Aug 2, 2019 - Energy & Environment

Electric scooters aren’t as green as they seem

Illustration of person on an e-scooter leaving a trail of smoke

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Electric scooters are often worse for climate change when compared to the transportation methods they’re displacing, according to what is likely the first-ever peer-reviewed study on the new trend.

Why it matters: E-scooter use is skyrocketing in the United States and around the world. To the extent this trend continues and actions aren’t taken to offset the impact, a seemingly green mode of transport will only add to the herculean task of combating climate change.

Where it stands: E-scooters don't emit carbon, therefore most of the detrimental climate impact comes from making the scooters (in China, primarily) and moving them around once they’re in cities (usually by gasoline-powered cars), according to the study by North Carolina State University published Friday in the Environmental Research Letters journal.

What they’re saying: The report’s “results show that dockless e-scooters consistently result in higher life cycle global warming impacts relative to the use of a bus with high ridership, an electric bicycle, or a bicycle per passenger-mile traveled. However, choosing an e-scooter over driving a personal automobile with a fuel efficiency of 26 miles per gallon results in a near universal decrease in global warming impacts.”

  • Yes, but: Roughly half of e-scooter riders say they would have walked or biked if it weren’t for the scooter (greener options), with just a third saying they would have taken a car instead, according to surveys cited in the study.
  • That means e-scooters are the less climate-friendly option about two-thirds of the time.

One level deeper: The study finds that the global warming impact of an e-scooter, including how it's made and during its use, is equal to about half the impact of an average gasoline-powered car per mile traveled.

What we're watching: The authors recommend e-scooter companies do the following:

  • Make sure scooters last as long as they can (the more they get destroyed/vandalized, the more materials needed).
  • Use more energy-efficient vehicles to pick-up and drop them off, and streamline the process.

Go deeper: Scooter companies meteoric rise in one chart

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