How Sustainable Are Nissan Cars? A Life-Cycle Analysis

How Sustainable Are Nissan Cars? A Life-Cycle Analysis

Eli Boles

Read Time:31 Minutes


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Nissan is the 8th largest automaker in the world by sales and produces popular models in Asia, Europe, and the Americas. In recent years the majority of Nissan’s sales and production has been conducted in China, which is the hub for modern electric vehicle (EV) battery production. Typically rapid expansion like this is accompanied by unsustainable behavior. So we had to ask: How sustainable are Nissan cars?

Nissan cars are generally not very sustainable. Their material sourcing and manufacturing both create damaging environmental effects and in some cases harm the communities in which they are produced. Furthermore, Nissan cars are on average not very efficient or reliable. 

In this article, we’ll walk you through the life-cycle of Nissan cars through material sourcing, manufacturing, consumer usage, and their end-of-life. Then, we’ll evaluate their sustainability, and how this contrasts with their public messaging. Finally, we’ll show you tips for evaluating the sustainability of any car you may be thinking about buying, and how to make your current car more efficient.

Here’s How We Assessed the Sustainability of Nissan Cars

Nissan cars have become more fuel-efficient over the years, and have also been early adopters of fully-electric vehicles. However, as more of their production has shifted to industrial cities in China the potential for their materials sourcing and manufacturing to damage the environment has increased. These stages pose risks that can negate the benefit of producing electric cars. 

Sustainable: The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level | Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”

Oxford Dictionary

It is vital for automakers like Nissan to take up sustainable practices if we are to stand any chance of avoiding the worst potential effects of climate change. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the form of CO2 might be the most prominent air pollution. But it is also important to consider the resources to produce Nissan cars, their manufacturing, and their transportation networks and, finally, how our usage of Nissan cars impacts our environment and local communities.

To understand the sustainability of Nissan cars, we must assess their life-cycle and each stage’s sustainability. This life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to evaluate the environmental impacts of products and materials. Over the years, companies have strategically used LCA to research and create more sustainable products. So, let’s have a look at the LCA of Nissan cars!

The life-cycle stages of Nissan carsEach stage’s sustainability
Sourcing of materials and components for Nissan carsThe sourcing of materials and components for Nissan cars is generally not very sustainable. Of what little information is publicly available, we know that Nissan depends on several scarce rare earth metals and newly produced plastics products that can have environmental damage. An exception is Nissan’s extensive use of aluminum, as it can be recycled incredibly efficiently. 
Manufacturing of Nissan carsThe manufacturing of Nissan cars is generally only marginally sustainable. They utilize limited sustainable materials such as aluminum and bio-plastics but primarily depend on newly sourced materials and unsustainably generated electricity to operate the vast majority of their facilities.
Transporting of Nissan carsThe transportation of Nissan cars to their point of sale is not especially sustainable. While Nissan has increasingly turned to domestic rail, which is a more sustainable method for transporting cargo, the majority of their finished cars are shipped via over-the-road diesel trucks. 
Usage of Nissan carsThe usage of Nissan cars is not especially sustainable. Most Nissan cars are still gas-powered and Nissan cars are, on average, less reliable and depreciate more quickly than other brands. 
End-of-life of Nissan carsThe end-of-life of Nissan cars is only really sustainable in Japan where they have achieved a relatively high recycling rate. Internationally, Nissan’s designs still incorporate materials that can be recycled, but as of yet are underutilized for new production.

As we can see from the LCA chart above, the life-cycle of a Nissan car is not a simple process. There are many different materials and processes utilized that can result in direct and indirect environmental damage when not used responsibly. Below, we’ll dive into each one of these stages in detail to determine how sustainable a Nissan car really is.

How Sustainable Is the Sourcing of Materials and Components for Nissan Cars

The sourcing of materials and components for Nissan cars is generally not very sustainable. Of what little information is publicly available, we know that Nissan depends on several scarce rare earth metals and newly produced plastic products that can be damaging to the environment. An exception is Nissan’s extensive use of aluminum, as it can be recycled incredibly efficiently. 

