2. Sustainability
  3. Shift. Our Platform for Debates
  4. Shift. The Volkswagen Group sustainability exhibition

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Shift. The Sustainability Exhibition

For the first time, Volkswagen presented an exhibition focusing exclusively on sustainability at DRIVE. Volkswagen Group Forum in Berlin. From November 16, 2017 until February 28, 2018, visitors are invited to learn about topics ranging from autonomous driving to Industry 4.0, alternative drive systems, environmental protection, and resource conservation.

Discover new perspectives!

Shift mirror

The future of mobility depends on many factors. How will people want to get from A to B?

Are they ready to share or would they rather own a car? What kind of technology will the auto industry push? The Shift mirror was the first thing visitors to the sustainability exhibition at DRIVE saw. They could behold the many facets of mobility from different perspectives.

Listen in!

Audio benches

Visitors could take a seat on a bench and listen in on conversations about five contentious topics that also concern the Volkswagen Group.

  • Conversations on global warming, robots, shared mobility, air quality, and data

    Kyoto, Paris, Wolfsburg
    Climate change in the Group: part of the problem or part of the solution?
    Brave new working world
    Robots and the cloud are just the beginning. What else has changed – and what changes are yet to come?
    Sharing is caring
    The end of an era for private cars: a ride in the self-driving electric shuttle of the future.
    The air is getting thin for combustion engines
    The air is getting thin for combustion engines Lösung?
    Data leak on wheels?
    Self-driving cars prevent accidents. Isn’t that right? Hackers can manipulate them. Isn’t that right? Big businesses use them to spy on their customers. Isn’t that right?

When is mobility sustainable?


Environmental, social, and eco-nomic aspects play an important role in the answer to this complex question. It is not enough to simply look at the vehi-cle and its drive system. Other factors must be included in the assessment, such as the sustainable extraction of raw materi-als, the environmental impact of car production and use, and working conditions along the entire supply chain.

New, sustainable forms of mobility are accompanied by new challenges – for example, developing a suitable infrastructure for electric vehicles. Advanced digitalization makes it possible to use a smartphone for mobility services like car sharing and shuttles. Digitalization is changing a growing number of jobs in produc-tion, for example, with intelligent robots.

Sustainability is about focusing on the bigger picture. This involves using recy-clable materials, or taking gridlock into consideration when planning megacities. Every decision creates a ripple effect in which correlations only become apparent upon closer inspection.

Climate change

This exhibit introduced visitors to the causes of climate change and its effects on humanity and ecosystems.

Challenges and responsibility

Climate change is already here

There is overwhelming evidence that human activity is a primary cause. Volkswagen Group firmly sides with the scientific consensus about the causes of climate change and the urgency to act to stop it.

Human activity is impacting the climate.

There is a clear correlation between rising greenhouse gas emissions and rising average global temperatures. Since the mid-19th century, concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have risen steadily. This correlates with rising average temperatures globally.

Harmful green gas emissions

The greenhouse gases that are causing climate change include carbon dioxide (CO₂), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and fluorinated gases. The Earth’s natural systems cannot absorb these gases at the same pace that we are producing them. As they build up in the atmosphere, it traps more heat, leading to rising temperatures.

Rising greenhouse gas emissions are caused mostly by burning fossil fuels to generate electricity, produce goods, and power vehicles. Other important sources of emissions include agriculture and deforestation.

The impacts of climate change will be devastating

Although we are already seeing unprecedented weather events, such as heatwaves and hurricanes, scientists believe the worst is still to come if we don’t act soon.

Some key “tipping points” – where warming irreversibly changes natural systems – include the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, the dying of boreal and tropical forests, and the disruption of life-sustaining water cycles. Such impacts from climate-related extremes expose many ecosystems and human communities to grave risk.


