Can we ‘Drive’ ourselves to a sustainable future?

Can we “Drive” ourselves to a sustainable future?

Blog post by Paul Je, Contributor  – Get free updates of new blog posts here.

As consumers, we hold power and responsibility. Think about it – we could drive demand away from “dirty” energy production if we really set our minds to it and we could drive demand towards more sustainable solutions, with Electric Vehicles (EVs) being a prime example (full disclosure: I have no affiliation with any of the companies that I’m mentioning in this post). Less gas-guzzling cars can mean less greenhouse gas emissions, more water conservation and less environmental pollution.

Tesla’s Model S (an EV) and Toyota’s Mirai (a hydrogen fuel cell EV) are great examples of innovative products designed to align with the modern customers’ values (i.e. cost effectiveness, health and environmental protection).  In the apparel industry, we have forward-thinking companies such as Toms, TenTree, and American Apparel, who work to provide quality products while promoting a sustainable future. By purchasing from these companies, we are giving poor children shoes, planting 10 trees for each shirt we buy, eliminating child labour in sweatshops, and reducing tonnes upon tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions into the air. The car we chose to buy and drive is another big way we can promote a healthier world.

 Where water comes in

 But there is a fundamental and cross-cutting connection between consumer products and the impact on our water (and environment), and not everyone is aware of it. Nearly everything we use day to day is either made with petroleum products or requires petroleum products for its transportation. Petroleum comes from crude oil, which is a massive consumer of water: 2000 – 4500 L of water is needed for every 1000L of crude oil processed. When thinking about vehicles, crude oil is particularly relevant because it’s the starting product to make gasoline. Since water is required for both human consumption and all types of industries (agriculture, manufacturing), by driving demand towards EVs and clean energy based products, water can be used responsibly: allocated or made available for more pressing purposes (such as the millions who live without clean water).

I will state openly however, that the caveat in this discussion about EVs is that the source of the electricity for EVs matters. For example, if electricity is generated by oil, natural gas or coal-fired plants, a minimum of 500 tonnes of CO2 emissions per unit or electricity (gigawatt hour) are spewed out, whereas if renewables, hydropower or nuclear is the source of electricity, the CO2 emissions are far less. So, driving an electric vehicle may not offset the greenhouse gas emissions or water consumed by the power plant where you get your electricity from. To expand, in provinces such as British Columbia, Quebec, Manitoba, and Newfoundland, which rely heavily on hydropower rather than coal for energy, carbon emissions are at 20 tonnes per gigawatt hour. Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, which rely heavily on coal for energy, are above 600 tonnes of CO2 per gigawatt hour. Other provinces such as Ontario are in between these two groups. What this all translates to is that driving an EV can be the environmentally-conscious thing to do if your electricity source is environmentally-friendly.

 Low costs for adoption of sustainable driving

When thinking about financial costs, even the relatively low cost of oil (at the moment) cannot beat free. For the Mirai, a hydrogen fuel cell car set to be released in Summer 2015, new purchasers are given a few years worth of hydrogen free to fuel up their drives, courtesy of Toyota. Also, Toyota Prius could be a less expensive vehicle option compared to the Mirai for those who are more financially constrained. Teslas, which use electricity rather than gasoline, reduce costs by roughly half and also reduce the environmental impact (electricity for the car can be derived from cleaner and less water-consuming energy sources: renewables, geothermal, or even conventional fossil fuels (oil derived from onshore sites) rather than unconventional fossil fuels (oil derived from tar sands) ).

 Of course, we can’t forget the Tesla’s sleek look, which gives it the edge when comparing to other luxury model cars on the market today (in my opinon at least!). Yes, I admit that not all of us can afford the $70,000 CAD to $100,000 with upgrades pricetag of a Tesla. However, Tesla has announced their mass market sales of the Model 3 will be significantly cheaper compared to the Model S (rumored to be even cheaper than the Chevrolet Bolt). Choosing an EV is a meaningful step you and I can take to create a more sustainable world.

 As a cool side note: the new 4-wheel Model S has the ability to turn on “Insane” mode (0-60 MPH in 3.2 seconds), and is one of the fastest driving cars on the planet. As well, Tesla has introduced software updates for the entire Model S fleet where you can drive autopilot within a few months, allowing you to get to your destination without even touching the steering wheel.

It get’s better

What’s more, Tesla’s manufacturing plant is sourced with solar energy, the cars regenerate energy from using the brake pedal after acceleration, and drivers can swap their car’s batteries in half the time that it regularly takes to refill your gas tank. This is value beyond environmental sustainability, with economic and social viability.

 Sustainability is the new trend

 I’m part of the millennial demographic, and I think we need to shape what should be the new ‘sexy’. We have to stand together to show that being environmentally degrading will not be tolerated. Gas guzzlers and unsustainably manufactured vehicles must be removed from the social norm and dissociated from the word ‘cool’. Companies like Tesla are the new role models of today’s innovation, and together as consumers, we can support their missions. Let’s speak with our money.

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