The materials that make up a car are one of the most important aspects when it comes to a vehicle’s sustainability. If the materials being sourced are scarce, or require long-distance transport then they can pose more environmental risks. With that said, let’s take a look at what goes into making a Nissan car.

How Sustainable Are the Materials and Components Used for Nissan Cars

The materials and components used in Nissan cars are not very sustainable. Their metals usage is only somewhat sustainable due to the use of aluminum, and they do not use a significant amount of recycled resins in new production. Furthermore, their zero-emissions EVs depend on rare earth metals that pose substantial environmental risks. 

Nissan uses a large variety of materials in their cars, but some make up a larger percentage of the final product than others. Let’s take a look at the primary materials used in Nissan cars, and see how sustainable they are.

In short, Nissan’s materials and components are not very sustainable. Despite the limited introduction of recycled resins and metals, the majority of Nissan’s materials are sourced from their origin. Furthermore, Nissan’s EV models depend on rare earth metals that pose environmental risks even when sourced responsibly.

Where Are the Materials for Nissan Cars Usually Sourced From

The materials for Nissan cars are exclusively sourced through NITCO, which does not disclose the locations of their main suppliers for structural metals, resins, or rare earth metals. This forces us to imply from their significant logistic emissions that they are shipping materials long distances unsustainably. 

Nissan materials sourcing is handled exclusively through the Nissan Trading Company (NITCO), which operates regional trading companies (ex. Nissan Europe Trading, Nissan Trading Thailand) to source materials for their respective factories. Unfortunately, Nissan has used this supply chain architecture to hide their origin suppliers. Let’s take a look at where Nissan gets their materials from given the limited information available. 

  • Steel & aluminum: Nissan does not disclose the metal ingot suppliers that NITCO fills their warehouses with. While we don’t know the exact locations, we know that Nissan used a large amount of fossil fuels to ship materials as in 2021 they created 366,190 tons of CO2 through inbound materials and parts logistics. 20% of that CO2 was generated by ships, which are especially dirty. Nissan has achieved a 100% recovery rate of production scrap in a limited number of locations, but 70% of a new Nissan vehicle by weight is still composed of newly-sourced materials that must be transported from their source. 
  • Resins: Resin and plastic-based materials are sourced from NITCO’s assortment of international chemical manufacturing partners which, like their metal ingot suppliers, are not explicitly listed. The vast majority of their resin products are sourced from newly produced resin, as in 2021 only 5% of the resin products used in new cars were from recycled sources. 
  • Rare earth metals: Nissan sources rare earth metals for their Li-ion batteries from the same few locations as all other manufacturers. These are newly mined minerals from regions in China, the DRC, and other spread-out areas. Nissan does recycle Li-ion batteries at their end of life and has achieved a 95% recycling rate for EVs in Japan. Through NITCO, these recycled metals can be sourced from within the region, rather than being shipped all the way from their original source. 

In short, Nissan’s material suppliers are mostly unknown. Through the Nissan Trading Company and their sister companies, Nissan effectively obscures their actual suppliers from public knowledge. What is known, is that Nissan generates significant GHG emissions through their inbound materials logistics, which implies an unsustainable supply chain.

How Transparent Is Nissan About the Sustainability of Their Supply Chain

Nissan is not very transparent about the sustainability of their supply chain. Despite raw emissions and material usage data that is verified through reputable organizations, Nissan’s disclosures have failed to report criminal activity in the past, and specific supplier information is not released by the Nissan Trading Company (NITCO).

To be able to assess the sustainability of a supply chain, we need to have access to detailed, trustworthy data to ensure that every link has been accounted for. Unfortunately, Nissan’s public disclosures only paint a general picture of their environmental impact.

In short, Nissan is not very transparent about the sustainability of their supply chain. They give general statistics that are independently verified, but it is difficult to investigate their suppliers in depth as they are obscured within the Nissan Trading Company (NITCO) umbrella. 

How Sustainable Is the Manufacturing of Nissan Cars

The manufacturing of Nissan cars is generally only marginally sustainable. They utilize limited sustainable materials such as aluminum and bioplastics but primarily depend on newly sourced materials and unsustainably generated electricity to operate the vast majority of their facilities.