Many regions are already facing a significant reduction in groundwater resources. This will affect food security and access to drinking water, and increase the likelihood of wildfires. (Source: IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, 2014)

Rising sea levels

Rising sea levels – for example through the possible melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets – will threaten coastal and low-lying areas with flooding and erosion. (Source: IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, 2014)

Stronger storms

More powerful storms and extreme precipitation — compounded with higher sea levels — place communities at higher risk of storm surges and flooding. (Source: IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, 2014)

Ocean acidification

Rising CO2 levels have caused the acidification of the oceans, which will have adverse effects on marine ecosystems for centuries. (Source: IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, 2014)

Threatened food security

The changing climate affects all aspects of food security, including crop production, access, and cost. Climate extremes have triggered rapid food and cereal price increases in key producing regions. (Source: IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, 2014)

Loss of biodiversity

Many land and freshwater species have shifted their habitats and migration patterns in response to ongoing climate change, and could face extinction. (Source: IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, 2014)

Human migration

Extreme weather and water scarcity will displace an increasing number of people from their homes, particularly in developing countries with limited resources to adapt to climate change. (Source: IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, 2014)

Forest dieback

Tree mortality has been on the rise, compromising the life of the world’s forests. Forest dieback is a major environmental risk, with large impacts on biodiversity, wood production, water quality, and economic activity. (Source: IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, 2014)

Climate change: Our responsibility

The transportation sector is responsible for 14% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. This includes all of the world’s aviation, maritime, rail, and road traffic. Road traffic accounts for 72% of transportation’s total greenhouse gas footprint.

The carbon footprint of Volkswagen’s production

In 2016, Volkswagen Group produced 10,219,025 private and light commercial vehicles and 186,067 heavy commercial vehicles worldwide. Producing these vehicles, running our businesses resulted in 4.2 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions. Combined with CO₂ emissions from the electricity, heat and fuel gas we purchased, this total reached 9.5 million tons in 2016.

Volkswagen Group’s “direct” CO₂ emissions have declined slightly from 4.32 million tons in 2010 to 4.23 million in 2016. (Source: Volkswagen Group Sustainability Report 2016)

Most emissions come from use

Most of Volkswagen’s CO₂ footprint comes from “indirect” sources. Some 328.4 million tons per year are the result of our business, but are not owned or controlled by Volkswagen Group. This includes things like employee commuting, business travel, third-party distribution and logistics, production of purchased goods, and – for us the biggest source – emissions from the use of our products.

Climate change: What we are doing

Volkswagen welcomes the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, which aims to limit global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Referring to international climate agreements, Volkswagen CEO Matthias Müller is calling for the automotive industry to ensure that all fleet CO₂ emissions “are steadily reduced to zero by 2050.”

Global leader in electric mobility

Combined with a low-carbon, renewable energy sources, the electrification of vehicles could vastly reduce the carbon footprint of our products. In September 2017, Volkswagen CEO Matthias Müller announced “Roadmap E” – an ambitious plan that includes launching over 80 new electric vehicle models by 2025. This will include 50 all-electric vehicles and 30 plug-in hybrid models.

By 2030, Volkswagen plans to have one electrified version of every Group model for all brands, for all markets. Volkswagen Group also plans to invest over €20 billion in e-mobility, including new vehicles, production plants, workforce qualification, charging infrastructure and dealership and sales organizations.

Less fleetemissions

Volkswagen’s biggest source of CO₂ emissions are the use of its products. In compliance with European regulations, Volkswagen will reduce the average emissions of new passenger cars to 95g of CO₂ per kilometer by 2021. This European target represents a 40% drop since 2007, when average new car emissions were 158g/km. Volkswagen’s current average is 120g/km.

More efficient production, more eco-friendly energy sources

Volkswagen Group is continually improving the energy efficiency of its production and operations, and is increasingly switching to less carbon-intensive forms of energy. For example, Volkswagen is planning to switch its main source of power at its Wolfsburg plant from coal to gas – a move that will sink CO₂ emissions from energy use by 59%.

