How Sustainable Are Toyota Cars? A Life-Cycle Analysis
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Hey fellow impactful ninja ?
You may have noticed that Impactful Ninja is all about providing helpful information to make a positive impact on the world and society. And that we love to link back to where we found all the information for each of our posts.
Most of these links are informational-based for you to check out their primary sources with one click.
But some of these links are so-called "affiliate links" to products that we recommend.
First and foremost, because we believe that they add value to you. For example, when we wrote a post about the environmental impact of long showers, we came across an EPA recommendation to use WaterSense showerheads. So we linked to where you can find them. Or, for many of our posts, we also link to our favorite books on that topic so that you can get a much more holistic overview than one single blog post could provide.
And when there is an affiliate program for these products, we sign up for it. For example, as Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases.
First, and most importantly, we still only recommend products that we believe add value for you.
When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission - but at no additional costs to you.
And when you buy something through a link that is not an affiliate link, we won’t receive any commission but we’ll still be happy to have helped you.
When we find products that we believe add value to you and the seller has an affiliate program, we sign up for it.
When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra costs to you).
And at this point in time, all money is reinvested in sharing the most helpful content with you. This includes all operating costs for running this site and the content creation itself.
You may have noticed by the way Impactful Ninja is operated that money is not the driving factor behind it. It is a passion project of mine and I love to share helpful information with you to make a positive impact on the world and society. However, it's a project in that I invest a lot of time and also quite some money.
Eventually, my dream is to one day turn this passion project into my full-time job and provide even more helpful information. But that's still a long time to go.
Toyota is the second largest manufacturer of cars in the world, producing over 8 million cars per year. With production at record levels and their immense need for resources, Toyota claims to be taking major steps to move toward producing sustainable cars. So we had to ask: How sustainable are Toyota cars?
Toyota cars can generally not be considered sustainable. They do not reveal what percentage of their new cars are made of recycled materials, are responsible for millions of pounds of waste every year (though they recycle 98.4% of their waste), and still depend on fossil fuels for transportation.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the life-cycle of Toyota Cars through manufacturing, sale, 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.
Here’s How We Assessed the Sustainability of Toyota Cars
Toyota has garnered a reputation as a clean car manufacturer due to their hybrid cars like the Prius, and small, economical cars like the Corolla Hatchback. However, this reputation may in many ways be ill-gotten as Toyota has faced increased scrutiny in recent years for breaches of the Clean Air Act, and in terms of their decarbonization efforts. Toyota’s entire model line-up together only manages an average mile-per-gallon rating of 25.8 MPG, one of the highest of all car manufacturers. These concerns deserve to be analyzed so that you can make the right choice in buying a more sustainable vehicle.
“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 Toyota to take up sustainable practices if we are to stand any chance of avoiding the worst potential effects of climate change and environmental damage. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the form of CO2 might be the most prominent polluters. But it is also important to consider the resources to produce Toyota cars, their manufacturing, and their transportation networks and, finally, how our usage of Toyota cars impacts our environment and local communities.
To understand the overall sustainability of Toyota 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 Toyota cars!
|The life-cycle stages of Toyota cars||Each stage’s sustainability|
|Sourcing of materials and components for Toyota cars||Most materials used to produce new Toyota cars generally do not come from sustainable sources. Toyota has introduced some recycled materials into their production lines – including recycled steel, plastic, and cloth – but still depends on unsustainable sources to maintain their high volume. Furthermore, Toyota’s new Hybrid models all depend on largely unsustainably sourced lithium for their batteries.|
|Manufacturing of Toyota cars||The manufacturing operations of Toyota cars are largely unsustainable, as Toyota production is responsible for millions of tons of CO2 emissions, and millions of tons of waste material. Renewable energy and resources have been introduced, but these efforts have not gone far enough. More concerningly, Toyota’s most productive factories in their home country have been accused of violating the rights of their workers. All of this explains Toyota’s carefully curated public image regarding their manufacturing process.|
|Transporting of Toyota cars||The transportation of Toyota cars is not very sustainable, as it primarily depends on existing fossil-fuel supply lines. Once a finished Toyota rolls off the assembly line, it gets sent to one of Toyota’s distributor locations, and then further on to a Toyota dealership for consumer purchase. This network is built around supply-chains that utilize cargo ships and over-the-road trucks, two of the most polluting industries.|
|Usage of Toyota cars||The usage of Toyota cars is only somewhat sustainable. Toyota cars are very reliable, and are circular products that are built to be recycled and reused at their end-of-life. However, Toyota’s insistence on producing gas powered cars means that their long lives are spent creating air pollution.|
|End-of-life of Toyota cars||The end-of-life for Toyota cars is fairly sustainable. Their existing models have been designed to be easily dismantled and reused, and Toyota is investing in facilities to handle them. Unfortunately, Toyota lacks recycling programs for their popular Li-ion battery hybrids|
Overall, we can say that Toyota cars are not very sustainable. Modern Toyota cars are produced with some recycled material, but other materials still depend on fossil fuels for transportation. Toyota’s distribution network is based on fossil fuels as well, and the majority of Toyota’s cars are still powered primarily by fossil fuels. Toyota cars are often recycled at the end of life, but they typically age for many years on the road which can increase their environmental damage during that time.
