Sustainability in the Multinational Automobile Industry: OUR Scholars project at Purdue University

Compared to the national average, an astounding 450%+ of the workforce is employed in the multinational automobile organization (MAO) industry in the state of Indiana, where Toyota, Honda, and Subaru are collaborating with regional tier-one supply chain organizations on R&D and innovations.  Indiana’s moniker as the “Crossroads of America” reflects its numerous interstates and proximate location to about 60% of the entire US population in less than a day’s drive.  The productivity and innovations of these MAOs constitute a healthy rivalry by which their competitiveness enhances the quality of parts produced by tier-one supply chain component vendors.  As a result, all three factories truly advance the economic well-being while raising the quality of life across the state. 

Published lists ranking total global annual vehicles manufactured are commonplace, and supremacy in automobile production has long been an indicator of organizational vigor in them.  Of course, the production of these vehicles is continually developed with new regulations in mind, from air-bag safety to dashboard maintenance warnings to tailpipe emissions guidelines.  Emissions regulations have become stricter due to urban smog and other air quality issues over past decades, and while production of vehicles continues at  breakneck pace, the focus has not been on pollution emitted during the actual manufacture of those automobiles.  As such, this study centers around a developing holistic “whole-life carbon emissions” approach to assessing vehicle emissions.  This is a new quantitative analysis of vehicle emissions that includes the production of the vehicle itself as well as the disposal of the vehicle, in addition to the traditional emissions from tailpipes. 

The Purdue University OUR Scholars project, a 1-credit research course delivered during the 2023-2024 academic year, aims to engage undergraduate students in original research.  In this case, three students majoring in Supply Chain Sales and Engineering Technology at the Purdue Polytechnic Institute are working on a research project entitled “Sustainability in the Multinational Automobile Industry”.  For this project, the students have been mining and organizing quantitative data related to the pollution emitted during the production of vehicles in MAO factories in Indiana, USA, in efforts to provide insight about while-life carbon emissions.

Students are researching total on-site and off-site disposal or release of chemicals (total pollution rates) from the Honda, Toyota, and Subaru factories via the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) (EnviroEPA, 2023).  The TRI is a publicly-available EPA database containing information on the release of various toxic chemicals (Antisdel, 2017) during the manufacturing process.

The EPA graciously developed a TRI data-mining workshop for the students based on the scope of their research, successfully delivered by TRI Program Communications Lead Sarah Swenson.  Sarah contributed greatly to the understanding and usefulness of the research, and Purdue University appreciates the helpfulness of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, for this project.

EPA Workshop for Purdue University students (Clockwise, Sarah Swenson, TRI Program Communications Lead, Joel Jarrett Double majoring in Industrial Engineering Technology, Supply Chain & Sales Engineering Technology, ‘24, Joon Kang, Supply Chain & Sales Engineering Technology, ‘25, Ben Traylor, Supply Chain & Sales Engineering Technology, ‘23