“A company like Volkswagen must lead, not follow.” - Matthias Müller, Volkswagen Group CEO, IAA Frankfurt, September 2017

“Our goal is to make mobility sustainable, clean, better for our customers all over the world. That is what drives us.” - Matthias Müller, Volkswagen Group CEO, IAA Frankfurt, September 2017

Drive me home, SEDRIC!


Introduced in March 2017, SEDRIC is a fully automated, completely electric concept automobile developed by the Volkswagen Group. It offers a preview of future mobility, when cars will require less space and energy. This will make it possible for people to get from one place to another safely and sustainably.

SEDRIC (SElf DRIving Car) offers on-demand mobility for everyone: adults and children, seniors and people with disabilities, city dwellers who do not own a car or have a driving licence, and visitors in an unfamiliar city – all at the touch of a button, via voice control or with a smartphone app.

How will autonomous vehicles change our cities?

Projection Model

This projection model showed how self-driving cars will change the urban landscape and human lives.

In the long term, autonomous vehicles will help improve traffic flow, reduce environmental impact, offer mobility for the masses, and result in fewer accidents. But in the short term, they could cause traffic congestion. Visitors can choose different scenarios and see what happens when 1, 30 or 100 percent of all vehicles on the road operate autonomously.

Which vehicle suits you?

Mobility configurator

Using an entertaining approach, visitors experienced how their personal preferences not only influence their decisions, but also the mobility concepts developed by car manufacturers. Participants answer seven questions. The results are used to determine one of seven mobility types. The exhibit functioned like a psychological test, which most people are familiar with from magazines or social media. The main objective was to have fun.

Resources for production

It takes large amounts of resources to build a car. Nonferrous metals, light metals and steel go into the production of the vehicle, as well as many liters of water. CO2 is given off, especially in the car’s operation. The visitor could compare the recources and materials used by three different vehicle types: electric vehicles, compact cars, and SUVs. They vary in size, furnishing and drive technology. Some results may have come as a little surprise.

Resource scale

Three vehicle types potrayed briefly

Over 35,000 electric cars are in use on Germany’s roads. Thanks to its rechargeable lithium-ion battery, the e-car doesn’t emit any climate-damaging carbon dioxide (CO2). And when it fills up on green energy, it drives largely CO2-neutral.

Cars in the compact class are all-rounders. They come in three- or five-door models, as station wagons or sedans, with diesel, gasoline, or hybrid engines. Compact cars are the top seller in Germany, with a share of over 26 percent of the market, or 16.4 million vehicles.

Owners of large SUVs appreciate the higher sitting position and feel especially safe in these heavy cars. Sales of SUVs have steadily increased in recent years. In 2016 alone, 715,000 vehicles of this type were newly licensed.

  • Light metals

    The battery of an e-car weighs 300 kilograms. The weight places an enormous demand on the chassis. For reasons of stability, the vehicle body contains a relatively large amount of aluminum. The material is also used in the battery and the battery box.

    Compact cars have to be cheaper than vehicle types of the upper classes. Because aluminum is expensive, less of it is used.

    With an average total weight of approx. 1.8 metric tons, SUVs are quite heavy. To ensure good handling, a large amount of aluminum goes into their production. In combustion-engine vehicles of this weight, lightweight construction is worthwhile because it reduces CO₂ emissions.

  • Steel

    Due to its battery weight of up to 300 kilograms, the e-car requires steel reinforcement, especially in the vehicle frame and car springs.

    A compact car weighs 1.2 metric tons on average. Most of the parts are made of steel. Other materials like light metal are too costly for the cheaper vehicle type.

    To save weight in the large SUV, less steel and more light metal is used.

  • Nonferrous metal

    In the electric car, seven times more nonferrous metals are used than in the compact car. The high proportion is due to the electrification. The e-machine, for example, contains a copper coil through which the power flows; the battery is equipped with copper cables, which connect to the high-voltage cables.

    In the simple version, the compact car does not have many electronic extras. This means that it needs a significantly smaller network of copper cables than do other vehicle types.