How Sustainable Is the Sourcing of Materials and Components for Toyota Cars
Most materials used to produce new Toyota cars do not generally come from sustainable sources. Toyota has introduced some recycled materials into their production lines – including recycled steel, plastic, and cloth – but still depends on unsustainable sources to maintain their high volume. Furthermore, Toyota’s new Hybrid models all depend on largely unsustainably sourced lithium for their batteries.
Toyota has made very public strides toward using recycled materials in their cars, and toward building with sustainability in mind. Some of the cheaper interior materials are being replaced with sustainable options such as non-petroleum plastics, and a leather alternative has been introduced. However, we found that Toyota’s metal and electronic components are typically sourced with price prioritized over sustainability.
How Sustainable Are the Materials and Components Used for Toyota Cars
The materials and components used for Toyota cars are generally not very sustainable. Toyota still purchases new steel from refineries that create carbon emissions, and depends on lithium for batteries that are not sourced sustainably. And while Toyota recycles more material for the interior surfaces, they do not reveal what percentage of their new cars are made of recycled materials.
Three of the most necessary materials used in Toyota car production are steel for chassis and engine parts, lithium used in lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries, and cloth/plastic for the interior surfaces. Each of these pose potential environmental risks:
- Steel: Most of Toyota’s manufacturing plants are supplied by domestically available sources of steel, meaning the practices vary from country to country. Toyota owns shares in steel companies, so that they can have a guaranteed supply of resources in their biggest markets. This does somewhat limit the carbon footprint of their supply-chain logistics, but comes nowhere close to eliminating it as the steel industry is a major polluter. Toyota reports 670 million pounds of scrap metal recycled in 2019, but they do not say how many pounds of metal were used in their production total.
- Lithium is used in the manufacture of batteries for both full EV and Hybrid Toyota models. Toyota does not utilize recycled lithium in their batteries, which leads to high transport emissions as it is only found in a few spread-out regions. Toyota has detailed plans to introduce lithium recycling, but at the moment they recycle battery casings and wiring, primarily for older NiMH batteries.
- Interior materials: Toyota currently utilizes recycled plastic and reclaimed garment clippings in their interiors. For more than a decade, they have developed and used their own non-petroleum plastics, and, more recently, a vegan leather alternative, branded SofTex, that weighs half as much as traditional leather. The use of reclaimed polyurethane keeps plastic out of landfills, and the weight savings of SofTex makes this material more efficient to transport.
In short, Toyota’s efforts to recycle materials are a step in the right direction, but the unsustainability of currently used materials still blemishes their environmental record. Toyota’s never-ending steel use stands directly opposed to decarbonization efforts, and the lack of end-of-life solutions for their Li-ion batteries creates an ongoing sustainability problem.
Where Are the Materials for Toyota Cars Usually Sourced From
The materials for Toyota cars are usually sourced from locations domestic to their factories. When not possible to source domestically, they source from overseas suppliers via existing supply chains. Roughly half of their vehicle production factories are in Japan, but similar distribution networks exist in all of Toyota’s global markets. Despite this focus on domestic sourcing, Toyota has begun importing more components for their EVs from China, and they neither detail where they are getting their lithium from, nor where all of their plastic and cloth materials come from.
Building a new car in 2023 requires a variety of different materials, but some components are fairly universal. Toyota depends on supplies of steel, lithium for batteries, and assorted plastics and cloths from many different sources around the world. Likely due to the massive resource needs required by Toyota’s continued growth, these materials are often not sourced from sustainable places.
- Steel: Toyota’s large demand for steel means that typically it will be sourced through pre-existing metal providers in the country of operation that can produce high volumes. While Toyota claims to recycle more than 93% of their waste, it is unknown how much non-recycled material is used to supplement their needs. Toyota has recently begun importing electrical steel sheet (used in EV production) from China instead of Japan, prioritizing price over the sustainability of the source.
- Lithium: Toyota does not detail where they have been getting lithium from up to this point, but the main sources of lithium are China, as well as South America, and Australia. That being said, Toyota has recently invested in their US factories for battery production in a bid to decrease the emissions of new Toyota cars. To that end, Toyota has secured an exclusive deal to source their required lithium from a mine in Nevada. However, that mine is controversial for its proximity to an endangered species of plant local to the area that would be displaced by the mine.