How and where a car is manufactured can affect its carbon footprint, its local resource load, and can also be a source of other hazardous byproducts. It’s important for all parts of the manufacturing process to be considered to effectively determine overall sustainability. 

How Sustainably Are Nissan Cars Generally Manufactured

Nissan cars are generally manufactured unsustainably. Despite efforts to reduce their dependence on fossil-fuel-produced electricity and to reduce the VOCs created during painting, Nissan has been slow to expand these programs. Furthermore, this stage still depends on transportation that is often fossil-fuel powered as well.

During the manufacturing stage, there are several potential risks to the environment: CO2 emissions from electricity use, air pollution, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are just a few. Let’s take a look at what steps Nissan has taken to make their production process more sustainable.

In short, Nissan cars are not manufactured very sustainably despite some improvements to their production process in recent years. Furthermore, the lack of specific supplier information means that this stage could be even more harmful than we know.

Where Are Nissan Cars Usually Manufactured

Nissan cars are mostly manufactured in China and North America. Nissan’s Chinese factories have been linked by reporting to serious forced labor concerns and pollution, while their North American plans have been slow to adopt sustainable strategies despite considerable revenue.

In short, the vast majority of Nissan’s production is done in China and North America. Their Chinese plants operated in partnership with Dongfeng have very concerning reports of human rights abuses, while their North American facilities have only taken limited steps towards decarbonization. 

How Transparent is Nissan About the Manufacturing of Their Cars

Nissan is only somewhat transparent about the manufacturing of their cars. While they do provide certified data for global production emissions, this data is missing details that would allow for a more thorough analysis. Furthermore, Nissan does not seem to acknowledge the credible reports of forced labor being used by their Chinese production partner.

  • Nissan provides data for total waste, recycled materials, pollution, and sources of energy: Nissan provides independently verified information about the impact of their manufacturing facilities globally. In 2021, Nissan manufacturing operations produced 1.944 million tons of CO2, 4,218 tons of VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and recycled about 150,000 tons of their 158,000 tons of waste. Of their total energy consumption, only 11.1% came from renewable sources of electricity. This data is useful in determining the impact of Nissan as a whole, but unfortunately for Nissan, it also shows that they have a significant negative effect on the environment. 
  • Nissan does not provide breakdowns of individual material usage, and they do not address the human rights issues with their Chinese partner: Nissan’s public disclosure selectively uses data for the company as a whole, rather than for individual divisions. Due to this, it is difficult to determine the exact impact of their supply chain at each stage. Even more worrying is their lack of acknowledgment of the problems within factories operated by their Chinese production partner, Dongfeng Motors. Nissan states a commitment to human rights through all of their suppliers and affiliates, but credible reports show that Nissan’s supply chain has been exposed to forced labor in the Uyghur Autonomous Region

In short, Nissan is not very transparent about their manufacturing. Their reporting could be considered the bare minimum, demonstrating their environmental impact without being detailed enough to draw hard conclusions. They also do not address issues with their Chinese factories despite reports that point to potential human rights abuses.

How Sustainable Is the Transportation of Nissan Cars to Their Point of Sale

The transportation of Nissan cars to their point of sale is not especially sustainable. While Nissan has increasingly turned to domestic rail, which is a more sustainable method for transporting cargo, the majority of their finished cars are shipped via over-the-road diesel trucks. 

The sustainability of the transportation of Nissan cars along the supply chain:

  • Building materials are acquired by the various regional branches of the Nissan Trading Company, then shipped to the factories of their respective regions. This means that Nissan can get materials where they are needed quickly, but also that materials could be shipped long-distances overseas to keep up with demand, which is not a sustainable practice.
  • Nissan cars are primarily delivered to their point-of-sale via over-the-road trucks, although Nissan has increased rail-transport usage in response to a shortage of truck drivers in the US. Rail is a more sustainable method for transporting large quantities of vehicles, as it produces far fewer emissions when transporting heavy loads. 

The sustainability of the transportation of Nissan cars to their point of sale:

In short, the transportation of Nissan cars is not very sustainable, as it primarily depends on existing routes for over-the-road trucks and cargo ships, which produce significant air pollution. Nissan’s rail use is more sustainable, but so far has been underutilized. 

