The hype is real. From environmentalists, to technophiles, to scholars and consumers, green mobility is on just about everyone’s mind. We travelled last week to Berlin, where the Greentech Festival, Formula E, and The Allianz Explorer Camp Climate Edition were convening, and asked an eclectic mix of people, practitioners, explorers, artists, students, (and even an astronaut), about the current state of green mobility. Here’s what we learned.
#1. Green mobility is in its infancy, but the rise of global urbanization will lead to exponential growth.
“We are facing a tipping point of mobility… We simply cannot continue running our shop,
our world, running our mobility ecosystems in the way we have been running them in the past five, six, seven decades.”
— Christian Deuringer, Head of Global Brand Management, Allianz
With 55% of the world´s population living in urban areas today, and 68% projected by 2050 (Sources: United Nations, UNESCO, Mercer), issues that currently impact cities (think: noise and environmental pollution, traffic congestion) will help catapult the development and exponential growth of green mobility solutions. In most parts of the world, cars, and specifically combustion-engine, car-centric thinking still dominate urban planning and economic development. Katharina Latif, Head of CSR at Allianz, notes “fossil fuelled cars are still heavily subsidized, resulting in an unfair playing field.” Challenges that arise from the exponential growth of populations living in our urban areas, however, will likely drive the development of green mobility solutions.
In Asia, this growth is already apparent, as population density in urban areas creates serious problems for city dwellers. The result: a competitive uptick in green mobility options across Asian cities. With millions of electric cars and thousands of electric buses already on the road, China remains ahead of the curve. Christian Deuringer of Allianz, credits China’s speed of adaptation to regulation, incentives, and China’s ability to deliver at an attractive price point. Felix Lee, Overseas Managing Director of Ehang, points to another, simpler, cultural phenomenon at work, ”for the Chinese [people], using these kinds of vehicles is cool.”
#2.Green mobility goes beyond electric cars.
“Green mobility means moving in a way that will sustain a collective future.”
— Jay Asher, National Geographic Explorer
While a majority of our experts cite electrification as a key and promising component of green mobility, this is not its only requirement. Green mobility extends beyond the realm of electric vehicles. Several interview partners emphasize the value of remaining tech agnostic, looking instead at all energy opportunities in the value chain, from energy production, to distribution, and consumption. The idea? Unless all energy is renewable and sustainable, the potential positive effects of green mobility will be offset: “I save the energy for my car, but I generate it from coal, which is just moving the waste,” explains Felix Lee. Other factors that need attention when it comes to maintaining a green footprint are source materials, source countries, and the conditions that go into development. As one example, Jörg Geier, Consultant for Green Ecosystems and Cleantech, talks about the environmental footprint of battery production.“ Lithium and cobalt [that go into these batteries] are primarily being sourced from China and Congo, respectively. Labor conditions in these countries are often appalling according to European standards — human hands dig up much of the cobalt — and lax environmental controls often cause pollution. For a better footprint on the environment and on human rights, mining and labor standards need to be improved significantly. ”
Thinking about our green mobility future necessitates the rethinking of urban planning, addressing our public spaces in a way that focuses on people, not just on cars. The green mobility conversation, therefore, must be reframed as something more than “driving an electric SUV — it´s about handing the city center back to the people and making it more livable, and within that space, creating enough alternatives to choose from” pleads Latif.
#3. The future of green mobility is urban, multi-modal and human-centered.
“From a car-dependent society towards a human-centered society.
How can we use urban spaces more efficiently [to] make cities more livable for people?”
— Jörg Geier, Consultant for Green Ecosystems and Cleantech
Experts are urging a human-centered approach to mobility solutions. The idea is that people, especially in cities, should be able to choose from a variety of transportation modes, motorized and non- motorized, public and private, in a seamless, frictionless, and efficient fashion. This would include any form of mobility from near-future technologies (like electric drones), to last mile options (like the exponentially growing micro-mobility sector).
New concepts of vehicle ownership (car-sharing, bike-sharing, ride hailing) are integral to this kind of multi-modal success. Technology, especially smart phone usage and connectivity, acts as a kind of bridge to this type of user-friendly, flexible, and efficient mobility. Affordability and convenience will also be of paramount importance. “If you offer people alternatives for daily life[…] a more convenient way to use, they will use it,” explains Oliver Risse, CEO and Founder of the electric scooter platform, efloater. Christian Deuringer also believes consumer delight should play a significant role in the future of green mobility, as he sees it, “mobility needs to deliver excitement.”
Green mobility and green cities will likewise need to address new ways of generating and maintaining the energy they require. In what is referred to as a vehicle-to-grid scenario, Dirk Idstein, Head of Enel X Europe, explains that green, renewable energy is highly fluctuating, “fluctuation needs to be compensated somewhere. If you think about batteries on wheels, or batteries in second life, or any other sort of decentralized energy assets, [they] can be used to compensate and balance.”