- Interior materials: As it turns out, we do not know exactly where all of Toyota’s plastic and cloth material comes from. We know some plastic for the interior surfaces comes from recycled production waste, but we do not know how Toyota distributes new production plastic from their various chemical plants. Garment industry clippings are utilized alongside recycled production waste for cloth parts such as the seats and floor mats, but again we do not know how much outside material was necessary to reach Toyota’s production numbers or where this material came from.
In short, Toyota seeks to source their raw materials domestically which is typically more sustainable, but often compromises when profits are at risk. It doesn’t help that Toyota lacks transparency with regard to their material usage, making it harder to be sure of their true impact. Toyota is utilizing more and more recycled materials in the production of new vehicles, but their dependence on scarce resources for their current and future models is wholly unsustainable.
How Transparent is Toyota About the Sustainability of Their Supply Chain
Toyota can be seen as not very transparent with information about the sustainability of their supply chain. Although Toyota’s Climate Action Plans give detailed statistics regarding many of their operations, they lack the full context to be able to judge their real environmental impact. Worse, Toyota’s fine for 10 years of breaches to their reporting for the Clean Air Act casts doubt on their self-published claims.
As a part of the Clean Air Act, manufacturers are required to report known emissions-related issues, and then issue a recall notice to fix the affected cars. Toyota was fined in 2021 for delaying their emissions filings for 10 years, which delayed emissions recalls that should have been issued for over-emitting cars. Toyota reportedly hid information intentionally from regulators, leading to a record fine of $180 million. Toyota claims to be transparent, but this fine combined with their incomplete public data runs contrary to that image.
- Toyota gives data regarding their emissions resource usage, and recycling programs: Toyota shares statistics regarding their total CO2 emissions for both vehicle production, and estimated lifetime of the vehicle. Toyota also shows their usage of local resources such as water, and provides the amounts of recycled material collected, in pounds, for multiple years.
- Toyota’s statistics don’t tell the whole story: Toyota gives emissions data and some resource use data for recent years, but crucially lacks information on where the bulk of materials needed for current production come from.
- Toyota doesn’t say what percentage of their production materials come from recycled products: Toyota lacks information regarding how much their recycled materials actually supply their current production. It is also unclear to what extent Toyota still depends on unsustainable sources of materials to maintain their high production output.
In short, Toyota releases public reports that contain a large amount of specific data including raw CO2 production, local water usage, and total amount of recycled material collected per year. However, these reports lack some crucial information on the company’s sustainability, and their past breaches of the Clean Air Act means we have to be skeptical of their other claims.
How Sustainable Is the Manufacturing of Toyota Cars
The manufacturing operations of Toyota cars are largely unsustainable, as Toyota production is responsible for millions of tons of CO2 emissions, and millions of tons of waste material. Renewable energy and resources have been introduced, but these efforts have not gone far enough. More concerningly, Toyota’s most productive factories in their home country have been accused of violating the rights of their workers. All of this explains Toyota’s carefully curated public image regarding their manufacturing process.
Toyota manages dozens of manufacturing facilities around the globe producing millions of cars. Each of these plants poses environmental risks to their environments if sustainable practices are not followed. Toyota generates CO2 emissions from energy generation, as well as continued CO2 released from Toyota’s line-up that only offers 1 full electric vehicle as of 2023. Toyota does, however, do an efficient job of recycling waste rather than sending it to landfills.
How Sustainably Are Toyota Cars Generally Manufactured
Toyota cars are generally manufactured unsustainably, as they still generate significant CO2 emissions and waste during manufacturing. And while Toyota is increasingly utilizing renewable energy and recycled production waste for production, their footprint is still far too large to be sustainable going forward. Their new model designs are cleaner, but are still largely powered by fossil fuels.
For our analysis of the manufacturing process, we focussed on three key areas where manufacturing plants can cause environmental harm. First, how are they producing the energy required to operate the factory; second, what kind of vehicles are being produced at that factory; and third, how do they handle the waste created from their manufacturing process.
- Energy production: Toyota has introduced 100% renewable electricity for sadly only 1 of their 16 plants in their home country of Japan but already for all 8 of their European plants, and for 4 of their 6 South American plants. This helped to slightly reduce the total energy emissions from their plants from 6.19 million tons of CO2 in 2013 to 5.8 million tons of CO2 in 2020. Yet this reduction is not far-reaching enough, and their stated goal to achieve zero CO2 emissions by 2050 for all plants is not soon enough by current estimates to help avoid a climate tipping point.
