2014 Student-Faculty Fellows Program: Washington And Jefferson College

The Green Practices of Automakers in China and Japan

Mentors: Robert East (Environmental Studies and Biology) and Yongsheng Wang (Economics)
Students: Naomi Bick ’16, Conor Crowe ’15, Hannah Hill ’16, Jake Meyers ‘15, Emma Russell ’16, Maxwell Thomas ‘15

Project Abstract

China and Japan account for almost 36% of total production of automobiles in the world, and the share is growing. The Washington & Jefferson College group conducted research at the automobile factories in Tokyo and Nagoya, Japan, and Wuhan and Guangzhou, China, to investigate the sustainability and auto industry in Asia. Our research focused on the companies’ commitment to establishing “green practices” in the production of cars which centered on the 4Rs: “reduce, reuse, recycle and recover.” The six student researchers were paired into three groups to study: metallic material recycling, non-metallic recycling, and the economic sustainability of “green practices.” We collected information through face-to-face discussions with representatives of vehicle designers, operation engineers, quality control managers, and marketing planners. We also visited both internal (locations within the production facilities of the motor companies) and external (locations of their major subcontractors) recycling sites. The group is currently analyzing the data collected by using software. We plan to share our findings through events like poster session and international week at W&J as well as through conference presentations and publications in major U.S. journals. (Because the expenses of working in Japan and urban China are great, significant financial support has also been given to the group by Washington & Jefferson College to augment that provided by the ASIANetwork Freeman SFF grant.)

Poster from 2015 annual meeting poster session

Green Practices of Automakers in China and Japan for Metallic Materials
Naomi Bick and Jake Meyers

The automotive industry in Japan and China has grown substantially in the past few decades, which has drastically changed how manufacturers use key materials in automobiles, such as metals. Changes within the usage of metal can have profound environmental and economic implications in global markets. This past summer, thanks to funding from ASIANetwork’s Student-Faculty Fellowship, my research partner and I were able to travel to Japan and China to get a firsthand research experience on this topic. We performed site visits at manufacturing plants, recycling facilities, and 4S shops to observe the green practices of auto-manufacturers. We also conducted a corporate literature analysis and administered a series of interviews with various ranking members of the automotive industry. The car manufacturers we visited, while extremely similar in broad terms of environmental goals, also have several differences in priorities, especially as related to metal usage. As metal is an integral part of the vehicles these companies produce, in order for them to produce anything in an environmentally friendly manner, metal must be given consideration. The central components to be examined are the use of lighter-weight materials to replace traditionally heavy metals, the usage and recycling of metal components, and the plans related to rare and rare earth metals. In addition, we incorporated an element of cultural analysis to assess how Japanese and Chinese cultures influence the automotive industry’s choices. The results show a genuine concern for sustainable development in reference towards the use of metals in the environment. Our final paper will present how metal factors into sustainable choices in both Japan and China. This study is unique in that we explore the socio-economic landscape of Japan and China to produce a context for a discussion in sustainable metal usage in the automotive industry. A future study could explore the sustainable uses of metals that could be applied to other large scale metal-consuming industries.

Naomi Bick
This project has undoubtedly given me a wider understanding of Asia and the many intricacies of the massive continent. I learned a lot about cars and recycling, naturally, but I also learned a lot about the way the governments of both countries function in connection with their economies. Asia is very vast and complicated, but this trip allowed me to gain a much better view and appreciation of two very prominent countries and their connections to the rest of Asia as well as the world. I know now that I would definitely enjoy learning more about Asia and the automobile industry in the future. In the future, I know I will be interested in studying the environment in Asia more deeply even if it is never a part of my career. Because I have learned so much from this trip which I can always carry with me, I am sure the experience will broaden my horizons and make me understand the world in new and different ways by teaching me to research and write in styles previously unfamiliar to me, live with a fast-paced, constantly changing lifestyle, and appreciate the differences and similarities of the people and places I meet throughout my life. After I finish college, I hope to pursue a post-graduate degree and work in the public service sector in the United States; however, if a research opportunity to Asia ever occurred again, I would surely take it after the wonderful, unique experience that has been provided to me through this project.

