Uber’s new carbon footprint feature masks the dark truth about ridesharing

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi speaks at the 2021 Concordia Annual Summit in New York City. Leigh Vogel – Getty Images for Concordia Summit

Uber has announced a new app feature that gives passengers facts and figures about the carbon emissions they reduce when they choose drivers with electric or hybrid vehicles.

The new feature shows riders an estimate of the emissions they will save when riding Uber Comfort Electric or Uber Green, hybrid or electric vehicles, by calculating the carbon savings compared to trips of the same distance via UberX or Uber Comfort.

Environmentally, ride sharing can have mixed effects, but it has been one of the more climate-conscious modes of travel for people seeking a balance between private and public transportation.

Launched in 2009, Uber popularized ride-sharing platforms around the world with benefits like better transportation availability in remote areas and, as most people who’ve missed the morning train to work can attest: convenience .

According to Yahoo News, Uber operates about 60,000 electric vehicles every month, and in North America, about one in every 20 miles is driven in an electric car.

Uber plans to switch hundreds of thousands of drivers to electric vehicles and sets a target for electric vehicles to account for 50% of miles traveled in key European cities by 2025. By 2040, the company plans to deliver 100% of its journeys to zero-emission vehicles.

But ride sharing isn’t as environmentally friendly as you might think. According to a 2020 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, ride-sharing produces about 69% more emissions than the type of travel they replace. For example, if you take an Uber to the grocery store and that car leaves to pick up another passenger and take them to another destination, the entire trip for that Uber car produces more emissions than if both people in this example use their own cars. This is known as ‘deadheading’ and generally produces around 50% more emissions than the same journey in a private car.

A few reasons help explain why ride sharing isn’t great for the environment, such as how it contributes to more traffic congestion; the platform’s tendency to displace other low-carbon modes of transport such as cycling or public transport; and the aforementioned ‘deadheading’.

On the other hand, ride sharing can help people give up car ownership (though research shows this only happens to a minimal extent) and reduce traffic congestion by splitting up trips – and it also appears to help train traffic filling and encouraging.

The concept of an individual carbon footprint has some problems, the biggest of which are accuracy and reliability. Greenhouse gas emissions are divided into three categories: direct emissions, indirect emissions and value chain emissions (also called total emissions). They are all difficult to measure, but especially Scope 3 emissions. A Harvard Law School study found that “measuring, goal setting, and managing Scope 3 is a mess,” and the “wide range of uncertainty” in these emissions can make an organization’s numbers “absurdly off.” to make.

Measuring a customer’s carbon footprint is not new to large companies, but in the past they have used these measurements to blame customers rather than motivate them to use their services. For example, Exxon Mobil came under fire for trying to shift the brunt of environmental responsibility onto individuals through carbon footprint measurement starting around 2005. The carbon footprint is rejected as a way for companies to avoid responsibility for their emissions by making the public feel responsible. for them, but reports show that just a hundred companies are responsible for the majority of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Recently, however, there has been a wave of companies trying to be more transparent about their own emissions. In 2020, Chipotle Mexican Grill announced it will measure its gas emissions across all three scopes. Mars, which produces chocolate and pet food, has been measuring its emissions since 2009. HP publishes carbon footprint reports for a list of its products, such as laptops and tablets. Yet only about 10% of companies around the world will have comprehensively measured their emissions in 2022, an increase of just 1% from 2021.

To see your carbon footprint on Uber when you use hybrid or electric vehicles, simply tap a button in the account section of the app called “estimated carbon savings.” The app keeps track of all the emissions that customers save by choosing more efficient vehicles.

According to Axios, Uber next plans to add the effects of using e-bikes, e-scooters and UberX Share rides booked through the app.

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