- Manufacturing waste: While Toyota proudly share that they recycled 98.4% of their waste, or used it in energy generation, they still generated over 11 million pounds of waste that were neither recycled or reused. This remaining waste production is still unsustainable and typically goes to landfills where it can end up being burned, or polluting water supplies when it degrades.
- Design of new vehicles: The design of new models of Toyota cars is made to be easily dismantled, which decreases the energy cost to recycle them. And their new designs also incorporate more recycled materials. However, Toyota has been hostile to initiatives for increased electric car production in Japan, preferring to instead create gas-electric hybrids that still create CO2 emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels.
In short, Toyota cars have a long way to go before they are being produced sustainably. Toyota continues to operate manufacturing facilities that create millions of tons of greenhouse gasses, and produce cars that increase that figure for years to come. Toyota has found limited solutions for recycling their waste products, and have added features to their cars to make them easier to recycle when they reach their end-of-life. Unfortunately, Toyota has been resistant to moves towards zero emissions cars, and has been slow on meeting emissions goals.
Where Are Toyota Cars Usually Manufactured
Toyota cars are mostly manufactured in Japan although the company operates over 50 other production facilities around the world. While Toyota praises these Japanese factories for their productivity, this has reportedly come at the cost of workers’ rights and health. Third-party reports of factory conditions in other countries are very hard to come by.
In 2019, Toyota produced 48% of their cars in their home country of Japan. The other 52% were among 27 other countries:
- There have been several reports of injury due to overwork within the Japanese plants, some even leading to death.
- Reports also describe an exploitative use of migrant labor in Toyota’s Japanese factories.
- Information relating to the conditions of factories outside of Japan is minimal and mostly given by Toyota.
In short, Toyota makes most of their vehicles in their home country of Japan, in factories with serious workers rights concerns. Reports of employee overwork, and mistreatment of migrant laborers is incredibly distressing, and raises further concerns about the lack of third-party information regarding Toyota’s other factories around the world.
How Transparent is Toyota About the Manufacturing of Their Cars
Toyota is not very transparent about the manufacturing of their cars. Their public image is very tightly managed, as most information about Toyota plants is produced or sponsored by Toyota. Given both their past environmental fines and concerning investigations by third-party organizations, any information regarding their manufacturing should be viewed critically unless independently verified.
- Toyota shares limited data about their manufacturing process: Toyota does not give specific numbers as to how much of their production materials are recycled vs virgin. Also, while gross materials usages are reported annually, the specifics of which facilities are using how much is not given.
- Toyota tightly manages their public image: Reports about conditions inside Toyota plants are typically either Toyota’s own press releases, or sponsored content pieces seeking to improve their image. These articles might only show one side of the coin, as Toyota has explicitly paid for a positive article from the writer/ publication.
- Toyota has a history of hiding information from regulators: Their Clean Air Act violations show that Toyota does hide information from environmental regulators – their delayed reporting in the 2000s delayed enforcement on their over-polluting cars.
- Third party investigations have yielded questions and concerns: Investigations by GreenPeace, and CorpWatch claimed to have uncovered worker abuses in Toyota’s Japanese factories, and it is still unclear what steps Toyota has taken to address these allegations.
In short, Toyota cannot be considered as being transparent about their manufacturing as they have a history of hiding information (even from regulators), their reports leave out crucial sustainability data, and most information about Toyota’s factories has been approved by Toyota.
How Sustainable Is the Transportation of Toyota Cars to Their Point of Sale
The transportation of Toyota cars is not very sustainable, as it primarily depends on existing fossil-fuel supply lines. Once a finished Toyota rolls off the assembly line, it gets sent to one of Toyota’s distributor locations, and then further on to a Toyota dealership for consumer purchase. This network is built around supply-chains that utilize cargo ships and over-the-road trucks, two of the most polluting industries.
The sustainability of the transportation of Toyota cars along the supply chain:
- The primary method for transport for Toyota’s raw materials overseas has been by cargo ship for many years, a major contributor to GHG emissions.
- After processing, Toyota’s materials are once again shipped overseas by cargo ship, or by truck for domestic transport to an assembly plant. Both of these methods, directly and indirectly, create more CO2 emissions.
The sustainability of the transportation of Toyota cars to their point of sale:
- Toyota typically builds cars in the market for which they are intended. For example, North American models are mostly built in US-based factories.
- After assembly, domestic truck lines will transport cars to distribution centers, and then on to Toyota’s network of dealerships that sell directly to the customer; truck lines are a major contributor to CO2 emissions, and still rely heavily on diesel fuel.
In short, Toyota’s transportation network is a relic from the 20th century. They still move materials and products via cargo ship and over-the-road trucks in all of their markets. They manage a complicated network of distributors and dealers within every market, that are major emitters of CO2 worldwide. Until Toyota changes the fuel its distribution network runs on, this will be a very unsustainable practice.