    The SUV is equipped with many extras, so the proportion of nonferrous metals, particularly copper, is higher than in the compact car.

  • Water

    In manufacturing an electric car, the greatest part of the water consumption occurs in the mining and production of the metals used in the battery. These include, among others, lithium, cobalt and nickel, which are mined in Africa or South America.

    The water consumption of a compact car with a gasoline or diesel motor occurs largely in the provision of fuel. Here, the comparatively small amounts of biofuels used as admixtures have the largest influence.

    In an SUV, the largest amount of water is used in the alloying of aluminum.

  • CO₂

    This value is for an electric car that runs exclusively on green power: in this case, CO2 is emitted primarily during production of the battery. If the e-car uses the European electricity mix, the CO2 emissions total just over 22 metric tons.

    For a compact car, around five metric tons of CO2 are given off in production; the rest is emitted through the use of the vehicle, at a total driving distance of 200,000 kilometers.

    An SUV produces five times more CO2 emissions than an electric car. A small part arises in production, the greatest comes from the provision of gasoline and through the use of the vehicle. With a consumption rate of around 10 l/100 km, the SUV emits more emissions than the compact car with just over 5 l/100 km.

15,000 steps – one goal

Supply chain

Volkswagen supply chains are long, complex, and entangled. How is the Group achieving environmental protection, human rights, and sustainability?

  • Bodywork: bauxite and the recycling rate

    Aluminum reduces the bodywork’s weight, saves fuel by doing so – and is itself easy to recycle.

    Mining bauxite
    Bauxite contains up to 25 percent aluminum and is currently the only ore that is mined for the commercial production of  aluminum. It is found primarily around the equator at a relatively shallow depth, under stones and clay which need to be dug up. Mining and processing change the landscape, affect the diversity of species and the water quality, and can also lead to soil erosion. To minimize the environmental impact, the mining company can replant cleared vegetation immediately after the bauxite mining. Volkswagen has obligated its direct suppliers to maintain sustainability standards such as protection of the environment and is working to enforce these standards right up until the last link of the supply chain.

    Aluminum smelter
    To obtain pure, so-called primary aluminum from bauxite, the bauxite is melted down so the aluminum can be separated from the other components. This chemical process is called molten-salt electrolysis. The liquid aluminum is collected in troughs and  sucked out.

    Rolling mill
    Aluminum has a relatively low density of 2.7 grams per cubic centimeter and is easy to work. Alloys with magnesium or silicon also give it a higher strength – thus making it ideally suited for bodyworks. The rolled plates and components that Audi, for example, sources from its suppliers are about 40 percent lighter than their steel equivalents. This makes the car lighter overall and thus reduces fuel consumption. The rule of thumb is that when a vehicle with a gasoline engine “slims down” by 100 kilos, it uses 0.32 liters less fuel per 100 kilometers driven.

    Challenge: High energy consumption
    From bauxite to the finished components, aluminum production consumes a lot of energy: each kilogram of aluminum requires around 15 kilowatt-hours of energy. A vehicle from the Volkswagen Group contains on average 140 kg of aluminum. If these 140 kilograms consisted entirely of primary aluminum, the production would involve an energy expenditure of 2,100 kilowatt-hours. With that amount of power, you could charge a smartphone almost 700,000 times, run an energy-saving lamp for more than 21 years – or send an e-Golf on a journey longer than the distance between Lisbon and Vladivostok.

    Solution: A high recycling rate
    Assorted aluminum scrap can theoretically be recycled infinitely often – and, in the process, consumes 95 percent less energy
    than that required for primary aluminum production. That’s why Volkswagen is working in cooperation with its suppliers to collect the aluminum scraps from their own pressing plants and feed it back into the cycle. This reduces the CO₂ emissions resulting from production. The Group’s aluminum foundries also use secondary raw materials to a large extent – at the foundry in Kassel this is already 100 percent. Since 2013, Audi has also been a member of the international Aluminium Stewardship Initiative, which is dedicated to the responsible production of aluminum and has defined minimum standards across the entire supply chain: from the original bauxite mining to the mills and right on up to the individual components themselves.

