Eco-design: a pathway towards sustainable mobility
The growing impact of humans on the environment is evident from the transport sector alone. Not only did carbon emissions from transportation increase by 70% between 1990 and 2017, but they now represent 24% of global CO2 emissions linked to the combustion of fossil fuels. On a global scale, it is all the more concerning since the world population will have risen to 9.7 billion by 2050, which will have the consequence of at least doubling traffic worldwide. Addressing this situation will require making all transport options greener in every way. The greatest example of sustainable transportation thus far is railway transport, which is “one of the most efficient forms of ground transportation from an energy and environmental point of view” according to the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME).
The crucial challenge: reducing the environmental impact of products
Eco-design is an approach that aims to incorporate environmental considerations during the design phase of a product, service or building, with the primary goal of limiting the lifetime environmental impact. The eco-design approach involves analysing the product lifecycle from design to recycling in order to predict its effects on the environment at each stage.
Eco-design is all about reducing environmental impact throughout the lifecycle of a given product: the raw materials used, the pollution created during its manufacturing and delivery, how much energy it uses, the waste it creates upon disposal, etc. Not only do these figures need to be identified for each individual product, they must also be interpreted properly to achieve the right balance between the different factors impacting the environment. For example, it is ineffective to aim for a recyclability rate of 90% if this is at the expense of increased energy consumption or carbon emissions. Alstom has therefore chosen to integrate eco-design into its product research and development strategy, in order to effectively measure and limit the environmental impact at each lifecycle stage.
Eco-design: the cornerstone of sustainable transport
Faced with sustained population growth, the imminent surge in global traffic and the growing impact of transport on the environment, eco-design is fast becoming one of the main solutions for sustainable transport. Although the approach emerged in Europe in the 1990s, it is only relatively recently that society has become cognisant of its benefits. This increasing sense of awareness can be seen in a number of ways.
Alstom, pioneer and ambassador of eco-design
To meet the challenges of sustainable transport, Alstom has consciously decided to give eco-design a central role in its business. In 2021/22, 51% of newly developed solutions were covered by an ecodesigned process, including circular economy aspects.
Eco-design in action
For Alstom, the incorporation of eco-design methods is based on three fundamental elements: considering a product lifecycle from multiple perspectives, taking into account the expectations of all stakeholders (clients, the public, etc.) and the continuous improvement of the solutions developed. All these solutions were designed integrating environmental targets (energy, use of renewable resources, noise, emission levels etc.) and achievements have been monitored throughout the development process. The company expresses their daily commitment to this tenant through a variety of different actions.
Circular economy, lifetime, end-of-life management, and recyclability of systems and subsystems:
With a complete portfolio of renovation and modernisation solutions, Alstom offers customers the ability to extend the lifetime of their systems whilst allowing for an upgrade of comfort and services. Alstom also delivers end of life manuals geared to optimised and safe recycling. The metros now contain 28% (average value) of materials made from waste (recycled). For example, the floors of the new generation of regional trains Coradia Stream contain recycled PET made from waste plastics bottles. The dismantling manual for X’Trapolis suburban trains specifies how the 240 tons of train should be dismantled in order to achieve 93% of recyclability and 99% of recoverability. Moreover, the Sydney Metro has a recyclability rate of 95% while the recoverability rate is of 98.5%;
Efficient use of resources:
The components used for trains are progressively improved; The seats for new high speed trains are lighter (-6 kg than the previous generation and made of less impacting materials: on average, environmental impacts have been reduced by 35%). A comparative Life-Cycle Analysis has been performed between signaling equipment NetBox V2 and the previous generation. The results show a global impact reduced by more than 25% on average on all the indicators. Alstom also offers, for the rolling stock parts such as seats, the ability to repair them instead of scrapping them;
Limitation of hazardous substances: (in particular the so-called Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC) according to the REACH Regulation).
The pro-active approach has allowed for a lot of components containing candidate substances to be detected and secured. By this means, 100% of the cases concerned by Annex XIV are substituted before legal deadlines;
Greener, responsible and renewable materials:
Materials and parts with recognized ecolabels (FSC, European ecolabel, Blue Angel, PEFC...) are now progressively offered for trains and infrastructure solutions and implemented. KAJO BIO (EU Ecolabel) grease has already been used on our Coradia Polyvalent trains in Algeria for example, floor panels for the Sydney metro are certified PEFC and FSC, and we are using FSC and UL Greenguard certified panels on our Amtrak trains.
