According to Wikipedia a ‘vehicle’ is a:
mobile machine that transports passengers or cargo. Most often vehicles are manufactured, such as bicycles, cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, trains, ships, boats and aircraft
But somehow a ‘green vehicle’ is a:
road motor vehicle that produces less harmful impacts to the environment than comparable conventional internal combustion engine vehicles running on gasoline or diesel
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Wikipedia, but I do find it a little ironic that ‘green vehicles’ are pigeon holed as cars. Because on a full lifecycle emissions basis cars really aren’t that green compared to other options.
Here’s my take on the world’s seven greenest vehicles.
7: The Nissan Leaf
I thought I’d be charitable and include a car. After all a huge chunk of global passenger kilometers are from automobiles, so better cars are hugely important for the future. I’ve plumped for the Nissan Leaf as it is the leading all-electric car in Japan, the US, UK, Norway . . Using low carbon electricity electric car emissions are down around 50 g CO2e/pkm (passenger kilometre), almost all of which comes from vehicle manufacturing.
6: The Intercity Coach
It may surprise you, but the typical Stagecoach or Greyhound diesel bus can often have lower emissions per passenger kilometer than the best electric car. That’s because intercity buses travel at efficient speeds on highways, have decent occupancy and tiny manufacturing emissions as they are spread over so many passengers. I’ve seen a bunch of studies ranging from 35-85 g CO2e/pkm.
5: The School Bus
This one is probably even more surprising, but school buses typically have quite low emissions. Not because they are über efficient, or that they do smooth highway miles, but simply because they have such high occupancy. Emissions per passenger kilometer are typically in the 20-50 g CO2e/pkm range.
4: High Speed Rail
High speed rail can be very low carbon, particularly with the right juice. We’ve taken the Eurostar and TGV from London down to the Pyrenees a couple of times with emissions about a tenth of what a flight would have been. The largely nuclear electricity in France means emissions of 17 g CO2e/pkm on their high-speed network. Typically emissions are from 10-60 g CO2e/pkm depending on fuel source.
3: Light Urban Rail
Any form of electric train can provide very low carbon miles if it has the right juice. Busy trams, metro or light rail systems can also have low emissions. The example below is from Bergen in Norway, where hydro power is dominant. Lifecycle emissions can range from 10-50 g CO2e/pkm depending on fuel source, efficiency and occupancy.
2: The Electric Bike
Guess how many electric bikes there are in China today? 200 million!! That number floored me when I first saw it. Almost 30 million e-bikes will be sold in China this year alone. That is about half the number of passenger cars globally. In coal reliant China an electric bike has average lifecycle emissions of 22 g CO2e/pkm. Depending on fuel mix they are typically in the range of 5-30 g CO2e/pkm.
1: The Flying Pigeon Bicycle
The ‘Flying Pigeon‘ is the most popular vehicle of all time. More than 500 million have been produced since 1950. Based on the 1932 Raleigh Roadster the popular model came in black, with one speed, 28 in (710 mm) wheels, a fully covered chain, sprung leather saddle, rear rack and rod brakes. This is an old school classic. In China, where the diet is relatively low carbon and electricity carbon intensive, this bike edges the eBike at around 10 g CO2e/pkm.
What is missing from the list?
This isn’t the most scientific of lists, and I get the feeling I must be missing some options? You can get a better grip of the data in our 5 Elements of Sustainable Transport post. The one thing that really surprised me in this post is the rise of electric bikes. It is about 90% a China story currently, but the rate of growth in Brazil, Europe, India and even the US is really impressive.