In vehicle repairs, damage is traditionally estimated in euros. The environmental impact of the repair methods used is not taken into account as yet. This is about to change, as in the Eco Repair Score®, Expertisebureau Vonck and VITO are launching a quantitative measuring tool that enables policymakers, repairers, insurers, leasing companies and automotive experts to accurately define and achieve their environmental goals. This benchmark has been developed in part with the scientific support of VITO (Flemish Institute for Technological Research), which has considerable expertise in sustainability assessments.
Each year, an estimated one million vehicle repairs are carried out in Belgium, around half of which are reported to insurance companies. For repairs, the damage and everything involved in the repair, such as parts and products, is budgeted purely from a financial angle - in hard cash.
The environmental impact involved in damage repairs cannot be underestimated.
However, this purely financial assessment fails to recognise another important cost that is not borne by the party at fault, but by the environment. “And that cost should not to be underestimated,” comments Wout Van Den Abbeele at Expertisebureau Vonck, one of the main players on the Belgian vehicle loss assessment market. “The environmental impact is highly dependent on the repair methods used, the materials present, products, etc. In addition, the logistics behind the repair also play a major part. How and from where are parts brought in? What kind of travel and therefore transport emissions are involved? Does the vehicle to be repaired itself need to be taken to and from the repair shop?”
We not only look at the difference between replacement and repair, but also identify the origin of parts.
The main sources of environmental impact are known, but how sizeable are they? And how much of a part do they play in the overall environmental burden of a vehicle repair? To gain insight into this, the Eco Repair Score® calls on VITO, which has a wealth of expertise in assessing and monitoring the environmental impact of products and processes, including circular strategies such as repair and recycling, and uses scientifically underpinned methods such as life cycle analysis. VITO's experts fed all relevant aspects of a vehicle repair into a scientific model that provides objective numerical data. The output is a quantitative benchmark that ties a concrete score to the environmental impact of a vehicle repair.
The environmental impact is thoroughly determined. “We not only look at the difference between replacement and repair (which usually turns out to be the most environmentally friendly approach), but also map the provenance of parts,” Van Den Abbeele explains. “Are they brought in from Germany or from South Korea? And in what kind of packaging?” But we also look at more than just the parts. “We also factor in the element of waste generated in these processes, along with the level of energy and water consumption and the repairer's replacement vehicle.”
In recent months, Expertisebureau Vonck and VITO have been testing a proof of concept of the model, based on data from parts used in the BMW 3 series. “Based on the data provided, we examined where the greatest opportunities for environmental impact reduction lie,” comments VITO’s Philip Marynissen. For one thing, the Eco Repair Score® not only gives an indication of the environmental impact, it also provides information on opportunities to drive down this impact.
At a later stage, the scientific model will also calculate the environmental impact of repairs using any of the hundreds of thousands of car parts from the last 15 years.
This so-called Eco Repair Score® was introduced in early 2021 to address the need to reduce the environmental impact of vehicle repairs in a measurable manner. Anyone looking to make efforts to reduce the environmental impact before our model had no quantitative benchmarks to go by, because they simply did not exist.
In the first stage, the Eco Repair Score® is determined using a model that incorporates repair data for the thirty most frequently damaged parts in collisions. “In the next stage, we will link the model to databases that contain all the parts of all vehicles from the last 12 to 15 years,” Marynissen goes on to explain. “This involves hundreds of thousands of parts.” Thanks to VITO's expertise, the model is able to calculate a reliable environmental impact score setting out from all these data.
The Eco Repair Score® provides useful information for all players on the vehicle repair market, not least for insurers and leasing companies with their own networks of authorised repairers. “This enables them to take the environmental score into account when quoting a repair in addition to the elements of cost, quality and service,” says Van Den Abbeele. “In doing so, they are able to encourage repairers to assess and reduce their environmental impact.”
The Eco Repair Score® will therefore not only be used for individual repairs, but also for an Eco Repair Scan of entire portfolios and to create an Eco Repair Index for the automotive sector as a whole.
Insurers and leasing companies can use the Eco Repair Score® to encourage repairers to start reducing their environmental impact.
A lower environmental impact in the repair industry can be achieved by way of circular strategies. There are environmental benefits to be had each time a part is repaired and not immediately replaced with a new one. Marynissen: “Replacing a part with limited damage in its entirety is usually not a good idea.” Yet in recent decades, the market has moved more towards replacement than repair. “This is easier, of course. You need less qualified staff, for starters,” says Van Den Abbeele. “Repairs do require specific skills,” Marynissen concurs. “This project again demonstrates the need to continue to upskill our workforce in order to continue to stand out as a region that has the know-how and skills needed to become more circular. We know that employment growth in the circular economy is stronger than in the regular economy. Technicians who are able to carry out high-value repairs, such as ‘spot repairs’ on vehicles, are expected to be increasingly sought after.”
Repairs require more specific skills than replacements, which is why we need to continue to upskill our people in order to take a more circular approach to what we do.
Over the months ahead, the Eco Repair Score® will be tested as part of a pilot scheme we are running in association with insurers. The main thing is then to further scale up the model behind the score and market it as a true 'eco-label' for vehicle repairs - also with a view to a future roll-out on a European scale.
The Eco Repair Index gives policymakers the tool that has been missing in terms of the environmental impact of vehicle repairs, which they can use to design their policies to reduce this environmental impact.
In the case of VITO, in turn the expertise brought to the table cannot be separated from other activities that determine the environmental impact of vehicles, such as the choice of materials when they are designed, emission levels during use and dismantling at end-of-life. This is also why VITO was recently involved in the Circular Cars Initiative, a project of the World Economy Forum to make the automotive sector more sustainable and to bring the industry in line with the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement.