A huge pinch of salt.

4th November 2015

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Pollution & Waste Management ,
  • Air ,
  • Prevention & Control ,
  • Environment agencies


George Vernon-Hunt

Paul Suff looks at Volkswagen's sustainability report in the light of Dieselgate

Environment and sustainability professionals at Volkswagen have probably been keeping a low profile since news broke in September that the German-owned automotive company had fitted software in diesel vehicles to enable them to perform better in mandatory tests and therefore meet emissions standards for nitrogen oxide (NOx).

Volkswagen, whose brands include Audi, Porsche, Seat and Škoda as well as VW, has admitted that about 11 million cars worldwide, including eight million in Europe, are fitted with the so-called "defeat device".

The US Environmental Protection Agency, which uncovered the deception, says the software turns off emissions controls when driving normally and turns them on when a vehicle is undergoing an emission test. This results in cars on the road emitting up to 40 times the NOx emissions than the US standards allow.

VW employs almost 600,000 workers, has 118 production plants worldwide and reported sales in 2014 worth more than €202 billion. It is inconceivable that such a large, global company, with a public commitment to become the "world's most environmentally compatible automaker" by 2018 should deliberately cheat tests to protect human health and the environment. The company's 2014 sustainability report states: "Growth can only take place hand in hand with responsibility and environmental protection."

Fitting a device to cheat tests and ensure vehicles comply with regulations suggests that the environment has been sacrificed for growth. The sustainability report also says "environmental considerations are factored into every decision we make".

It is unclear who at VW sanctioned the fitting of the defeat device but, whoever it was, it is clear that he or she was not considering the environment. Dieselgate may speed up the introduction of more robust testing of vehicles so the process better replicates actual driving conditions rather than artificial ones.

Although reports suggest some in the European automotive industry have been lobbying to weaken the commission's plans for a new test cycle, EU industry commissioner Elbieta Biekowska said in October that the test procedures would be an "appropriate answer to the shortcomings of laboratory testing and will considerably reduce the risk of defeat devices being used".

Whatever the policy outcome, the scandal will cost VW a huge amount of money in fines and the costs of repairing the affected cars. Its reputation is tarnished and it is likely to take years to recover. As for its sustainability objectives, best take them with a huge pinch of salt.


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

Risks and opportunities of changing consumer demand

Consumers are flexing their purchasing power in support of more sustainable products and services. Dr Andrew Coburn, CEO of sustainability intelligence and analytics firm, Risilience, considers the risk of greenwashing and sets out three key steps businesses can take to avoid the pitfalls and meet the opportunities of changing consumer demand.

18th June 2024

Read more

Groundbreaking legislation on air and noise pollution and measures to tackle growing concerns over disposable vapes provide the focus for Neil Howe’s environmental legislation update

6th June 2024

Read more

One in five UK food businesses are not prepared for EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) coming into force in December, a new survey has uncovered.

16th May 2024

Read more

Regulatory gaps between the EU and UK are beginning to appear, warns Neil Howe in this edition’s environmental legislation round-up

4th April 2024

Read more

Dr Julie Riggs issues a call to arms to tackle a modern-day human tragedy

15th March 2024

Read more

The UK’s new biodiversity net gain (BNG) requirements could create 15,000 hectares of woodlands, heath, grasslands, and wetlands and absorb 650,000 tonnes of carbon each year.

13th March 2024

Read more

Campaign group Wild Justice has accused the UK government of trying to relax pollution rules for housebuilders “through the backdoor”.

14th February 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close