Jake Meyers
The ASIANetwork’s Student-Faculty Fellowship experience has provided me with an incredibly meaningful academic experience in which I will refer to in my future coursework and career ambitions. As a result of this fellowship, I have been graciously rewarded with an experience that has improved my global understanding of Japan and China in addition to providing me with practical research skills in a significant subject area of my academic interests (sustainability of the automotive industry). This experience was my first time visiting Asia, and as a result I was able to broaden my horizons by immersing myself in another part of the world with cultures I was unaccustomed to. In terms of academic fulfillment, this fellowship has provided me with the opportunity to explore a relevant topic to my studies as an environmental studies major. Previously, my research has been concerned mainly with ecologically based studies. By shifting focus to an industrial topic, I was exposed to social elements of sustainable research that I have not previously encountered before. I was able to incorporate cultural influences in my investigation of environmental practices, and by adding a human element in my investigation I was able to increase my capacity for research in the discipline of sustainability. My academic focus is shifting towards global environmental policy, and I have confirmed my academic passion in addition to acquiring research experience as a result of this fellowship, and for that I am truly thankful.

Green Practices of Automakers in China and Japan for Non-Metallic Materials
Hannah Hill and Emma Russell

Vehicles are used everyday by millions of people around the world. Each one of those vehicles has thousands of parts, many of which are made from plastics and other nonmetals. Our team investigated how these parts are recycled, reduced, and reused by Asian car manufacturers and found that various techniques exist and many are still being innovated. We also investigated nonmetals other than vehicle parts, such as the recycling or filtering of emissions, fumes, water, chlorofluorocarbons, oil, and shredder residue. We assessed the sustainable practices of car manufacturers in both China and Japan, two of the countries that produce the most vehicles, and found that both countries had environmentally friendly techniques in manufacturing and recycling. We carried out our research through interviews with company executives and representatives, tours, and discussions with local car owners and dealers. Many facilities in China and Japan have developed innovative recycling techniques and environmentally friendly production practices, but some factories do not have recycling capabilities for some nonmetals. Many of these manufacturers use techniques such as shredding, melting, and polymer molding when recycling or reusing plastics or other solid nonmetal substances; then material can be used for fuel or as another vehicle part. Unfortunately, materials such as glass and airbags are often sent to the landfill due to the inability to repurpose them. According to our initial analysis and visits, we came to the conclusion that every company recycles or reuses their nonmetals, but innovations are necessary in nonmetal recycling to improve manufacturers’ environmental impact. In the final report, we will explore further about the details of each category of non-metal recycling practices.

Hannah Hill
This summer, I traveled with a group of six students and two professors to Asia for three weeks. This was my second trip to China, but my first time to Japan. On this trip, I traveled to places that are generally not for tourists, and it was a genuine cultural-immersion. On this trip, I gained many more Chinese words and phrases, as well as an insight into cultures I didn’t see prior to the trip. This experience will play a significant role in my future. I plan to go to medical school and become a forensic pathologist, and travel experience is particularly important on resumes and can set me apart from other applicant when applying for medical school. Respect for other cultures can be a factor when determining one’s character, and hopefully interviewers will be interested and impressed with my experience and research abroad. My travel abroad experience helped me understand Chinese and Japanese culture and customs, as well as the language. Hopefully I will be able to greet or converse with Chinese or Japanese patients during medical school rotations, since connection can be very important to a patient. Traveling abroad also strengthens communication skills, planning skills, and time management skills, which is very important in the lab, courtroom, and in medicine. I hope that someday I can travel to Asia again to volunteer with Doctors Without Borders or another organization to help those in need. I plan on using what I learned now and in my future, whether it is about the cultures or the research we did on recycling. I can use what I learned from my research to make an informed decision when buying a car, since I know how some companies recycle, reduce, and reuse their waste. I saw what happens to End-of -Life vehicles and the effects facilities have on the local people and air quality, and I plan to teach others about the impact of their decisions when buying cars.

Emma Russell
Travelling the world is humbling, it is a chance to see how the rest of the world breathes and lives. There are always new experiences; some scary, some marvelous, and some the same as at home. I am so very thankful to have been given the opportunity to travel to Japan and China, the trip of a lifetime, while I’m still in school. I have been studying the Chinese language for more than two years now and have fallen in love with it. While the process has been challenging at times, I have enjoyed every minute of it. At the moment, I am planning on graduating from Washington and Jefferson College in the fall of 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a minor in East Asian Studies. This major has been fascinating and super fun. I have been studying Chinese, and focusing the majority of my studies on East Asia. I was surprised that I could integrate my growing knowledge of Asia into my classes on world politics, resource politics, and even Buddhism. The connections that I found myself making were not only helpful but intriguing. I think that when we travel, we learn that a lot of what we think about the world is wrong or backwards, and that, to me, is one of the greatest discoveries. While challenging at times, I learned that I am more adventurous that I had previously thought, but I also learned that I am more of a homebody. “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” I believe that Ernest Hemingway had a very valid point. While I am passionate about expanding my knowledge of the Chinese culture and language, what I will do with that passion in the coming years is honestly up in the air. I am looking into international environmental policy and politics and will continue to nurture that interest. I am excited to be able to use my knowledge of the Chinese language and culture to further my future career. I am confident that, after finishing my time at Washington and Jefferson and continuing on to graduate school, I will have not only had some once in a lifetime experiences, but I will have the abilities and confidence to go out into the world and make something absolutely spectacular of myself.