How Sustainable Is the Usage of Toyota Cars
The usage of Toyota cars is only somewhat sustainable. Toyota cars are very reliable, and some aspects are circular as they are built to be recycled and reused at their end-of-life. However, Toyota’s insistence on producing gas-powered cars means that their long lives are spent creating air pollution, and dependence on existing dirty resources keeps them from being considered fully circular..
The life a Toyota car lives after it is on the roads can determine how much of an impact that car has on the environment. How long that car is on the road, how circular it is while in use, how much value it holds on the market, and what happens to it at its end-of-life all have an effect. We took a look at reliability reviews, popular car buying sites, and utilized our previous knowledge about Toyota’s manufacturing process to see how sustainable a Toyota car is over the course of its life.
What Is the Typical Lifespan of Toyota Cars
Toyota cars have a longer-than-average lifespan amongst car brands. They utilize the volume of Toyota cars on the road to source replacement parts to keep many Toyota cars going for hundreds of thousands of miles. Unfortunately, Toyota cars are less efficient than average, meaning that they release CO2 and other air pollution over a longer period of time.
Toyota cars have a well-known reputation as reliable vehicles. While this historically applied to their truck offerings, newer Toyota’s have also followed in those sturdy footsteps. A quick search online yields dozens of high-mileage cars that still carry a significant price tag. Toyota models have some of the longest potential lifespans when well maintained, with several capable of exceeding 200,000 miles. This increased longevity affects the sustainability of a Toyota car in a couple of ways.
The longer a car lasts, the longer it avoids joining the thousands of cars that clog our landfills around the world – and the less environmental strain added from producing a new car as replacement.
- An extended life for a car also means that the owner is less likely to purchase a new 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.
- To help get these cars to live such long lives, there is an expansive network of Toyota parts distributors who utilize recycled parts from crashed or damaged cars.
- This helps to decrease waste created, while also aiding Toyota’s that are still on the road to get the repairs they need to continue on.
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.
- Toyota’s fleet of vehicles is almost entirely gas powered, and only recently have they begun the push for battery hybrid versions of more models.
- Furthermore, the revelations of Toyota’s CCA violations showed that many Toyota cars on the road currently have emissions failures that should have been fixed.
- These cars have been polluting excessively for their very long lives.
- This forces us to conclude that in fact the reliability of a Toyota is not a positive trait, because the longer their cars are on the road the more damage they will do.
In short, the longevity of a Toyota is a major selling point for why it seems like a good car choice. Toyota also manages a strong network of parts and dealers to keep Toyota cars running a long time, which keeps their cars in use and in circulation. Unfortunately, the prevalence of Toyota’s gas-powered cars means that these cars will live a long life of polluting the air with CO2 and carbon monoxide.
How Quickly Do Toyota Cars Depreciate in Value
Toyota cars hold their value incredibly well. This ensures that their product stays in circulation for longer and reduces the need to produce more cars. In comparison, cars that lose their value too rapidly typically reach their end-of-life stage sooner, making their life-cycle less sustainable.
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 pandemic 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 the traditional 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.
In comparison to the industry average, Toyota’s cars hold their value better than most other car brands. Research conducted by iSeeCars.com showed that Toyota cars made up 3 of the top 10 vehicles with the lowest 3-year depreciation in 2022. Toyota models such as the Tacoma, Corolla, RAV4, and others averaged 23.7% depreciation over 5 years, while the study showed 3-year-old Toyota models depreciating an astonishingly low 2.5%.
Since Toyota cars can continue to be sold for value for many years, this maximizes the use the product will get out of its lifetime. The only caveat is that this would be more sustainable if these would not still rely on combusting fossil fuels.
- Toyota cars will maintain their value well ensuring they continue to be used.
- But, unfortunately, all of the cars studied are gasoline powered in some way. This means their longer lifespans will produce tailpipe emissions for longer, and consume petroleum oil for longer.
- Their comparatively high value on the used market is mostly due to consumer preference, and unfortunately, that preference is not typically based on sustainability.
In short, Toyota cars depreciate much less than the industry average – a key indicator for predicting sustained use. Maximizing the effective life of the product is an important step towards acting more sustainably, as it decreases the amount of waste being generated by the auto industry. However, these long-lasting Toyota cars continue to produce pollution from fossil fuels as Toyota has been very slow to adopt zero-emissions vehicles.
How Circular Are Toyota Cars
Toyota cars are produced in a somewhat circular way, as they are designed to be recycled at end of life. However, Toyota cars are not completely circular as they still depend on unsustainable resources, including gasoline.
