The move to electric drivetrains and renewable energy to power them is important, but what happens when we reach the goal of running all vehicles on electricity? This alone won’t ‘fix’ the environment, and unfortunately this alone also won’t ‘solve’ all the environmental issues associated with mobility and transport. There is more to do, we should not focus solely on electrification, and we should start thinking about the other problems now.
Perhaps the biggest environmental issue after emissions is material usage. All the vehicles we make use large amounts of materials, including many rare and exotic ones. These materials are not an infinite resource, in fact the United States Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute states that shortages of some materials used in many vehicles (especially new electric ones) “may develop within a few years.”(1) We need to start using materials in loops, or cycles, constantly reusing material over and over again to make, new, different, better things. To do this effectively we need to redesign products, processes and businesses.
Many businesses across a range of industries have already started using methodologies like Cradle-to-Cradle (2) to help them develop products and services that facilitate a circular economy framework (as opposed to the linear economy we have now). As part of this, many companies are adopting service based business models to ensure effective material flows. Rather than selling their product (which has been redesigned to be easier to deconstruct and properly recycle), the product is shared with the user and taken back when it is no longer useful, the material can then be reclaimed and reused. Many people think that the future of mobility is going to take the form of a service too, but the discourse around the sustainability of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is focused on using electric vehicles and better asset utilisation. So why are we not already talking about MaaS being circular?