#4. A coalition of the willing — collaborating for the future of the planet.
“The ecosystem should be open, so anyone could use it.”
— Felix Lee, Overseas Managing Director of Ehang
Everyone agrees green mobility is the future of transportation, but the ways in which future ecosystems are constructed and function, and the willingness of corporate entities and legislators to adapt and engage, will largely determine the scope, scale and speed of development, adaptation and acceptance by the consumer.
Collaborative relationships between incumbents and disruptors joining forces on exploratory ventures offer the greatest opportunity. Smaller, more agile companies challenge the status quo, increase speed of innovation, and focus on niches that larger players may not be able to access. “The biggest opportunities are those that people underestimate […] it´s the little things that turn out to be the most disruptive,” explains Merlin Ouboter, CMO and Test Driver, Microlino.
But global corporate players can do more than finance development, provide services, and join exploratory ventures — they can also lead through best practices. By virtue of their sheer size and visibility, they are also well-positioned to help set the public-political agenda. Explains Dirk Idstein, Head of Enel X Europe, “corporations are in many cases more advanced than politicians. We see many international companies have a very clear agenda on becoming decarbonized […] and a very clear action plan to pursue that. I think this can inspire politicians and policy making.”
Similar inspiration can be drawn from Allianz´s trailblazing divestment from coal. Though it may seem counterintuitive in terms of short-term profits, the move prioritizes long-term sustainability goals. To that end, Allianz followed up its divestment with a decision to refrain from insuring coal companies entirely.
The role of legislation, therefore, should not be underestimated when it comes to the green ecosystem. Regulators can enable or impede development, and generally exert great influence over consumer behavior. While the free market may have its limitations, especially in developmental stages, many prefer market-driven solutions, as they believe the scale and urgency of the climate problem, and pushback from the old guard in the energy industry, requires a top-to-bottom approach. Such measures could include allowing new transportation technologies into places previously prohibited (like scooters on bike paths, a development that e-floater has been working on for years in Germany), leveraging a carbon tax, or even banning fossil fuels cars and motorbikes from city centers.
The speed of adoption of the regulatory framework usually lags behind innovation, so opportunity lies in joining forces early on. Lee argues for open ecosystems, suggesting that early stage involvement of all research institutions, service providers, product providers and legislators is key to shaping regulatory possibilities.
A shared agenda and high levels of engagement can lead to great results. Deuringer points to the example of Marrakesh, where, within a year, a green mobility ecosystem has formed between their regulatory body, a local entrepreneur, an infrastructure provider, an electric motorcycle producer, and an insurer. The resulting company, EMOB, is already working to remove a primary contributor to the city’s pollution — combustion motorbikes — from the streets of Marrakesh. Highly competitive pricing, interest free loans, and fully integrated vehicle insurance are also accelerating adoption rates and setting the scene for rapid expansion in Africa.
#5. Technology enables and improves — and a new generation of people can offset the “rebound effect.”
“Having a holistic approach is essential in getting it right.”
— Jörg Geier, Consultant for Green Ecosystems and Cleantech
Technology continues to create previously impossible scenarios for a greener footprint. Expectations are particularly high for autonomous driving, as it’s poised to reduce the cost of operating green vehicles. There’s similar enthusiasm for connectivity between vehicles, devices, and data platforms (enabled by the IoT and big data) with increases in efficiency and convenience for the end user.
But can technology also work to undermine some of the beneficial effects it hopes to create? While energy efficiency has been increasing steadily due to technological innovation, it has not been able to offset all pressures, like exploding populations and overall consumption patterns. Generally referred to as the “rebound effect,” some research has found a negative correlation between the two, meaning improvements in technology efficiency have led to increases in consumption.
Gerhardt Thiele, former German astronaut, spoke about how his generation never intended to leave the planet in its current state, observing that the act of reminiscing about days past can contribute to “individual inertia.” But he sees no trace of this today, expressing his belief that technology adoption will facilitate a greener future, in part because younger generations can so easily navigate the digital world, but also because of how much they value their physical one. Katharina Latif put it succinctly, “their environmental consciousness is bigger.” This impression was reinforced by observing the participants of the Explorer Camp Climate Edition — young people taking ownership of a dirty legacy, actively looking for solutions, with zero interest in maintaining the status quo. As participant and student Phillipp Sbresny explained, “we should undo what previous generations have done before us.”
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Stay tuned for the next Explorer Series event: The Cities of Tomorrow on July 11th, 2019, in New York, where together with our partners at MoMA we’ll be exploring how to design our cities to foster more sustainable ways of living?
Special thanks to all of our partners, speakers, entrepreneurs, and to you, our community of explorers!