  • Battery: lithium and cobalt

    Without lithium-ion batteries neither smartphones nor laptops or electric cars would run.

    Mining lithium
    The light metal lithium reacts very quickly with other chemical elements in its environment. Consequently, it occurs in nature only in the form of compounds such as lithium carbonate or lithium chloride. These compounds are generally found in volcanic rock or (usually dried-up) salt lakes. According to the German Mineral Resources Agency (DERA), Australia currently mines the most lithium – nearly 13,200 metric tons in 2015 – followed by Chile with 11,800 metric tons and Argentina with 3,500 metric tons. According to DERA, the world’s largest minable lithium reserves (using today’s methods) can be found in the salt lakes of South America: around 9 million metric tons in Bolivia alone and 7.5 million metric tons in Chile.

    Extraction of lithium
    To obtain pure lithium, lithium-based compounds need to be put through a complex chemical process. Pumping off brine, which is then left to evaporate, is the easiest process step. One of the many subsequent stages is again the molten-salt  electrolysis, with which it is possible to extract not only pure aluminum, but also pure lithium. Pure lithium is, however, very unstable: it reacts with its surroundings at even low humidity levels.

    Production of a battery cell
    A lithium-ion battery consists of many small batteries, known as cells. These, in turn, are constructed out of copper and aluminum – but the positive pole, the cathode, is what is crucial. It consists of a layer of lithium metal oxide. When the battery is charged up, lithium ions migrate from the cathode to the negative terminal, the anode, which consists of graphite. While the car is out on the road – in other words, consuming energy – the ions migrate back to the positive terminal. Researchers are continuously developing the batteries, experimenting with different materials and construction methods, and thus gradually increasing the range and lifespan of batteries. Today, an e-Golf can drive up to 300 kilometers on a single battery charge.

    Challenge: Increasing demand
    Smartphones, laptops, and electric cars: they all currently run on lithium-ion batteries. And the demand for lithium is expected to rise sharply, according to the German Mineral Resources Agency (DERA): the demand for lithium-ion batteries for electric cars alone could rise by up to 33 percent every year up until 2025. Experts believe that the world reserves should last for about 150 years if the technology does not develop significantly and demand stops increasing after 2025.

    Approach: More mining, different charging methods, more recycling
    Three possibilities could resolve the dilemma: 1) New deposits: More companies develop new deposits, for example in Bolivia. The Volkswagen Group maintains a constant exchange with its partners on the subject of securing raw materials. 2) New technologies: Making the batteries more efficient. Researchers at the Volkswagen Group expect that by the year 2020 the energy density of lithium-ion batteries will have doubled compared with today. And, last but not least, scientists are continuously exploring new materials which are similarly conductive, can store energy even better, and also be recharged.
    3) Recycling lithium batteries: Since 2009, the Volkswagen Group has been exploring how it can recover and reuse ever more materials from battery recycling. Today, materials such as nickel and cobalt are already being recovered from Volkswagen batteries.


    Cobalt, a brittle, unimposing heavy metal, brings electric vehicles to life.

    Mining cobalt
    The brittle heavy metal cobalt is produced almost exclusively as a by-product of industrial nickel and copper production. Cobalt is the main mined product in only about 2 percent of the worldwide extraction – this is mostly in Madagascar or the small-scale mining sector in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With a share of around 60 percent of global production, Congo is the world’s most important mining region for cobalt. It is followed by China, Canada, and Australia.

    Production of cathode material
    One important raw material for the manufacture of battery cells is the so-called cathode material. To produce cathode material, cobalt sulfate is chemically combined with nickel sulfate and manganese sulfate. The quality standards are very high here: the purer the cathode material, the better the battery performs and the longer its lifespan. The finished mixture is then combined with lithium carbonate at high temperatures and sold on to the manufacturers of battery cells.

