Trek, one of many world’s largest bicycle manufacturers, not too long ago launched its sustainability report for 2021. Remarkably, this seems to be the primary time a significant bike firm has printed such a doc.
Whereas another producers make broad sustainability pledges or tout their success in decreasing packaging waste, Trek’s report provides an formidable array of concrete environmental commitments and a complete evaluation of the carbon footprint of its bikes.
This fills in an essential hole in information. However many corporations in different sectors have been releasing such environmental affect assessments for years. Why is that this the primary time we’re seeing such a report from a significant bicycle firm, particularly provided that biking is so broadly touted as inexperienced?
That notion is an enormous a part of the reply. Bike producers have had a free trip when it comes to monitoring their very own environmental impacts largely due to the belief that biking is inherently environmentally pleasant.
To make sure, biking is without doubt one of the least environmentally impactful types of transportation. Trek mentions this in its report, claiming, “For those who trip about 430 miles you’ll have in any other case pushed, you’ve saved the carbon equal of what it took to make your bike.” And Trek is true: as compared with automobiles there isn’t a contest.
An older and broadly cited determine (primarily based on a Dutch examine and utilized by the European Biking Federation) for the manufacturing footprint of bicycles is 96kg of carbon dioxide equal (CO2e). In accordance with Trek, the manufacturing of a primary mannequin of its bestselling bike – an entry-level mountain bike – emits about 100kg of CO2e.
The report offers a brand new determine for e-bikes. Whereas the ECF estimates a producing carbon footprint of 134kg, Trek’s figures present that electrifying any bike provides about 65kg of CO2e to manufacturing emissions. Making a primary commuter e-bike would subsequently produce about 165kg of CO2e.
However in contrast with the manufacturing affect of a automotive, the variations between a standard bike and an electrical one are marginal. Making a small hatchback produces about 5.5 tonnes of CO2e. An electrical model provides one other 2-4 tonnes owing to the battery and electrical motor. And manufacturing an SUV produces as much as 13 tonnes.
A lifecycle evaluation makes the disparities even starker. Assuming a lifetime journey of 19,200km, a bicycle’s emissions come out at about 25-35g CO2e/km (relying on meals footprint, which will be extremely variable). With Trek’s up to date determine and assuming an EU common electrical energy combine, e-bikes are available in at 21-25g CO2e/km (sure, e-bikes will be much less carbon intensive than typical bikes, assuming the rider is doing much less work).
A typical automotive produces about 220g CO2e/km over 180,000 lifetime kilometres. Electrical autos are higher, averaging about 160g CO2e/km (relying on a rustic’s electrical energy emissions). There’s little information on the lifecycles of e-scooters, however an estimate of a typical case in Germany is about the identical as an electrical automotive, at 165g CO2e/km.
Nevertheless you narrow it, in contrast with different types of transportation, bikes have a a lot smaller carbon footprint. However does such a comparability at all times make sense? Along with its entry-level mountain bike, Trek offers footprints for full-suspension mountain bikes, carbon-fibre electrical mountain bikes, and its top-of-the-line aero street bikes.
Whereas it markets its bikes as taking part in a important position in decarbonising transportation programs, loads of these fashions aren’t supposed as options to automobiles. Actually, a few of them is likely to be pushed to the place the place they’re used.
That is the problem: in some circumstances, bikes aren’t transportation options in any respect. They’re a way of recreation, even a type of luxurious items. After all, many individuals do use bikes for on a regular basis transport. However in addition to evaluating bikes to automobiles, it may be illuminating to match one bike to a different.
Trek in contrast the aluminium and carbon-fibre variations of its bikes and persistently discovered that making the latter produces almost 3 times the emissions. The identical goes for wheels.
The report additionally reveals that every technological “development” that’s added to a motorcycle – carbon wheels, digital shifting, the addition of a motor – comes with an environmental value. This culminates in a £10,000 electrical mountain bike with a 320kg manufacturing carbon footprint.
Some would possibly say that in relative phrases even essentially the most extravagant bike has a low carbon footprint. A car-free one who rides their carbon-fibre street bike for enjoyable on the weekend may have a a lot decrease private footprint than an individual who drives their automotive out of town to go mountain climbing. That is what makes one-to-one comparisons troublesome.
The larger image makes issues much more difficult. A single article of clothes, for instance, has a tiny carbon footprint. However you additionally want to think about the broader system of clothes manufacturing, one which will depend on exploited labour, a fast-fashion ethos and destroying unsold items.
From this angle, the bicycle trade doesn’t look that totally different. It’s constructed round a yearly manufacturing cycle, with “new” fashions typically amounting to little greater than a unique color of paint. It makes use of a technique of pressured obsolescence; requirements are routinely up to date, making it exhausting to search out substitute components for older bikes. A mannequin that was, after all, perfected by the automotive trade.
There are a lot of smaller bicycle corporations that buck this development, which can be centered on perfecting a restricted vary of sturdy merchandise. However sadly they make up solely a small phase of the biking trade.
The local weather disaster is appropriately understood as a systemic drawback. Our private transportation emissions, making up a sixth of complete emissions in Europe, stem from a system primarily based on the automotive. Bicycle producers will play an important position in altering this. However merely changing most automobiles with bikes isn’t sufficient.
Attaining the required stage of decarbonisation – that’s, full decarbonisation – requires rethinking all of our socio-technical programs: an vitality system primarily based on fossil fuels; a producing system primarily based on abroad labour and international delivery; a meals system primarily based on energy-intensive meat manufacturing; and an financial system primarily based on relentless consumption and development.
Bicycle corporations, regardless of making a helpful product, are nonetheless absolutely entrenched in these different programs. To Trek’s credit score, maintaining observe of its environmental impacts is a important first step to understanding its position in them, and it’s doing greater than most when it comes to making modifications to its manufacturing practices. Hopefully extra corporations observe go well with. However pursuing sustainability by accounting for the carbon emissions of a £10,000 mountain bike appears to overlook the forest for the bushes.
Bernhard Isopp is a lecturer and researcher within the division of science, expertise and society on the Technical College of Munich, the place he works on questions of sustainable mobility.