Last updated: July 2015



The Future of Green Transport


Cars are the apex consumer product and the point around which most modern societies are designed. In this Report we want to provide practical information to consumers about some of the choices available in the car market and some of the alternatives to car ownership. More widely, we also explore some of the ethical contradictions and opportunities in our modern transport system.

It has long been clear that the threat of climate change has cast a shadow over the idea that motoring as we know it will continue long into the future. We first noticed that something interesting was happening in patterns of car buying in our 2014 annual survey of the UK’s ethical market. [1]

A combination of high oil prices and government interventions have meant that ‘lower impact’ car models are now making up nearly 70% of new car sales. [2]

Claimed carbon emissions of new vehicles have,according to the car industry’s own data, fallen for the 17th consecutive year and are now 24% lower than they were in 2007. [2]

As we explain in ‘Cheating the tests’, the real-world impact of these developments are much less marked, but they are declines nonetheless.



Electric cars

This Report also contains our first ever Product Guide to Electric Cars. In recent years these have moved from the drawing board to providing a genuine option for some consumers. Key to their development has been the role of regulators, particularly in the EU, who are trying hard to deliver on carbon treaty promises in the face of childish stalling by manufacturers.



Peak car?

Over the last 20 years, a counter-narrative has developed which tries to draw attention to some of the deeper problems with the ‘car culture’ that surrounds us all.

As well as pollution and congestion, that critique also looks at children’s freedom, obesity, social isolation, noise and accidental deaths – far more issues than we can cover in this report.

Wolfgang Zuckermann, in Carbusters Magazine, expressed some of this despair: “The car has transformed the modern world into a no-man’s land, choked with shiny metal objects, parking lots, gas stations, fly-overs, shopping malls, billboards, and urban sprawls. If you want to hate cars with a passion, that’s as good a reason as any.”

However with a decline in the number of miles travelled by car in many parts of the Western world, some people are beginning to ask whether we have passed ‘peak car’. [3]

There are many suggested elements to this. For instance in the US and Europe younger people are buying fewer cars and are choosing to live closer together in city centres. They are also using new technologies like mobile phones to communicate more and to travel less. [4]

This preference for mobile technologies may be a game changer in terms of how transport is accessed and located in ‘real time’. Daimler, for example, has acquired RideScout and myTaxi (two startup companies that use mobile apps to explore transport choices in cities).

Although there has been a huge rise in car buying in newly industrialising economies, the chaos, pollution and gridlock this has caused in the absence of sensible planning is, in many cases, leading governments to invest heavily in public transport systems to bypass some of the errors in the West. This may eventually see that growth begin to tail off – though there is no agreement on this. [4]



Is change happening fast enough?

Over the last 20 years, as we mentioned above, much of the ethical consumer campaigning around motoring has been uncompromising. No-car lifestyles were the only way forward. However, when we look at the 10 tonnes of annual CO2 emissions per person, we can see that even if we were to stop motoring completely, we would only see a 12% reduction in our impacts. We know that an 80% reduction (by 2050) is what we need.

In the article on ‘Electrification and good regulation’ we look at how environmental campaigners now see fully electrified cars, buses and trains powered by 100% renewable energy as offering a viable and properly sustainable future for everyone. However, as we can see overleaf, with as much as half of acar’s carbon emissions created during manufacture, it is important not to lose sight of the need to reduce environmental impacts at the start of a car’s life cycle. 



Transport blending

An additional solution to cutting emissions in the sector is car clubs and car-sharing. Others are looking at the idea of transport blending  – using a car for some trips, but also using taxis, bicycles, walking, trains and buses.

We have also covered Trains and Buses because, for many journeys, they offer very practical alternatives to the car. Although we may not have much choice, if any, between train and bus companies on a particular route (hence the lack of Best Buy recommendations), we can sometimes choose between bus or train and taking a car. Also, knowing about them and the companies that operate them, helps us as citizens to engage politically in an area where collective planning is just as, if not more, important than individual choice.



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1 Ethical Consumer Markets Report 2014 ECRA 

2 In 2014 68% of new car buyers chose a car with claimed CO2 emissions of 130g/km or less. (SMMT press release 28/4/15)