How Sustainable Is the Usage of Nissan Cars

The usage of Nissan cars is not especially sustainable. Most Nissan cars are still gas-powered and Nissan cars are, on average, less reliable and depreciate more quickly than most other brands. 

Arguably, the most impactful stage in a car’s life is the time it spends actually being used! Not only is this the time when dirty emissions can add up over time, but when a car is done being used, it can end up being disposed of sooner. Let’s take a look at the life of a Nissan car to see how sustainable it is.

What Is the Typical Lifespan of Nissan Cars

The typical lifespan of a Nissan car is not especially long. Nissan cars have been rated very average in reliability, which means they will require repairs sooner.

When considering the lifespan of a vehicle, it is important to look at both its impact while in use and its impact after it is considered unusable. The longer a car stays on the roads, the longer it avoids being treated as waste, but it is also important that it is not polluting excessively during its life. 

The longer a car lasts, the longer it avoids joining the thousands of cars that clog up our landfills around the world—and the less environmental strain added from producing a new car as a replacement. 

  • An extended lifespan for a car also means that the owner is less likely to purchase a replacement car. 
  • The production and distribution process for making a car can be very damaging, so a higher demand for new vehicles could lead to even more CO2 being released. 
  • Nissan cars are fairly average when it comes to reliability. In 2022, Consumer Reports ranked Nissan the 15th most reliable automaker, which makes them the least reliable Asian automaker studied.
  •  A stand-out model for reliability is the all-electric Nissan Leaf, which rated as the 2nd most reliable small electric car

While it can be beneficial to keep a car on the road for a long time, older cars are typically less efficient and emit relatively more CO2 than newer ones.

  • Nissan’s fleet of vehicles is increasingly electric, having sold over 500,000 electric cars globally since 2010. However, their total production in 2021 was over 3.4 million cars, meaning the vast majority of new Nissans are still fossil fuel-dependent like their used counterparts.
  • Older gas-powered models will always be less sustainable than models that use advanced fuel sources such as electricity or hydrogren. Even cars that may have been somewhat efficient when they were new are prone to mechanical failures that can lead to dirtier emissions than the manufacturer originally advertised. 
  • Nissan has a reasonably clean record for following environmental regulations, as the only major fine was from the California Air Resource Board in 2009, which was determined to have not been a deliberate attempt to skirt regulations. This means that we can be more confident that older Nissans are not over-emitting, provided they are appropriately maintained.

In short, Nissan cars do not have especially sustainable lifespans. Most Nissans are still gas-powered and rated average in reliability rankings. One positive is that Nissan does not have a history of purposely cheating emissions regulations, unlike some other brands, meaning we can assume they are somewhat of a good-faith actor. 

How Quickly Do Nissan Cars Depreciate in Value

Nissan cars depreciate at rates that vary greatly from model to model. On average, Nissan cars depreciate at slightly above-average rates, but some Nissan cars depreciate much faster than others. 

Depreciation of car prices over time can be an indicator of the expected lifespan of a car, but it is not a perfect indicator.

  • Depreciation can be influenced by many factors, including the original price of the car, the make and model, the condition of the car, and market demand.
  • Due to COVID-19-instigated scarcity in the new car market, most 1-3-year-old cars are holding the vast majority of their residual value as if they were new.
  • This has challenged what some regard as a rule of 15% depreciation per year that a car is on the road.
  • And while cars with a lower depreciation rate may indicate a longer lifespan or higher quality, this is not always the case in such a sellers market. 
Average depreciationNissanIndustry Average
After 3 years17.5%16.9%
After 5 years35.9%33.3%

As we can see from the chart above, Nissan cars depreciate at a slightly higher rate than the industry average. While this may seem to indicate average build quality across their range, in actuality, the depreciation of Nissan cars varies dramatically from model to model. 

Nissan’s 3-year depreciation average is boosted significantly by the remarkable value retention of small economical models like the Versa and Sentra, which are selling for values approximately equal to their original MSRP. This is due in part to COVID supply shortages that have over-valued pre-COVID production cars, causing these models to skew the average to appear lower than should be expected. Other popular models such as the Frontier and Murano depreciated 24% on average over 3 years, which is above the industry average. 

