How Volvo Australia built a sustainable seawall in a bid to boost the brand and double sales

Volvo's Living Seawall project aims to engage environmentally focused consumers with the brand

Volvo has collaborated on an innovative sustainability project in a bid to help the premium car brand double its sales in Australia’s competitive automotive market by 2020.

Volvo Car Australia managing director Nick Connor tells The Drum the brand aims to sell 10,000 units by 2020 and is looking to engage with environmentally conscious consumers to achieve this goal.

“Australia is an incredibly competitive market, which makes it rather exciting from my perspective,” says Connor. “It’s one of the most competitive car markets in the world.”

“Volvo has a relatively small market share, which means we have to behave differently from the other automotive brands in order to get noticed and that excites me. In fact, we’re aiming to sell 10,000 units by 2020, which is more than double what we sold in 2017.”

In a bid to get noticed, Volvo has joined forces with Sydney Institute of Marine Sciences (SIMs), Reef Design Lab and its agency WhiteGrey to create a project which aims to fight plastic pollution in the ocean. The ‘Living Seawall’ project has seen the brand embed specially designed concrete tiles which are reinforced with 100% recycled plastic fibres along the walls of Sydney Harbour.

The tiles aim to mimic the root structure of mangrove trees that were once prolific in the area and encourage the growth and colonisation of organisms, which will filter pollutants, particles and heavy metals from the water in a bid to help keep the Harbour and ocean clean.

“One garbage truck of plastic enters the ocean every minute, and 50% of Sydney’s shoreline is artificial. Rich, vibrant habitats have been replaced with seawalls and degraded by plastic pollution,” says Connor.

“The Volvo Living Seawall is about challenging convention. It’s taking an existing and necessary structure like the seawall and enhancing it using design and engineering to make it better.

“There’s a Swedish word, omtanke, that means ‘caring’ and ‘consideration’. But it also means ‘to think again.’ I think that really captures what we’re trying to achieve with the Living Wall, and actually, it captures Volvo’s whole approach to sustainability in general. We’re always trying to rethink, reinvent, redesign for the better.”

“Scientists agree that ‘cleaning up’ plastic from the ocean would create more problems than it would solve. Tearing down seawalls isn’t feasible either. Protecting the marine environment requires modern, divergent thinking.

"At Volvo this our entire approach to problem-solving. First, we seek to understand, and then we design/make/build. It’s a conscious approach to solving problems that aim to make our lives easier and our world better," says Connor.

Connor says the project fits neatly within Volvo’s overarching brand philosophy which combines innovation and sustainability. The company is involved in a number of UN initiatives including its role as a founding member of the UN Global Compact, which aims to implement universal sustainability principles.

Volvo has committed to putting electric motors into every new car launched from 2019 onwards and has pledged to remove single-use plastics from all its offices, canteens and events globally by the end of 2019 and will replace these with sustainable alternatives.

The company is also an active supporter of the UN Environment Clean Seas campaign and each year it encourages its local markets to launch activities around World Environment Day, which was the driver behind the ‘Living Seawall’ project.

“Every year, Volvo Cars encourage their local markets to participate in a beach clean-up on World Environment Day. This year was focused on ocean plastic pollution. We took this one step further and worked with our creative agency WhiteGrey to make this bigger and more relevant than just one day.”

Connor says the idea was to “give plastic a purpose’ by helping to recreate the natural ocean environment that has been lost to urban sprawl. It is also an opportunity to showcase the brand’s commitment to the environment in a bid to engage with consumers looking for brand’s that demonstrate purpose.

“This is becoming increasingly important for a number of buyers and we see this across a whole range of categories not only automotive. People want to know where the product they’re thinking of buying comes from and how it’s been made.

“At Volvo, we have bold and ambitious plans for the future. In fact, we were the first major auto company to commit to electric-power with our commitment to having 50% of all our sales all-electric, and carbon neutral operations by 2025.

“Even beyond our plans, it’s worth noting that luxury buying habits have changed dramatically in recent times, it’s no longer just about a badge and the status it brings. Instead, for a lot of buyers, it’s what sits behind the badge and the ethos and DNA of the brand that’s more important. Volvo’s purpose-driven philosophy and human-centric approach to everything is something we are proud of and appeals to those who buy our cars,” says Connor.

Connor says the project is not just a campaign with the brand planning to invest in its longevity and ongoing research. The project is already gaining attention from Volvo teams in other markets and Connor says the brand is in initial discussions to roll out Living Seawalls in other cities around the world.

“This is one of the largest living seawalls in the world and will be an important tool for research, as well as a mechanism for managing marine urban infrastructure. We are investing in ongoing research to monitor the water quality, marine life habitation, and overall effectiveness of the seawall in Sydney Harbour.”

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