This is The Climate Win, the most positive sustainability news around the world every week.
Ride-hailing company Lyft made big news when it pledged to become carbon neutral back in 2018 through the purchase of carbon offsets. Noticeably absent from this round of green marketing was Uber, which has been so silent on the matter that they actually declined to comment when a journalist from The Atlantic reached out following Lyft’s announcement. The world’s largest ride-hailing app broke its silence on the matter this week, announcing it would become a zero-emissions mobility platform by 2040.
Those like me are by now wary of companies that make eco-promises not set to mature until decades in the future. If we’re all still driving gas-guzzling cars in 2040, our ecosystem could look as bad as Exxon’s reputation after news broke of their environmental misleadings stretching back to 1977. And the headline of Uber’s pledge isn’t particularly noteworthy — given public sentiment for sustainability and the rapid scaling of green technologies, economic factors alone should lead us to an all-electric vehicular landscape by then. But let’s look deeper into Uber’s plan because it’s actually more nuanced than it at first appears.
In a press conference and corresponding press release, Uber CEO Dara Kharashowski laid out four primary goals for the company’s path to carbon neutrality. First, Uber will expand its “Uber Green” option that allows passengers to choose to ride in a zero-emissions vehicle. Second, the company will invest $800 million by 2025 to assist its drivers in a transition to EVs. It also released its first Climate Assessment and Performance Report and pledged more information to come in the future, in an effort to increase its transparency.
“Instead of going back to business as usual, Uber is taking this moment as an opportunity to reduce our environmental impact,” Kharashowski said in the release. “It’s our responsibility as the largest mobility platform in the world to more aggressively tackle the challenge of climate change.”
What’s most exciting for travelers and commuters is the final pillar of Uber’s plan: It will invest more in public transit and micro-mobility solutions, though an amount was not specified. Uber has long been accused of taking riders away from public transit and has sought to alleviate concerns in the past through efforts to work alongside transit systems, such as allowing riders to purchase tickets for transit through its app in some cities.
Micro-mobility itself is a huge issue. The term generally refers to transit options designed to get passengers across small distances, such as the electric scooters you see on city sidewalks. These transit options are intended to solve the “first mile, last mile” problem, which refers to getting a person from their home, office, or another place of origin to or from a public transit station that is just outside of walking distance, without them having to drive a personal vehicle.
Growth in a symbiotic relationship between Uber and public transit could do wonders for both passengers and struggling public transit systems. For example, Uber itself could become a bigger player in the first mile, last mile struggle if passengers increasingly used its app to get themselves from their home or office to a nearby train station instead of taking an Uber all the way to their destination. From Uber’s perspective, a better relationship between the two systems undoubtedly hopes to further that.
Hailing an Uber will never be as eco-friendly as bicycling or walking to the bus station. However, a nuanced approach to micro-mobility and public transit that gives commuters a variety of options keeps cars off the road. Along with giving commuters options, this works well with plans in place in cities across the globe to keep more streets open to non-vehicular traffic.
“We’ll seek to build the most efficient, decarbonized, and multimodal platform in the world for on-demand mobility,” Kharashowski said. “While we’re not the first to set ambitious goals in transitioning to EVs, we intend to be the first to make it happen.”
More climate wins
Unilever, the world’s largest producer of soap, pledged this week that it would eliminate fossil fuels in all of its cleaning products by 2030. You might not have even realized that your laundry detergent has fossil fuels in it, but Unilever is spending $1 billion to clean it up. The move will impact most western households, as the company produces such well-known brands as Surf laundry detergent and Dove.
Thirty-five major cities worldwide have partnered to provide clean air to residents. Bogotá and Rio de Janeiro joined this week, according to a report in Smart Cities World. The C40 Clean Air Cities Declaration aims to get cities in line with World Health Organization standards for particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and sulphur dioxide and to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement. US cities onboard include New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, among others.
In an about-face for the ages, Poland — the largest producer of coal in the European Union — will accelerate plans to phase out coal, Reuters reported this week. The only EU country that had not pledged climate neutrality by 2050 just announced it will invest billions of dollars in developing offshore wind and nuclear power. The move, which Poland says will create 300,000 jobs, is at least partly the result of the EU’s strict climate taxing and policies that are making coal an increasingly non-viable economic proposition.