Nissan’s 5-year average is pulled higher by exceptionally high depreciating models such as the Pathfinder and the Murano, the former being the highest depreciating mid-size SUV according to a study by Over the same period of time, the Nissan Versa only depreciated 19.9%, which is well above the average of 35.9%. This shows that the depreciation of Nissan cars is very model dependent, meaning that some Nissan cars will likely have very short and unsustainable lives. 

In short, Nissan cars vary greatly in their depreciation rates. While some select models hold their value relatively well, most depreciate at above-average rates. This means that Nissan cars, on average, will end up as waste sooner than cars from other brands. 

How Circular Are Nissan Cars

Nissan cars are not very circular. They have undertaken limited efforts to decrease the carbon footprint of their materials and finished cars, but still depend primarily on newly sourced materials for new vehicle production. Nissan also lacks large-scale programs that seek to regenerate nature.

As we look for new approaches to tackle the challenges posed by global warming, designing consumer products through the lens of the circular economy can be an effective method for producing more sustainable products. Cars that are designed to be used and repurposed without creating waste or pollution can help to stop the millions of pounds of automotive waste that end up in landfills every year. 

Circular economy: The circular economy is a systems solution framework that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution”

Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Embracing the principles of the circular economy is a necessary change for industries that pollute as much as the automotive sector.

The three key principles to building a circular economy are to

  1. eliminate waste and pollution, 
  2. circulate products and materials, and 
  3. regenerate nature. 

More specifically, a circular business model in the car industry refers to a system that aims to keep car components and materials in use for as long as possible, reducing waste and the extraction of new raw materials. And the term “circular car” refers to a theoretical vehicle that has maximized materials efficiency.

In practice, this could mean designing cars that can be easily repaired and refurbished, using recycled materials in car production, and implementing practices that promote closed-loop systems, where waste from one process becomes inputs for another. The goal is to create a sustainable and regenerative system for the car industry, rather than the traditional linear model of take, make, waste

Examples of circular business models in the car industry include electric vehicles that can be powered by renewable energy, car-sharing and subscription services, and closed-loop supply chains for car parts.

Let’s see next how circular Nissan’s business and operating model already is!

  • What does Nissan do to eliminate waste and pollution? Nissan’s metal recycling helps to eliminate some of the waste generated by their production facilities. This is especially important, as transporting metal from its origin can be a major source of GHG emissions. Nissan was also one of the first manufacturers to introduce a mass-market all-electric car in the 2010 Nissan Leaf, which is still on sale today—though not in the US. As one might assume, the Leaf produces no tailpipe emissions.
  • What does Nissan do to make their products and materials circular? Nissan has introduced limited bio-plastics, which are a renewable source of interior plastics and fabrics. Nissan has also promoted circular use of car batteries that are no longer fit for use in new vehicles. These older batteries can be repurposed for use by first responders during emergency situations, among other portable energy needs
  • What does Nissan do that is not circular? Nissan still depends on a large amount of newly sourced resources (70% of a car by weight on average), which is not sustainable or circular. Furthermore, their introduction of renewable plastics and electric cars still requires a significant increase in adoption for Nissan cars in order to be considered at all circular. 
  • What does Nissan do to regenerate nature? Nissan’s Green Program 2022 (NGP2022) does not include any activities or measures to regenerate nature. Their plan is exclusively focused on reducing their own impact and emissions, rather than rebuilding natural resources.

In short, Nissan cars are not very circular. Despite being an early innovator in electric vehicles and advancing their in-house metal recycling programs, Nissan’s production still depends greatly on newly mined resources. Nissan also lacks programs that regenerate nature as a way to counteract their environmental impact. 

How Sustainable Is the End-of-Life of Nissan Cars

The end-of-life of Nissan cars is only really sustainable in Japan, where they have achieved a relatively high recycling rate. Internationally, Nissan’s designs still incorporate materials that can be recycled, but as of yet are underutilized for new production.

