Electric vehicles: How sustainable are they really?

Although EVs emit zero tailpipe emissions, are they truly as sustainable as everyone assumes? Analysing results from EV Magazine, we explore

The comments we hear are often in favour of electric vehicles (EVs), although it's clear that not everyone is on the same wavelength as the rest of the world when it comes to the EV transition. 

This is because the idea of sustainability in zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs) goes beyond the car and is driven by the processes that precede them—Scope 3 emissions and waste management—as well as those in the future. But, what do consumers know about these processes and are they willing to declare EVs sustainable? 

Recently, EV Magazine opened a poll, which was shared with our followers so they could have their say. The question being “Are EVs truly sustainable?” and the answers being: 

  • Yes 
  • No
  • It’s a mixed bag
  • I’m not sure/I need more info

Now, let’s fill in the blanks to find out how the audience responded to this question. 

  • Yes - 24%
  • No - 20%
  • It’s a mixed bag - 51%
  • I’m not sure/I need more info - 4% 

Now, while this poll only represents 137 of our LinkedIn readers, we hope that this type of engagement will grow over time as we share more questions in the coming weeks to inform these answers. But, why is it that more than half of consumers are still unsure about the sustainable effects of EVs? 

This has to do with—as mentioned earlier—the processes that take place before an EV reaches the consumer, once it has left them, and any maintenance in between. Effectively, to achieve sustainability in this area, each vehicle must adhere to the environmental and social standards that businesses look to incorporate into all of their corporate actions. 

Of course, battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) are non-emittent, but there are currently greenhouse gases affiliated with their production, which is an important criteria in achieving the coveted ‘sustainable’ status. 

Building a zero-emission foundation for EVs

The first stages in the production process are very much in the hands of upstream corporations and government authorities as their efforts to decarbonise these practices are paramount in reducing some of the primary emissions sources, but also setting the standard for the entire industry. From component and material sourcing, such as minerals, metals, electrical components, and the energy sources that power these processes. To achieve net-zero emissions, mining companies must eliminate carbon dioxide output from lithium for lithium-ion batteries; energy providers must be able to supply zero-emission electricity; and their suppliers must be able to supply them at no cost to the environment. 

From this point, reaching true sustainability is impacted by a whole host of variables as a number of products and services are brought into the equation to maintain a vehicle. Companies have the power to educate consumers on the impacts of driving and maintaining their EVs, which can also enhance the services they provide to customers—providing these services themselves to ensure they meet the necessary requirements for net zero. 

For example, if a tyre needs changing, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) should be the ones to ensure their vehicles receive a new part that is sustainably sourced and made with no emissions—there’s also the factor of end-of-life, which is carefully considered by the suppliers of these components. 

OEMs can account for and educate consumers on EV emissions

Automakers have the power to not only influence consumer decisions to purchase or lease EVs, but a truly sustainable service comes with transparency and education. Enabling customers to gain visibility of their supply chains will allow suppliers and customers to make more informed decisions about their own sustainable impacts. 

From an educational standpoint, car companies can encourage consumers to switch, but are also in a position to create lasting impact, by ensuring their customers understand the effects of their transportation. By partnering with electricity and charging providers, they are able to ensure that infrastructure is available and share with their customers how to reduce consumption and get the most out of their miles. 

When it comes to maintenance, the tyres removed from their vehicles will be disposed of, but how? 

Plugging the sustainable gaps in e-mobility 

Electrification is a major step in societal change; a sustainability revolution. It’s important to acknowledge, and applaud, the organisations that have made this an utmost priority for the foreseeable future. Without available charging, EV drivers wouldn’t be inclined to make the switch, likewise without new and innovative automobiles that break the boundaries of technology, and thus safety and mobility. 

Working collaboratively with suppliers and customers, there is much beyond the EV that is yet to be aligned to turn e-mobility into net-zero mobility. ​​​​​​​

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