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The Big Interview: Jonathan Garrett

Open the door of a Jaguar XJ and climb in. Feel the leather steering wheel and admire the burr walnut veneer as you settle into the leather seats. How sustainable is this piece of British engineering?

It is not a question likely to be among your first thoughts as you are indulge in a ride in the luxury vehicle. But someone is thinking about that for you: Jonathan Garrett, director of sustainability at Jaguar Land Rover (JLR).

He is on a mission to change what he describes as a negative perception of sustainability in the automotive sector. He has already scored a victory on this front when, a year after his appointment, JLR won the Responsible Business Award 2013, a corporate and social responsi-bility award run by Business in the Community, the national charity led by the Prince of Wales.

“There is a perception around the car industry and around JLR that we just make large, heavy vehicles,” he says. But JLR has pioneered the use of lightweight materials such as aluminium, thus reducing weight and improving fuel efficiency.

“The traditional image of the automotive industry is of guys on the line putting bumpers on a vehicle,” he adds. “But in reality a lot of effort goes into the design process, with as many as 7,000 engineers working on it.”

Recyclability is one of the elements taken into account at the design stage: “We think: if we had to take back one of our cars at the end of its life, how would we want it to be?”

“We think: if we had to take back one of our cars at the end of its life, how would we want it to be?”

JLR engineers seek the advice of car recyclers to ensure their vehicles are 85% recoverable, as mandated by the current EU directive on end-of-life vehicles.

As well as a change in public perception of the company, Garrett strives to bring about a shift of perspective inside it too. He has set up the first long-term sustainability strategy for JLR, which will shape the future of the organisation for the next six years.

He says: “We wanted it to be something actionable, very goal-driven. 2020 was not too far away for me not to worry about.”

The strategy was drafted by studying data from the organis-ation that establishes benchmark levels and by looking at ideas put forward by competitors, such as German car makers, as well as considering best practices from other sectors, for example Marks & Spencer or Unilever. The plan includes the objective of achieving ‘zero waste’ by the end of the decade.

Garrett explains that this does not mean eliminating all waste or reducing landfill to zero - considering that to be impossible - but to drive a culture change within the company, with a vision of all waste materials being seen as a resource to reuse or recycle. He says JLR has embraced the circular economy concept.

In 2008 the company launched an initiative, dubbed REALCAR (REcycled ALuminium CAR), with aluminium supplier Novelis and the support of the Government’s Technology Strategy Board. As part of the scheme, Novelis takes back the off-cuts from JLR’s stamping processes and recycles them into secondary metal sheets, which are then supplied to the car maker.

The first phase of the project targeted a 50% recycled aluminium content in JLR cars. The second phase, which has now been rolled out, aims at increasing the recycled content to 75% across the plant by adding post-consumer aluminium such as food and drink packaging.

This initiative is not only a green opportunity: “There is serious money to be had on that as well,” says Garrett, who adds that sustainability has also become a selling point because customers are now concerned about issues such as fuel efficiency.

And it also contributes to producing better cars, as Garrett explains with a spark in his eyes: “I drive a [Jaguar] XJ. I got up to 57 miles per gallon in that car and the aluminium body has a great impact on that. Compared with the next model down, the XF [which has a steel body], it drives better, you can accelerate quicker and it’s better on cornering.

“It’s not light-weighting just for fuel efficiency - it makes the car faster, it’s stiffer and in a collision is actually stronger.”

But while Garrett proudly celebrates the advantages of the closed-loop process for aluminium, he expresses caution when talking about adopting a similar model for other components, such as plastics.

“We are in the premium end of the market,” he says. “You want top quality plastics in the interior. This does not mean you cannot have plastics with a recycled content in bumpers or headlining.”

At the moment, recycled polymers available on the market are not considered to have the right balance of price and quality for JLR to consider producing a 100% recycled plastics car. “[Recycled material] has to compete on quality, time and cost, and then the environment [impact] can come as a differential.”

However, JLR wants to find ways to replicate the model of REALCAR with other input materials. In the next conference with its top 50 suppliers, JLR
will share the aluminium closed-loop example and seek ideas for its expansion, launching a sort of “innovation challenge”, according to Garrett.

JLR, which is owned by India’s Tata Motors, is now on a growth path after some turbulent years at the height of the global financial crises. In 2013, it sold more than 425,000 vehicles, more than ever before.

As part of an expansion programme it will open a £500m plant in Wolverhampton in the autumn that will allow the company to manufacture its own engines for the first time. The plant will also provide JLR with the option of introducing engine remanufacturing later on, a move that Garrett describes as a “logical extension”.

Let’s hope that JLR will continue to expand its work on closed-loop manufacturing models, inspiring a nation and its leaders. As prime minister David Cameron said during a recent visit to the Wolverhampton plant: “It makes my spirits soar when I see such an exciting future for British manufacturing.”

Jonathan Garrett’s CV

Garret holds a BSc in environmental sciences from the University of Southampton and a MSc European environmental policy and regulation from Lancaster University.

He worked as a director of health, safety and environment for Smiths Group and RHM before assuming his first role as head of corporate responsibility at Brett Group.

He became group head of sustainability at Balfour Beatty in 2008 and moved to JLR in June 2012.

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