The end-of-life (when a car is no longer usable) of a car is critical in determining its overall environmental impact and is a key consideration in the development of circular business models in the car industry. This stage marks the final disposition of a car and its components, either through reuse and/or repurposing, recycling, or disposal.

Are components of Nissan cars made to be reused or repurposed at their car’s end-of-life?

Are Nissan cars made to be recycled at their end-of-life?

  • Nissan cars are designed to be recycled, as end-of-life recycling was mandated in their home country of Japan in 2002, which has affected their designs globally.
  • In 2021, Nissan achieved a final recovery ratio of 99.5% inside Japan, exceeding the 95% target set by the government mandate. Unfortunately, the recycling recovery ratios for other countries are not known, and the Japanese market is only Nissan’s third-largest market by sales.
  • Nissan has introduced a limited number of materials designed to be recycled such as aluminum alloys that can be recycled with less energy, and synthetic upholstery instead of leather 

Do Nissan cars have to be disposed of at their end-of-life?

  • As seen in Nissan’s efficient end-of-life vehicle recycling in Japan, the vast majority of parts in Nissan cars can be reused or repurposed instead of being treated as waste.
  • However, ensuring that end-of-life vehicles are actually recycled takes a larger investment than simply using recyclable materials. Nissan has not been known to make large investments into recycling infrastructure to prepare for their cars that will be coming off of the road in coming years. 

In short, the end-of-life for Nissan cars can be very sustainable, as the vast majority of Nissan’s components and materials are recyclable. However, Nissan has only proven to take these measures in Japan, leaving information for recycling efforts in other countries sorely lacking. 

What Are the Sustainability Efforts and Goals of Nissan

Many governments around the world are now requiring automakers to take quantitative steps towards decarbonization that force them to either act or face consequences. However, fighting climate change requires truly innovative companies that can lead the way forward.

Previous sustainability efforts of NissanIntroduced in 2010, the Nissan Leaf was the first mass-market economy car to be produced using lithium-ion batteries.
In 2010, Nissan partnered with the Sumitomo company to establish the 4R Energy Corporation which specializes in developing methods to repurpose lithium-ion batteries.
In 2016, Nissan completed the installation of wind turbines at their Sunderland, UK plant, but plans to upgrade the facility have been left in limbo.
Current sustainability efforts of NissanNissan is actively investing in the retooling of existing factories to produce new EV models as early as 2025.
Nissan has begun utilizing steel and aluminum from suppliers who generate 50%-100% less CO2 during production.
Nissan’s end-of-life recycling in Japan has been able to achieve a recycling rate of over 99%.
Future sustainability goals of NissanNissan’s goal is to be 100% carbon neutral by 2050.
Nissan aims to make 40% of their US sales fully electric by 2030.
Nissan plans to have a solid-state battery-powered EV in production by 2028.

What Are Nissan’s Previous Sustainability Efforts

Nissan has been an innovator in the field of electric vehicles, but like many automakers, they have been slow to adopt renewable energy for their production activities. Let’s take a look at what Nissan has done in the past to be more sustainable. 

The Nissan Leaf’s release in 2010 was a major innovation, as it made electric vehicles more affordable and accessible than they had been previously. Nissan’s early investment in lithium-ion battery recycling is also a proactive step, as some manufacturers have only recently begun developing methods to handle these potentially hazardous components. Finally, Nissan’s efforts to introduce renewable energy for their manufacturing plants began in 2016 with the introduction of wind turbines at the Sunderland, UK plant. Unfortunately, Nissan’s plans to expand this facility have been put on hold, which shows these past achievements have not been converted into further progress.

What Are Nissan’s Current Sustainability Efforts

Nissan has steadily increased the amount of electric and electric-hybrid models they offer, as well as pursuing recycling measures to make their production more efficient. Let’s take a look at what steps Nissan is actively taking to reduce their environmental impact. 

Nissan’s current activities primarily center around increasing their EV production capacity and improving their material efficiency. Their current efforts to retool factories from producing gas cars to producing EV models is an especially effective step toward reducing their carbon footprint, as this also means fewer gas-powered cars will be produced in the future. Newly acquired suppliers have helped to reduce the carbon impact of their metals, and Nissan’s end-of-life recycling in Japan has become extremely efficient. Unfortunately, these advancements are not present throughout all of Nissan’s business globally, as they still depend on newly-sourced materials for roughly 70% of a new car by weight.