Toyota acknowledges in their own press materials that building a circular economy for the future is necessary to preserve the planet and its resources. Yet, as you may have already suspected, though, Toyota’s claims don’t accurately tell the whole story. Toyota seems to have built their cars to be somewhat circular, but we wondered what more they could be doing.
“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
- eliminate waste and pollution,
- circulate products and materials, and
- 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 models, and closed-loop supply chains for car parts.
Let’s see next how circular Toyota’s business and operating model already is!
- What does Toyota do to eliminate waste and pollution? Toyota manufacturing has embraced a wide array of recycling programs so as to generate as little waste as possible. Toyota has claimed to have achieved an over 98% recycling rate for waste products. They also target decreasing the volatile organic compounds (VOC) released during the car painting process by introducing less wasteful solvents.
- What does Toyota do to make their products and materials circular? Toyota has designed their cars to be more easily dismantled at their end of life. The chassis mountings, wiring harnesses, and interior panels have all been designed to allow for the cars to be dismantled with lower energy costs. This also means that more parts can be removed intact, making it easier to reuse them in new vehicles.
- What does Toyota do that is not circular? A key area where Toyota cars fail to be circular is in their fuel choice. Despite increased electrification of their vehicles, all but one Toyota model are still primarily powered by fossil fuels. These cars will continue to produce tail-pipe emissions for the life of the car, and will have more maintenance issues as they age. Toyota cars also fail to be completely circular in their materials, as they still utilize unsustainably sourced steel, and scarce minerals like lithium.
- What does Toyota do to regenerate nature? At most of Toyota’s US facilities, they have introduced pollination gardens to encourage local pollinator activity, and to facilitate Monarch Butterfly migrations. Toyota facilities are also required to choose an indicator species as a bellwether to monitor their impact to the local flora and fauna.
In short, Toyota has embraced some aspects of the circular economy through their actions, such as incorporating large amounts of recycled materials, and designing components that are easy to dismantle. Toyota has even sought to regenerate nature through programs like their pollinator gardens. Unfortunately, Toyota cars are still not circular, as their persistence with fossil-fuel-powered designs is simply unsustainable in the face of climate change.
How Sustainable Is the End-of-Life of Toyota Cars
The end-of-life for Toyota cars is fairly sustainable. Their existing models have been designed to be easily dismantled and reused, and Toyota is investing in facilities to handle them. Unfortunately, Toyota lacks recycling programs for their popular Li-ion battery hybrids.
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/repurposing, recycling, or disposal.
Are components of Toyota cars made to be reused or repurposed at their car’s end-of-life?
- Toyota cars are primarily made up of materials that can be reused or repurposed, and Toyota recycles their waste at a very efficient 98.4% rate. This includes steel, plastic, and wiring components that are also collected from Toyota’s that have reached end-of-life.
Are Toyota cars made to be recycled at their end-of-life?
- When a Toyota reaches its end-of-life, the vast majority of parts are able to be recycled. Toyota has designed their cars in recent years to be easily dismantled, which decreases the energy cost to recycle them. Toyota has actually built a dismantling facility in India, and has plans in motion to open more in Malaysia and Belgium to handle Toyota cars that have reached the end of their use.
- However, one very important component cannot currently be recycled, and that is the Li-ion battery packs. These are found in all hybrid model cars that Toyota currently makes, and will be included in all currently planned future models. These contain rare metals that can seriously harm the environment if disposed of incorrectly. Toyota states they currently are developing tech to recycle these batteries, but at the moment have no programs in place for handling these. It is unknown how Toyota disposes of used batteries.
Do Toyota cars largely have to be disposed of at their end-of-life?
- Toyota cars have a lot of potential to be recycled at their end-of-life, rather than being disposed of. Toyota’s own recycling programs have sought to keep their cars out of landfills, and their investment in dismantling facilities allows for a larger percentage of components to be efficiently reused. Almost every material in a Toyota car can be recycled, with one important exception: the lithium-ion batteries found in electric hybrid vehicles will be disposed of, as Toyota lacks recycling programs for them.
In short, Toyota cars are fairly sustainable at their end of life. Toyota’s recent car designs integrate more recycled materials, and are designed to be recycled one day as efficiently as possible. However, Toyota is sorely lacking a plan to deal with the environmental risks posed by treating Li-ion batteries as waste. With millions of batteries set to be produced in the future, a solution for their end-of-life is vital to avoid serious environmental damage.