    The marriage of battery modules
    The battery cell is the smallest unit of a battery. Once put together, the cells form a module. At a factory in Brunswick, Volkswagen connects up each delivered battery module and assembles them into vehicle batteries for electric vehicles. The battery of an e-Golf, for example, consists of 264 cells that are connected in 27 modules to create a single component. The finished battery is also equipped with a so-called management system that controls and monitors each cell.

    Challenge: Precarious working conditions in small mines
    More than 100,000 people in the Eastern Congolese provinces Haut-Katanga and Lualaba live from small-scale cobalt mining. The miners dig up cobalt ores for about $35 a month. A 2016 study by Amnesty International indicates that, in small-scale mining, often neither labor nor health and safety standards are applied. This means that workers, in some cases including children, face an increased risk of accidents in the unsecured mines.

    Approach: Transparency, cooperation, and commitment
    Volkswagen communicates with its battery suppliers about their sources of supply to enforce the Group’s sustainability requirements. The path from the extraction of raw materials to the finished battery in the vehicle is, however, complex and branched worldwide. This is why Volkswagen has been working within the framework of the Responsible Raw Materials Initiative (RRMI) to establish a certification system for cobalt smelting, to be able to prove the origin of the material for its
    batteries and thus to improve mining conditions. In addition, the Group is also a member of Global Battery Alliance of the World Economic Forum. The alliance of public and private sector partners wants to ensure social and environmental sustainability in the battery raw materials value chain – and not only for cobalt.

  • Paintwork: mica and our commitment to industry initiatives

    The substance that gives lipsticks a special shine and is also used in automotive coatings can be found on and underground:  mica.

    Mining mica
    Mica is a mineral that is ground down and used in coatings to give them a fine sheen. In Northwestern India, in the states of Jharkhand and Bihar, whole hillsides shimmer with shards of mica. The larger chunks of mica are mostly underneath, buried in the soil. Entire villages in Jharkhand and Bihar live from mining. Around a quarter of the world’s mica is mined here: the people of these regions excavate about 125,000 metric tons of mica every year.

    On the mica market
    On the markets of Jharkhand – for example, in the legendary Indian mining town Jhumri Telaiya – mostly old men cut the layers of mica from the rocks with special shears and fill them in bags, which they then stack in the back rooms of the dealers.  Middlemen ship the material to their customers in Europe – cosmetics manufacturers, chemical companies, paint  manufacturers. Depending on the quality, mica sheets or powder can cost several hundred euros per metric ton.

    Processing in coatings
    Before the mica is used in automotive coatings – or also in cosmetics – the mined mica plates are ground into a fine powder. The particles are just a few micrometers big. Mica makes colors shimmer and shine. However, the pigments have many additional positive properties: coatings with mica pigments provide painted surfaces better protection from sun, heat, cold, and moisture.

    Challenge: Children in the mines
    In some Indian mica mines, children dig the rock too – using simple chisels and hammers or sometimes just their bare hands. Many mica mines are little more than pits or primitive tunnels which can easily collapse. The supply chains for mica are ramified and nontransparent. Up until 2016, suppliers hardly ever checked where the mica came from.

    Approach: An eye on the work
    When the human rights organization Terre des Hommes publicized what is happening in many mines in 2016, a number of Volkswagen suppliers ended their collaboration with several companies selling mica of undetermined origin. In early 2016, the most important companies in the mica sector from the chemical, cosmetics, and paint industries founded the Responsible Mica Initiative. Within a period of five years, the initiative wants to ensure that there is no more child labor in the mica supply chain. To achieve this, they want to introduce a monitoring system that will allow them to seamlessly track the origin of each gram of mica. And they want to certify mines in order to exclude child labor. In the process, the initiative is working with the village communities as well as with the Indian Government.

What do you expect from us?

Feedback from visitors was very important to Volkswagen. The company is interested in creating a dialogue that will support the further development of sustainable products and services. Exhibition visitors were invited to share their opinions and wishes – in their native language. A selection of responses was displayed on the screen next to the exhibit.

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