspective, involving all transport modes. Yet mobility can only be considered across all modes of transport.

Do you think that car manufacturers are on the right track in this respect? And where is there still potential in your opinion?
The progress made in terms of ecological improvements to the production process, including energy consumption, are truly impressive. When it comes to the car, we believe that not enough progress has been made. Here there is immense efficiency potential that has so far remained untapped. And manufacturers will not be able to avoid downsizing their cars – particularly with regard to weight and engine power. This area offers the greatest potential.

Are CO2 limits the measure of all things when it comes to environmental protection?
They are an important indicator, but one that only states emissions per kilometre and does not tell the whole story due to the imprecise test cycle that significantly underestimates actual consumption. The whole picture emerges only when usage is included: how many kilometres are travelled by car, are other modes of transport also used and is the car owner aware of his responsibility and does he act accordingly?

Audi stands for and thrives on mobility. What concepts should the company promote? What are the trends of the future?
Car manufacturers should develop into mobility service providers. With regard to electric cars, it’s clear that they also share responsibility for the use of renewable energies. Only if they offer sustainable solutions in this respect will the emissions balance of their cars improve. Mobility services such as car sharing or “use rather than own” are becoming more important, particularly to young adults.

And multimodality will be a very significant trend in the future. That is why intermodal solutions such as electric cars need to be developed.

Customers must also take responsibility for sustainability. Do you believe it’s possible to influence people’s purchasing behaviour?
Manufacturers consistently do so with appropriate advertising. The emphasis is usually placed on qualities other than those concerning the environment. At Audi too, sportiness, speed and design come first, ahead of responsibility for the environment.

What can every one of us do to promote sustainability? And what do you do yourself?
Be a producer of renewable energy, eat organic food, use the public transport system and, if personal transport cannot be avoided, drive a sensible car such as a hybrid – and that’s exactly what I do.