Are E-scooters Really a Sustainable Option?

A man on an e-scooter.

It’s a tricky one. Promised to be an affordable and green alternative, electric scooters leave people confused and wondering why newly-introduced, sustainable vehicles gliding through the streets raise so many concerns.

No fumes, no harm?

E-scooters were easy to advertise. Built on the premise of reducing CO2 emissions and being a better alternative to fossil fuel cars, they attracted many investors. Now, thousands docked on sidewalks, awaiting on every corner, electric scooters seem to do the exact opposite – they replace the truly green options.

With coronavirus changing our attitudes towards public transport and emphasising the importance of social distancing, many prefer to choose less crowded means of transportation. E-scooters are easily accessible, cheap and fast – faster than bicycles, buses or London Underground. They are more convenient, and let’s not forget the encouraging ‘e’ in their name. Yes, they produce less CO2 than cars but being a replacement for more sustainable modes of transport, they end up indirectly increasing the greenhouse gas emissions and the global carbon footprint.

They are also a lot of fun. While exploring a new city as a tourist or with your friends looking for something to do, you can hop on an e-scooter to make your day more interesting. There is nothing wrong with it. But you wouldn’t have used it if it hadn’t been there in the first place.

Great idea, poor execution. 

Use. Charge. Reuse. E-scooters are an example of the sharing economy. From the beginning, the idea was to create a means of transport focusing on sharing resources. Rent rather than own, and therefore reduce transportation footprint. 

There are some ground rules to what constitutes a sustainable vehicle. It has to be designed to have a reasonably long lifetime, limit material burdens and reduce manufacture and distribution impacts. Unfortunately, the first e-scooters failed to tick these boxes. Earliest models were introduced with non-waterproof batteries, leading to quick vehicle deterioration after rainy nights. Breakable and full of faults, e-scooters became an easy target for thieves, vandals and even hackers, while shipping, replacement and disposal of broken parts cancelled out all the benefits of lower CO2 emissions.

If that isn’t enough, there is one more concern with e-scooters and their green facade. They have to be collected daily, redistributed if there are too many located in one place and returned to their charging stations once they run out of power. Scattered all around the city, they are picked up by drivers in fossil-fueled vehicles – drivers who will get stuck in traffic jams and choose more convenient rather than the fastest routes to the next e-scooter, further increasing their carbon footprint.

Sustainability: parked e-scooters
Tho-Ge on Pixabay

It’s important to keep in mind that e-scooter companies constantly innovate and update their products to be more environmentally friendly. The lifespan of their current generation has been extended to two years, and following the failure of the initial models, manufacturers have introduced many effective features like swappable batteries or puncture-proof tires. It doesn’t mean, however, that they weren’t off to a bit of a rough start.

E-scooters are definitely not a carbon-free solution. However, there are ways in which they could cut back on CO2 emissions. For example, by placing them in the outskirts where access to public transport is limited, and distances are far too long to bike or walk. For now, though, they are available predominantly in urban areas, where we can find more environmentally friendly alternatives.

Putting safety concerns aside, e-scooters have the potential to become a green and sustainable choice if both manufacturers and consumers, rather than using them for convenience, rent them when they are really the most responsible option.

One mode of transport that never goes out of style is Cycling. Read more about reasons to take up cycling in our article.