ISO Focus+: At the ISO President’s Forum on the Future of Vehicles in Geneva, you spoke to industry leaders about the real issues of concern to automotive transport. Can you expand on this ?

Mikhail Gorbachev: The problems of automotive transport have long since ceased to be purely technical or economic. These problems encompass nearly everything that worries us in today’s world.

Leaders in the automotive industry are now demonstrating greater understanding than simply developing the sector in a linear manner, i.e. increasing productivity and developing new markets – that may lead to a dead end.

Even as far back as 1992, when meeting with the former US Secretary of State, George Shultz, and a group of scholars at Stanford University, I asked the following question : from the standpoint of resources and the environment : “ Would it be acceptable if developing nations, with their billions of people, copy the West’s current development trajectory of increasing production and consumption ? Would our planet be able to withstand such a burden ? ”

Today, we are calling the current situation a crisis of the entire economic model based on maximum profits and hyper-consumption. It has become even clearer that the possibility I spoke about at Stanford is inadmissible.

Naturally, the current model cannot simply be liquidated or changed overnight. However, we must emphatically seek new approaches, which will serve to form an alternative model, and the automotive sector can play an important role in this.

Today, 95 % of cars run on oil. In 20 years, there has not been any significant reduction in average fuel consumption. I know that in the automotive industry, there is an ongoing search for technical solutions to make cars lighter, more aerodynamic and more economical, and to make the factories producing them more compact and cleaner. This is very important.

ISO Focus+: To what extent has the automotive industry evolved to meet today’s needs and how must it better serve its growing customer base ?

Mikhail Gorbachev: If you look ahead, you must take into account that society and the environment will put increasing pressure on the automotive culture itself. After all, the world should not be held hostage by the automobile. Over the course of the 20th century, the automobile has crowded out people, and we are witnessing a situation where cars are not serving people so much as people are serving cars. And if we already have one billion cars in the world today, then I do not think we should hasten the production of a second billion.

Naturally, we are not trying to put everyone on trams or bicycles in the immediate future, but in my view there is a clear movement in this direction and the automotive industry must not fear this. The demand for their products will be maintained in a new framework and under different conditions, and we must prepare for the future, because whether we like it or not, it will come.

ISO Focus+: What is the business case for investing in socially and environmentally responsible actions that may not be immediately beneficial to productivity or the bottom line or economic success in a competitive market ?

Mikhail Gorbachev: The technical and human potential concentrated in the automotive industry is enormous, and if we relate it to modern trends and social needs, it can be used to work profitably and responsibly. There was a time when the industry was among the first to demonstrate social accountability through collective agreements with unions, medical and social programmes, etc., and it only benefited from this. Now, it is time to demonstrate environmental responsibility. Ultimately, everyone will benefit from this.

Demonstrate this example to others. After all, we are in a very serious situation. The commitments made by states to fight poverty and underdevelopment (the UN Millennium Goals), as well as their environmental commitments, are being fulfilled very slowly, and sometimes exist only on paper.

ISO Focus+: Can you describe the use made by car makers of environmentally friendly processes and products – how can political leaders help ?

Mikhail Gorbachev: The adoption of alternative and renewable energy sources is progressing very slowly. The reason for this is that, until now, we have not found the mechanisms to stimulate transferring to these sources of energy. However, the main cause is a lack of political will. Here, political leaders must show some accountability. You probably know that after stepping down from my post as President, I became involved in a number of projects and initiatives and I have been able to achieve a great deal.

One example is the Gorbachev Foundation, which has become a respected centre for independent political and socio-economic research and is home to archives and other materials on the history of perestroika (the restructuring of the Soviet political and economic system). Another is the New Policy Forum as well as the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, which has pioneered major initiatives concerning security and development problems.

Yet another is the Man Who Changed the World Prize, where we celebrate people giving unique input into creating a new world with greater justice and stability.

I am also involved in philanthropic projects, particularly in the fight against childhood leukaemia, which have greatly reduced mortality from this disease in Russia.

Finally, the project I consider most important is Green Cross International. I am the president and founder of this environmental organization. There are many different reasons for this, which developed over the course of my entire life.

ISO Focus+: What is the strategic value of International Standards to the automotive sector ?

Mikhail Gorbachev: Clearly, with more than a billion estimated road vehicles in use worldwide, if the automotive sector uses state-of-the-art standards for aspects such as safety, performance, impact on the environment, and requirements for supply chain partners, this can have an enormous impact on all three dimensions of sustainable development – social, environmental and economic. The importance of this challenge is reflected by ISO’s response.

Out of a current total of more than 19 000 ISO International Standards for almost all sectors of business and technology, more than 1 000 have been developed for road vehicles and related technologies, such as intelligent transport systems.