What Are the Sustainability Efforts and Goals of Toyota
Toyota has stated many goals as a part of their Environmental Challenge to show that they are taking the threat of climate change seriously. However, Toyota’s untrustworthy actions with regards to environmental reporting means that we need to analyze what steps they have actually taken, and if their plans will actually go far enough to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
|Previous sustainability efforts of Toyota||Restrained reduction of CO2 emissions totals|
Support of “next-gen powertrains”
Goals are steps in the right direction only
|Current sustainability efforts of Toyota||Promotion of “electrified” cars, now produces 1 full EV|
Emissions per car lowered more than previous goals
Developing recycling for Li-ion batteries
|Future sustainability goals of Toyota||Reduce vehicle emissions 90% by 2050|
Eliminate CO2 emissions for all Toyota operations by 2050
Help build a circular economy
What Are Toyota’s Previous Sustainability Efforts
Toyota began publishing their annual Environmental Report in 2017. This report outlines some of Toyota’s efforts, accomplishments, and plans for the future. The inaugural version of this report is more conservative than more recent editions. It contains the following goals and accomplishments:
- Toyota only hoped to reduce their GHG emissions from 2017-2022 by 15%.
- Toyota’s 2050 Challenge only plans to remove “almost all [of the] carbon emissions” from their new cars.
- States support for “next-generation powertrains”, without specifying what zero emissions powertrains they are developing.
- Reduce logistics GHG emissions by just 5% compared to 2016 levels.
Overall, this first edition of the report was effectively just lip service to the idea of sustainability. The goals set out were sometimes vague, and when they are specific they are marginal improvements to Toyota’s sustainability.
What Are Toyota’s Current Sustainability Efforts
Turning to Toyota’s 2022 report, we can see if they have reached their previously stated goals, and what they are currently doing to try and be more sustainable. Generally speaking, Toyota’s goals have become more ambitious, but still lacking in several areas.
- Toyota still promotes reducing CO2 emissions through use of “electrified” Hybrid-Electric Vehicles (HEV), instead of full EV cars. Toyota now produces their first all EV car, the bZ4x, but still promotes “electrified” gas cars.
- Toyota lowered emissions per mile for their cars by 41% compared to 2010.
- Toyota is currently in progress to reduce total CO2 emissions by 15% by 2026 compared to 2018 numbers. This is the same percentage as their previous goal from 2017.
- Toyota still does not have any active recycling procedures for Li-ion batteries, but has announced a partnership with Redwood Materials to develop a closed-loop end-of-life system for future batteries.
Toyota’s 2020 report outlines more specific goals for reductions in emission, water usage, waste production, and showcasing the technology Toyota believes will power the future. These goals go further than the initial reports conservative measures, but still only make marginal gains toward decreasing Toyota’s environmental footprint.
What Are Toyota’s Future Sustainability Goals
Toyota’s future goals are stated within their Environmental Challenge 2050. They are fairly comprehensive goals, but their timeline of 2050 is much too far in the future. As we previously mentioned, most current science points to a global surface temperature increase of 1.5C between 2026 and 2042 without significant decreases to GHG emissions.
- Toyota seeks to reduce the CO2 emissions from new cars by 90% compared to 2010.
- Toyota also sets zero emissions goals for their operations, suppliers, and dealers by 2050.
- Toyota states that they will promote a circular economy, but does not state desired metrics.
Despite Toyota’s goals of achieving zero operation’s emissions, and helping to build a circular economy, their goals are just too far in the future to realistically make a difference in lessening the worst effects of climate change. Given so many of their goals are vague and without a way to ascertain success or failure, these might only be little more than pretty PowerPoint slides at the end of the day.
How Aligned Are the Sustainability Marketing Messages of Toyota With the Sustainability of Their Cars
Toyota’s marketing messages could be seen as misleading, given that their large environmental footprint is well documented. Toyota leaves many important facts out of their environmental reports, and they do not address all the ways that they are contributing to climate change. Toyota claims to be utilizing renewable technology in cutting edge ways, but have not fundamentally changed the way they approach their car production.
Toyota spent nearly $1.6 billion on advertising in just the US in 2021. Toyota has leaned in on being a socially conscious company that is changing the way they do business to be sustainable for the future. A lot of our analysis, however, has pointed to this might not be the case. Toyota has been accused of Greenwashing in recent years, and increased scrutiny has shown that Toyota might have skewed their image to misrepresent their actual actions.
“Greenwashing: behavior or activities that make people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is”Cambridge Dictionary
Toyota marketing makes many references to their recycling programs that they claim to have incredibly high success rates:
- Toyota claims to be recycling 98.4% of their waste company-wide.
- However, this does not tell the whole story, though, as Toyota still generates over 11 million pounds of waste per year, and also still depends on some non-recycled material in their production.
- It is a positive that they have achieved very efficient recycling, but without a reduction in their absolute waste generation and the new resources consumed, it is hard to call their business sustainable.
