INSIDE TRACK: Meet the man in charge of putting Volvo CE’s energy-reduction measures into practice
by Cathy Smith
As a young teenager in his garage at home in Helsingborg in the far south of Sweden Johan Wollin realized just how much he liked getting his hands dirty. At the age of 14, Wollin was pulling apart mopeds and motorbikes trying to work out how to make them go faster. “At one point, I had three motorbikes but was still too young to have a license,” he remembers.
Meeting him in smart suit and tie it is hard to imagine the teenager in an oil-stained T-shirt. Currently responsible for, among other things, environmental care within Volvo Construction Equipment’s factories, Wollin says it was a natural progression to study mechanical engineering at university. He began his studies in Trollhätten in Sweden – the home of Saab – before moving, in 1996, to Coventry in the UK, birthplace of the British car industry, which he says he loved.
“You could feel the really strong automotive heritage in Coventry with Jaguar and Rover just down the road and all the old names everywhere such as Singer Motors and Triumph.”
He laughs when he remembers how as a student in the UK he bought, not a British car, but a second-hand Volvo 440 from a farmer. “I think he must have used it for transporting animals. It never stopped smelling bad – I was still finding straw under the seats when I sold it ten years later,” he says.
That faithful car took him back to Gothenburg in 2000 to work for Volvo Cars as an engine development engineer.
Five years in Sweden were followed by time in China and France working for Autoliv, the Swedish specialists in automotive safety systems, and then a spell at Toyota in Brussels.
In 2012, Wollin returned to his roots and joined Volvo CE, based in Brussels. He now has a number of titles: Global Director Industrial/Manufacturing Engineering as well as Global Director Health & Safety and Environmental Care.
It is the environmental part of his job which links him to his Coventry days where his PhD focused on improving the airflow inside catalytic converters – Wollin’s first foray into environmental issues and something he has related to ever since.
“If we go above two degrees of global warming it will have profound consequences for a lot of people in the world, so we need to do our part in making sure that doesn’t happen,” he says.
Wollin is particularly proud of Volvo’s partnership with the World Wide Fund for Nature’s Climate Savers challenge: “I think Volvo does a very good job in terms of environmental care; we are true to our core values and it doesn’t feel like a marketing gimmick.”
Wollin is leading a major project within Volvo CE to improve energy efficiency by, among other things, reducing idle electricity use – that is electricity consumed in factory ‘down’ times such as evenings and weekends.
“It is just a matter of turning things off and of changing behavior and culture. When you leave your home you do not leave your TV on,” he says. “In our plants even if you cannot turn some machines off completely you can turn the hydraulic system off, for instance, and just leave a control system up and running.”
With WWF auditing the results of the initiative, Wollin says it has really caused Volvo CE to “raise its game”. Some Volvo plants were effectively wasting 40% of their electricity by leaving appliances and machines switched on. The target is less than 15% relative idle electricity use – some of the eight biggest plants around the world being monitored have already surpassed that.
Wollin highlights South Korea and Brazil for doing “a fantastic job” with values well below 10%. Looking at a graph of electricity use at the Volvo CE plant in South Korea, he points to a significant dip in the middle of the day.
“That’s when they are switching off the lights while they go for lunch. These guys have really committed to this.”
And of course it makes good business sense. This is a self-funding strategy – savings on electricity are expected to be in the region of US$1 million a year which can then be reinvested in the second phase of the Climate Savers initiative which is to reduce energy use in production. The ‘Holy Grail’ is to achieve CO2 neutrality in all Volvo CE plants.
Johan Wollin is up for the challenge and quotes former Volvo President and CEO Pehr G. Gyllenhammar: “As he said in 1972, when it comes to managing climate change we are part of the problem – but we are also part of the solution.”