What Are Nissan’s Future Sustainability Goals

While aspirational goals carry less weight than current actions, it is still important for automakers to set aggressive goals with the intent of carrying them out. Constant improvement is necessary to combat the effects of global warming. 

Nissan’s long-term goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 is the same as several other manufacturers and is similarly not soon enough to limit global warming to less than 1.5℃. Nissan’s goal for 40% of their US sales to be fully electric by 2030 will greatly help to decrease their carbon footprint, but they have a long way to go, as in 2021, only 1.4% of their North American sales were fully-electric. 

How Aligned Are the Sustainability Marketing Messages of Nissan With the Sustainability of Their Cars

Nissan’s sustainability marketing messages are not very aligned with the sustainability of their cars. While Nissan markets gas-dependent e-POWER models as more sustainable, their human rights due diligence efforts have failed to identify potential exploitation in China, and some statistics given are based on potential benefits rather than real quantitative gains. 

Nissan is not alone; as automakers face increased scrutiny for their actions, many have invested in marketing campaigns to improve their public image. Many of these ads attempt to paint their actions in a more favorable light than they really deserve, which is known as greenwashing. This can take the form of misleading statements, or outright obstruction. Let’s take a look at Nissan’s marketing statements to see if they are portraying their activities accurately. 

Greenwashing: behavior or activities that make people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is

Cambridge Dictionary

A major point of Nissan’s most recent marketing efforts is emphasizing the addition of their e-POWER models that Nissan boasts are 100% electric motor-powered. While this is true, the key to the e-POWER motors is that the batteries are charged by an onboard gas-powered engine. Although the car moves under electric power, these types of hybrids still produce emissions, albeit at lower levels than exclusively gas-powered cars. Instead of investing more in zero-emissions vehicles, Nissan’s continued development of these gas-dependent powertrain options prolongs their dependence on fossil fuels.

Nissan also states that conducting due diligence for human rights is a core principle of their business. While many automakers have recently been found to have been exposed to exploitative labor practices through suppliers in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of China, Nissan and its Chinese partner Dongfeng Motors have reportedly encountered forced labor in the region on multiple occasions. Reporting by Sheffield Hallam University noted suppliers for aluminum alloys, safety equipment, and replacement parts that supplied both Nissan and Dongfeng factories had likely utilized forced labor of minority workers. If Nissan was truly conducting thorough human rights due diligence, the amount of exposures reported should not have been possible, casting doubt into Nissan’s other self-reported claims as well.

Finally, we took a look at Nissan’s claim that since 2005, all new models have achieved a 95% or greater recyclability rate. At face value, this is a great accomplishment, as it implies that Nissan’s are very nearly circular products. However, this rate does not represent how many Nissan cars have been recycled in the real world; it simply means that over 95% of the materials and components could be recycled if they were to be handled correctly. Nissan has shown to have achieved a 95% effective recycling rate in Japan for end-of-life vehicles, but they cannot prove similar progress in other markets. 

Sustainability marketing messages of NissanSustainability of Nissan cars
Nissan’s e-POWER models “balance environmental performance and driving performance”Nissan e-Power cars still require gasoline to generate electricity. These models do not help to move away from fossil fuels or eliminate emissions entirely. 
“Nissan has established and operates the human rights due diligence process in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Humans Rights”Nissan’s Chinese suppliers and production partner, Dongfeng Motors, has been linked to forced labor practices that should have been caught by Nissan’s due diligence process.
“Since [2005], all new models launched in the Japanese and European markets have achieved a 95% or greater recyclability rate” This statistic simply means that at least 95% of the materials in new models could be recycled, not that they have been recycled at that rate. The only country where Nissan provides data regarding the actual recycling rate is Japan, where end-of-life recycling is mandatory.

In short, Nissan’s marketing messages are not very aligned with their sustainability actions. Not only does Nissan attempt to portray gasoline-powered cars and potential recycling as significant progress, but their efforts to conduct strict due diligence for human rights have failed to identify exposures to forced labor in their Chinese supply chain. 