Another key highlight of Toyota’s marketing material is their insistence that they have adopted, and are promoting electrified cars to decrease their carbon footprint:
- Toyota offers a range of “electrified vehicles” that are primarily gas-powered hybrids, and so-called “plug-in hybrids” that still use gasoline engines for greater range. These cars will still produce CO2, and consume petroleum lubricants as long as they are on the road.
- As of 2023, Toyota only makes a single fully electric car, and only 2 zero emissions vehicles when also counting the Hydrogen Fuel-Cell powered Mirai.
Furthermore, their claims to be collecting and recycling hybrid batteries are misleading, as their battery recycling programs are for outdated Nickel-metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries.
- These only exist in older generations of Toyota hybrids.
- But they do not account for the millions of Li-ion batteries that Toyota has already produced, and intends to produce in the coming years.
|Key sustainability marketing messages of Toyota||Sustainability of Toyota cars|
|Toyota “keep[s] material circulating and out of landfills”||Toyota recycles most of their waste, but still depends on unsustainable resources for most of their models.|
|Toyota recycles “98.4% of their waste company-wide”||While this number is relatively high, Toyota still absolutely generates over 11 million pounds of waste per year.|
|“52% of [Toyota] models are electrified”||“Electrified” refers to gas-electric hybrids that still depend on fossil fuels, Toyota only last year introduced their first and only EV model, the bZ4x.|
|Toyota recycled 171,000 HV batteries in 2020||Most of Toyota’s battery recycling is for old-style Nickel-metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries from the Prius model of hybrid. Toyota mostly produces Li-ion batteries now, but unfortunately, Toyota lacks recycling programs for these.|
In short, the sustainability messaging of Toyota can be considered Greenwashing. Toyota’s marketing gives the impression that Toyota is leading the future with heavy integration of recycling measures and electrification of their model line-up. Unfortunately, both of these claims might be misleading, and seek to obscure the areas in which Toyota could improve the environmental impact of their operations.
Why Is It Important to Buy More Sustainable Cars
Sustainable cars have many advantages, along with reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. For example, full EVs produce no tailpipe emissions and are better for both the environment and your health. 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.
In total, transportation – personal, commercial, and otherwise – accounts for around one-fifth of global CO2 emissions.
- No tailpipe emissions: Tailpipe emissions from cars, trucks, and other road vehicles account for 75% of all global CO2 emissions from transport, driving a sustainable car – especially an EV with no tailpipe emissions – greatly reduces overall mobility-related CO2 emissions. Truly sustainable cars also eliminate the additional emissions created, for example during both the production and distribution of the electricity used to fuel EVs.
- Lower total life-cycle emissions: The Circular Cars Initiative, launched in 2020 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, aims to accelerate the transformation of circular manufacturing and business models within the automotive and mobility industry and to eliminate or minimize total life-cycle emissions with a special emphasis on manufacturing emissions.
- Reduced resource consumption and waste generation: A sustainable car is ideally also fully circular, which means that, next to the reduced life-cycle emissions, it has been designed to be reused, repaired, and recycled. This reduces the need for raw materials and results in a more efficient use of resources. Circular cars also reduce waste by keeping materials in use for as long as possible, which helps to reduce the amount of waste generated.
- Increased efficiency: If you aren’t able to afford the step into a new EV or hybrid car yet, make sure you’re keeping your gas-powered car well maintained. Because a well-maintained car runs at a higher efficiency – which is good for both the environment and your wallet. And especially fix any broken emissions equipment like catalytic converters so that you aren’t polluting more than you realize!
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, 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, and it 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, 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 it gets out of control.
- Reduced air pollution: Gas-powered cars produce ozone, particulate matter, and other smog-forming emissions. These create harmful air pollution and can increase the risk of developing illnesses like asthma, bronchitis, and even cancer. The only way to eliminate the risks posed by air pollution is to swap to zero-emission vehicles that only release heat or water as exhaust, such as EVs.
- Reduced noise pollution: Sustainable cars, especially EVs, produce less noise compared to traditional gasoline-powered cars. This leads to a reduction in noise pollution, which can have positive effects on mental health and well-being.
In short, driving sustainable cars does not only have 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. And the reduced noise pollution from EVs has positive effects on your mental health and well-being.
When it comes to living more sustainably, the purchase of a vehicle can significantly increase the size of your carbon footprint. It is vital that you learn what you are really buying before you spend thousands of dollars.
Our analysis of Toyota reminds us that you can not blindly trust the marketing of many major automakers. Companies that can seem to be squeaky clean can turn out to have been just polishing their image.
We hope you’ll carefully consider the information we’ve given you here, so you can make an informed decision as to what vehicle will be right for your sustainable lifestyle.
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