The Economic Sustainability of Green Practices of Automakers in China and Japan
Conor Crowe and Max Chomas

Environmentally efficient production has become the new norm amongst Chinese and Japanese automobile plants. Our course of study set out to apply an economic analysis of the supposed green policies of these producers. Specifically, we sought to study whether the companies were being environmentally conscience and, if they were in fact displaying a focus on environmental sustainability, whether this was being done in a manner that sacrificed profitability. Each of the manufacturers in our sample has been implementing robust, environmentally friendly automobile production policies over the last couple of decades. Empirically, we found that car companies in both China and Japan were not only environmentally conscience in their automobile production practices, but they were particularly keen on running a profit by keeping costs as low as possible. Our findings were based on response to surveys presented to company representatives along with observation while we toured the respective company’s facilities. The companies we visited showed a recognizable desire to be environmentally friendly throughout their production process. In the final paper, we will address further differences in economic incentives provided by China and Japan for green cars and the details of sustainability (profitability without subsidy) in auto production. There are several more questions that could be answered through future research. For example, while all cars in Japan are set to be recycled when they reach the end of their functional use, there was no indication if there were enough facilities to perform this task in an efficient manner. If environmental practices can be profitable, why (potentially) aren’t there more metal recycling plants to handle the tremendous supply of vehicles that have reached the end of their functional use? In China, consumers are open to green cars and why there aren’t enough green cars on the market?

Conor Crowe
The goal of our research was to investigate the environmentally friendly practices in the auto industry and how economically sustainable they are in the long run. I gained a huge appreciation for the car industry on this trip. Previously, my only appreciation for cars was the one that I had and to make sure that it was able to drive me from point A to point B. I had never been concerned about the different upgrades you could give a car or how my car looked. But after seeing how much effort goes into making a single car I now have a vast appreciation for the whole auto industry. The efficiency and speed at which they produce cars while making very little mistakes truly is something amazing to see and is an experience I will never forget. Both countries offered a lot of different experiences that I would not have gotten to experience without the help of the ASIA Network Grant. I plan on entering the business or financial world after graduation and this world experience will help me a lot with my career choice. In a business environment that is constantly becoming more and more globalized, it is highly likely that I will be exposed to people from all over the world. Thanks to this trip I have been exposed to two cultures that I would not have otherwise been able to experience. This will help me in many different situations and allow me to understand and be respectful to these cultures that are very deep rooted in tradition.

Max Chomas
In the fall of 2015 I hope to enter a doctoral program in economics and this trip has augmented my ability to reach this goal for two primary reasons. First, this was a research trip and graduate schools are particularly geared towards research; especially empirical research. On the trip we were working on the ground level, collecting data that directly influenced the nature and substance of the research paper we were to write. The exercise of doing this has allowed me to gain more confidence in doing research and will furthermore help graduate schools see that I am capable of doing somewhat independent research in economics. Secondly, international experience is a must, particularly for economics. Today we are living in what has been called the “global economy”, where entire nations are subject to the economic fortunes and mishaps of others. Coming to understand how Japanese and Chinese auto manufacturers do business and having witnessed it myself has allowed me to expand my knowledge about not only how these two countries influence each other, but also how they interact with the global economy. Hopefully this growth in my knowledge will allow me to do better work in my economic graduate studies along with making me a more viable candidate for my intended doctoral programs. In a less academic manner, my homestay in Japan gave me an enjoyable crash course in how Japanese people carry on in their day to day lives. The constant interaction that they all had between each other from sharing laundry responsibilities to providing automobile transport for each other gave me a window into how communal Japanese people are. This trip was nothing short of spectacular for me. I had an excellent time being completely submersed in an environment that I was unfamiliar with, and this trip has easily made me eager to return to Japan and China someday.