Why Is It Important to Buy More Sustainable Cars

Sustainable cars have many advantages in addition to reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. For example, they are quieter to drive and can be recharged at home. But did you know that EV cars can even save you money compared to the ownership costs of gas-powered cars?

Let’s have a look at the environmental, economic, and public health benefits of more sustainable cars next!

What Are the Environmental Benefits of More Sustainable Cars

Driving a more sustainable car is an important step toward reducing your impact on the environment and preserving natural resources for future generations. And it is especially crucial in reducing transporting-related emissions.

The average passenger car generates 4.6 metric tons of CO2 a year, with many generating much more than that. Along with GHGs, the exhaust of dirty cars can release large amounts of carbon monoxide and methane as well. All of these accelerate global warming, and can even lead to rain acidification.

Illustration of where CO2 emission from transport come from
Our World in Data: Cars, planes, trains: where do CO2 emissions from transport come from?

In total, transportation—personal, commercial, and otherwise—accounts for around one-fifth of global CO2 emissions.

In short, sustainable cars benefit the environment by emitting significantly less CO2 than traditional gas-powered cars, with some electric vehicles emitting no tailpipe emissions at all. Ideally, sustainable cars are fully circular and produced with parts that can be reused rather than discarded, minimizing total life-cycle emissions and waste generated.

What Are the Economic Benefits of More Sustainable Cars

Many popular electric cars on the market have a high price tag, which has led some people to believe that owning a sustainable car is not a cost-effective option. The truth is, there are many factors that reduce the cost of ownership over the lifetime of the vehicle!

  • Lower fuel costs: For starters, you’ll save money by not having to fill up at the gas station every week! Fueling an electric car for an entire month is estimated to cost less than $60. Depending on the fluctuating price of gasoline, you could spend more than twice that in a month on gasoline.
  • Reduced maintenance costs: You also won’t have to worry about keeping your oil tank filled, as electric cars don’t use petroleum or synthetic motor oil like a traditional internal combustion engine (ICE).
  • Higher reliability: EVs also lack other traditional failure points like timing belts or multi-speed gearboxes.
  • Government subsidies: In some countries, the government will pay you to purchase an electric car. The US, as well as several countries in Europe, Australia, and even China all have incentive programs to help cover the cost of a new EV for consumers.
  • Job creation: The shift towards sustainable cars is creating new jobs in the manufacturing, installation, and maintenance of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, as well as in the production of batteries and other components. For example, the Economic Policy Institute estimates that the shift to EVs could create over 150,000 jobs in the US alone by 2030.

If you’re not able to afford to replace your gas-powered car at this time, keeping your older car maintained and efficient will also save you money through higher gas mileage and less frequent repairs. To keep your car operating as intended, get regular oil changes, don’t idle your engine, and make sure your tires are filled to their recommended PSI. 

In short, changing to a more sustainable EV can save you money over a traditional gas-powered car—especially over the lifetime of the vehicle. They are cheaper to fuel and maintain, and many countries offer financial incentives to purchase an EV.

What Are the Public Health Benefits of More Sustainable Cars

Driving your car directly affects the air quality around you. All gas-powered cars produce harmful emissions, and many aging cars are prone to higher emissions due to faulty or failed equipment, and outdated engine designs. In addition, examples from Los Angeles to Beijing show the negative effects of smog build-up when these emissions get out of control.

In short, driving sustainable cars not only has a big impact on protecting the planet but also directly benefits your health and that of the people around you. Making the change to a sustainable, zero-emissions car reduces air pollution and helps everyone around you to breathe easier and healthier. Not to mention the reduced noise pollution from EVs has positive effects on your mental health and well-being.

Final Thoughts

Our life-cycle analysis of the Nissan Motor Corporation shows that Nissan is yet another popular automaker that has seemingly put profits ahead of environmental responsibility. Modern cars have such highly specialized materials and components, that it can be hard to be sure of what is happening at every stage of a vehicle’s life. Regardless, it is still more important than ever to do the research so you can make an informed decision and not be part of the problem.

Stay impactful,

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