With its new X’Trapolis trains, Alstom has reached a 30% energy reduction. In average, a 20% energy consumption reduction has been achieved on recently developed solutions.
Emissions and air quality:
Optimised electrical braking allows several tons of emissions per year and per fleet to be avoided;
Noise emission reduction for new and for modernised rolling stock:
The traction motors and auxiliary converters have been improved decreasing noise levels by 12dB and 10dB respectively. For example, the Sydney Metro achieved -2dB compared to standard performance for interior and exterior noise.
Promoting analysis tools
Incorporating eco-design in industrial processes also requires the use of powerful solutions to analyse the environmental impact of products. That is why Alstom helped create EIME software (a lifecycle analysis solution), before transferring its operation to other actors, including Bureau Veritas.
"An eco-design based approach cannot be practiced in isolation during the development process. It requires an interdisciplinary approach involving as many stakeholders as possible"
Demand from transport users
In the context of global warming and energy transition, the public have come to understand the importance of sustainable transport in the years to come. In fact, 70% of the French population now regularly use public transport (compared to only 50% in 2014) and almost one in two Europeans believe that cars will be shared in the future.
A need for collaboration
Companies and authorities have matured in their perspectives, shown by their strong demand for products with reduced environmental impact. This effectively became an obligation at the COP 21 (the 2015 Paris Climate Conference), which requires all its States to reaching carbon neutrality between 2050 and 2100. The transport sector will play a crucial role in the achievement of worldwide targets and only eco-design based production will bring this goal within reach.
Despite the growing awareness of individuals and professionals, not all the challenges of both sustainable transportation and eco-design have yet been understood. These two areas are rarely addressed in full, apart from common product-related impacts (CO2 emissions, energy consumption, cost of recycling, etc.). The education of stakeholders on these subjects will be indispensable in rendering sustainable transportation ubiquitous and accessible to all.
Involving subcontractors and suppliers
By integrating eco-design into their strategy, these players help optimise the environmental performance of the products and solutions developed by Alstom. That is why Alstom’s suppliers and subcontractors must sign the Group’s Ethics and Sustainable Development Charter, which notably means they commit themselves to selling materials that comply with certain standards and sustainability labels.
Standardising practices in the sector
Eco-design practices can only be proliferated through the use of common benchmarks among the various stakeholders (industrial and clients). This enables, for example, the use of common reference frameworks to measure the actual consumption of trains and thus facilitate comparison between products.
"Alstom is working with other players in the industry to standardise practices, particularly with regard to measuring the environmental impact of products in order to provide meaningful comparisons and promote eco-designed solutions"
Reducing installation inconveniences:
The time required to build a railway network is one of the main annoyances of both authorities and the public, and it may also hinder the deployment of various transport solutions (trains, trams, etc.). However, eco-design is a powerful driving force in mitigating these inconveniences. The Appitrack system, for example, allows up to 500 metres of track to be laid per day (equivalent to nearly five football pitches) and significantly reduces work time. The tracks can be installed four times faster. Unlike the aviation industry for example, railway infrastructures have a clearly measurable environmental impact when they are available throughout the entire route travelled. The challenge is to make these infrastructures less visible and less costly, as seen with the Bordeaux tramway, the very first to be completed with a comprehensive urban approach.
Imagining the railways of tomorrow:
Trains, underground services and trams are facing another problem unique to the rail industry, thanks to their decades-long lifecycles. This is particularly problematic when the time comes for renovation, as old car models are not particularly malleable. Alstom’s objective is to create more agile solutions so that future trains can be repaired and recycled much more easily than those of today.
The Group does not intend to stop there, and is already working towards an ambitious new objective: “100% of new products will be eco-designed by 2025,” says Cécile Texier, adding that this objective constitutes “a true commitment by Alstom to society”.
So what is the challenge? Making eco-design indispensible in the design processes of the future, both within transport and in all other industrial sectors.