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Dissecting Mobility’s Impact: The Environment

To understand mobility’s sustainable development, experts look to the UN’s ESG framework, which examines sustainable impact based on its relationship to environmental, social and governmental factors.

Mobility’s impact on the environment is often dissected first, as its effects are very palpable. We’re all faced with the consequences of a changing climate on a daily basis – when we’re walking our dog on a tiny strip of a sidewalk next to a loud, busy street, when we go for a jog to get some “fresh air” and end up having to brush a thick layer of dust off our Nikes afterwards, or even when we reluctantly press play on the third podcast in a row while stuck in an hour-long traffic jam. These occurrences might still be mere annoyances to most of us, but when you put the real environmental impact of mobility in numbers, the results are shocking. 

Mobility‘s Footprint

Transport is accountable for over 16% of the world’s GHG and almost a quarter of Europe’s emissions. In 2019, transport in Europe emitted 1103 megatons of CO2. To offset that, we need to grow 165 million trees for ten years. 

CO2-polluted air causes tremendous health issues. In Europe alone, 1 out of 8 deaths are caused by polluted air. (Poor air quality causes strokes, lung cancer, asthma and heart disease.) A total of 630,000 premature deaths – almost the entire population of Las Vegas – were attributable to environmental factors in Europe in 2012, and if you’ve ever been to the streets of Delhi, Jakarta or Mexico City, you can imagine how their pollution problems dwarf those in Europe.

Breathing in isn’t the only way that our bodies can be harmed by pollution. Noise distractions cause another sizable chunk of our health issues. Noise is responsible for 72,000 hospital admissions and 16,600 premature deaths every year in Europe alone. Urbanites may think they’re used to high noise levels, but sometimes visualizing the damage done to our ears can help put it into perspective: This real-time noise map of Berlin points out the different noise levels across the city. Noise doesn’t only affect humans, either – all types of animals suffer from the effects of man-made noise. LIDO, the Listen to the Deep Ocean Environment project, is currently analyzing the effects of underwater noise on marine fauna. 

The negative effects of polluted air, emissions and noise are the most well-established examples of mobility’s impact on the environment. After all, they’re exactly the issues the industry is trying to help solve by providing viable alternatives to private cars.

E-Cars to the Rescue?

One such alternative – and one frequently promoted as being sustainable – is making the switch from gas-powered to battery-powered vehicles. It’s true that EVs do check a lot of the sustainable mobility boxes: they’re cleaner, quieter and generally more eco-friendly than traditional cars. However, the reality is that e-cars and EVs in general have their own sustainability issues to deal with. For example:

  1. Pollution isn’t only caused by engines: dust from car breaks is as harmful to our immune system as diesel fumes.

  2. Waste management is a real problem: batteries pose a serious challenge to the world’s (ill-equipped) recycling infrastructure. The one million EVs sold around the world in 2017 will eventually create 250,000 tons of battery pack waste.

  3. Manufacturing batteries is expensive: producing and transporting lithium-ion batteries is costly and often inefficient to boot.

  4. Charging infrastructure is lacking: if we expect e-powered cars to truly replace all the gas-powered cars on the roads, charging station infrastructure will have to expand massively.

So while electric vehicles are definitely laying the groundwork for getting us closer to a fossil-free future on a global scale, they don’t necessarily tackle other environmental issues (and in some cases, they might even worsen them). Although e-cars don’t run on expendable resources, purchasing and driving a privately owned e-car doesn’t help to reduce the number of cars on the streets, which is still the ultimate goal of Mobility-as-a-Service. E-cars may simply not reduce mobility’s impact on the environment as much as they should.

Understanding the Big Picture

The “E” in ESGs often gets the most attention when discussing reducing urban car-centricity. After all, the climate crisis is an acute issue plaguing our modern world. The mobility industry has a huge role to play in either mitigating or unwittingly aggravating climate concerns. Nevertheless, by unintentionally ignoring social and governmental factors, we’re forgetting the big picture. 

As mobility is concerned with the movement of people, rather than goods, it’s distinctly different from the transportation industry. Mobility is innately social. And where there are people, there is also governance: creating sustainable MaaS solutions that work for the benefit of everyone couldn’t be remotely viable without governmental policy and involvement. All three criteria of the ESG framework are clearly intertwined with each other.

Tune in to our blog and social channels in the next couple of weeks as we explore the “S” and “G” of the ESGs in detail! Next time, we’ll be discussing the social factor. Because it’s people, after all, who are at the heart of every successful MaaS network.

Learn more about how Trafi is empowering cities with MaaS.


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