AKRON — For Group Michelin, business isn't an either/or proposition, nor is it only about profit, especially when it comes to people or the environment.
Instead, it's always all three together, according to Alexis Garcin, president and CEO of Michelin North America Inc., and it is to this end that the company has built its guiding principles around a simple pledge, one that focuses every decision and strategic move on striking the best balance for people, profit and planet.
Especially today, Garcin told members of the Tire Society at its annual meeting in Akron on Sept. 13, in an environment riddled with challenges — supply change shortages, auto industry transformations, looming recessions and European energy crises — the resolutions and decisions have to resonate across each of those pillars: people, profit and planet.
When it comes to tackling these challenges, there's another tenet to which Michelin commits: Partnerships.
Because in an era with so much at stake, particularly when it comes to the environment, Michelin doesn't intend to go it alone. To have a meaningful impact — both as a company and as a part of the much larger tire industry — it's going to take a whole lot of collaboration.
"I clearly see the role of Michelin and all that we do," Garcin said during his keynote at the Tire Society's 41st Annual Conference. "I also clearly see the road for us, as an industry, to solve these multi-industry challenges —(especially) if we want to solve them with meaningful speed, which I believe we have to."
Sustainability isn't an option for Michelin or the tire industry at large, he said, because the environment has no time to wait.
So the industry must move quickly toward more sustainable operations. It must produce tires with more sustainable materials that offer better performance throughout their lifetimes.
And those aims, Garcin said, are achieved through both innovation and collaboration.
"Let's start with the environmental stakes first. We solve these challenges from exploring important partnerships, from working with other companies to recycle end-of-life tires into new products, to various engagements in the hydrogen fuel space, and the potential is huge," Garcin said.
"The circular economy," he added, "contributes to making mobility and products more sustainable, and we believe it has to be neutral or positive on tire performance. Not detrimental. Remember, it is performance — a proxy for profit — and planet. It's not 'or.'
Within the area of material science, Michelin has established partnerships that have allowed it to harness the performance capabilities of some of the most promising sustainable materials.
Take, for example, the use of recycled plastics. In this area, Michelin has partnered with Carbios S.A. of Clermont-Ferrand, France, on the development of polyester tire fibers from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic waste. It's also heralded its collaboration with Canada-based Pyrowave Inc. to produce commercially yieldable synthetic rubber from styrene.
Michelin's goal is not material science development solely for the sake of sustainability, Garcin said. Instead Michelin invests in innovations and ideas that move the company — and the tire industry collectively — toward sustainability. This must be done, though, without compromising the other pillars of people (think: product safety and performance) and profit.
"To develop this part of our environmental stewardship, we placed … sustainable materials into our tires based on three key principles," Garcin said.
"Maintaining performance of our tires, particularly the quality in terms of safety and this famous culture of no compromise. Second, ensuring the incorporation of new materials results in an overwhelming improvement of the tires and environmental impact, whether in terms of design, simulation, production, transportation, use or recycling."
But Michelin, Garcin said, doesn't stop there. Its partnerships and investments are wide-ranging to the point that they transcend the traditional lines of competition. And this is best seen within the framework of that third key principle of sustainable production.
"Michelin defines its commitment by factoring in the actual possibility of bringing such materials into industrial scale for extensive rollout across all of its commercial (product lines), and we are open to partnerships here, because we believe that you have to move fast," Garcin said.
"If you move together, you move faster. Hence the partnership with one of our competitors we unveiled a couple of months ago that we unveiled on the recycled carbon black initiative."
In November, Michelin teamed up with Bridgestone Corp. to reinforce its pledge to use recovered carbon black in its products.
Together, the companies articulated their unifying goal of using and encouraging the use of rCB, and committed to removing "significant barriers" in the way of achieving material circularity at a scale that is necessary to realize cleaner mobility.
When it comes to collaboration across the tire industry, the greatest potential for partnerships comes at the end of the products' service lives, Garcin said. This is a space where tire manufacturers of all sizes can come together to share ideas and collaborate with a single sustainability goal in mind: removing scrap tires from the waste steam.
"There are great discussions and cooperation between manufacturers around end-of-life tires and some of the topics that are relevant to our environmental impacts," Garcin said.
"I really believe that we have to leverage our knowhow because it is very difficult to know today which technology and which process will make it all. The more we share, the more we can attest together, the more we can invest and share in this, and that will identify faster what is the winning game. And then we can scale up together, but I really believe that is the path we have to accelerate."
Garcin, a member of the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association board of directors, noted that this has been a major focus for the association, and all of its members are committed to reducing the number of scrap tires and ensuring proper end-of-life product management.
"It is also important for us to all consider the many possibilities for end-of-life tire recycling outside of our communities," Garcin said. "Our customers in construction or our OEMs can have many uses for transforming end-of-life tires.
"And it doesn't end there," he added. "We talk about soles for sports shoes, mulch for playgrounds, artificial turf, speed bumps on the road, you name it. Our goal is to raise value by using as few resources as possible and to preserve the environment. And to reuse material as much as possible.
"And we are making progress, together, as an industry."
Garcin noted that an estimated 88% of used/discarded tires are collected for recycling and reuse. That's significant, he said, especially when viewed against the fact that only 14% of plastics packaging is recovered for recycling.
This is just one of many areas where all tire makers can come together to impact the industry — and the environment — for the better. Opportunities also lie in areas such as sustainable natural rubber procurement or establishing guidelines and standards for product safety.
Because these areas touch all three of the key pillars — people, profit and planet — there should be an underlying urgency that encourages partnership, Garcin said.
"Honestly, the feedback that I have received from the other manufacturers (about working together) is very positive," he said. "And we have to get used to that while, of course, staying in the frame of the competition because the commercial side will remain competitive.
"But I think, when it comes to the bigger role — meaning taking care of the environment and making sure that we are a sustainable industry producing sustainable products, fully renewable and recyclable — I think we have more in common with what we know so that we can move faster."